Shabana campaigns to free world of hunger

By Arpana, IANS

New Delhi : She has always been skilfully balancing her talent as an actress as well as raising her voice for social causes. Now, Shabana Azmi will lend her voice to attract the attention of the United Nation’s (UN) member states towards the undernourished people in India and other countries during a ‘hunger free’ campaign on Tuesday in New York.

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“Food is the most basic need of human beings. I want this to become an emotive issue for all. I want them (UN officials) to stop thinking about it in cold statistics and understand how they would feel if it was their child, their spouse, their parent who had to go hungry. This is not a new cause, neither an issue that you can look at in a vacuum,” Shabana, who will be representing India as part of the campaign, told IANS.

The UN has failed to fulfil the commitment it made 11 years ago, at the World Food Summit – to halve ‘hunger’ by 2015, Shabana said.

At that time, there were 800 million hungry people across the globe. Today, it has risen to 854 million, which is 17 percent of the world’s population.

“It really came as a shock to me that globally 25,000 people die from hunger every day – meaning one person every three seconds. It is equally shocking that this is not a burning issue for the world leaders. They haven’t even come near to meeting their goal to halve world hunger by 2015. At the halfway point, hunger is getting worse, not better. This is totally unacceptable,” said Shabana.

The actress, who will also push the case of ‘Mushar’, one of India’s most disadvantaged groups in the caste hierarchy – the Dalits – will join campaigners from around the world, including Hollywood Actor Tim Meadows and Nigerian actress Hilda Dokubo.

When asked if she was aware of the Mushar community, she said, “I have been involved with the anti-poverty agency ‘ActionAid’ for some time now, and have campaigned for years on human rights issues, so the issues aren’t new to me. I’m aware of the discrimination, poverty and starvation that marginalized communities in India are facing.”

“Like many Indians, I am extremely concerned at how our outstanding economic growth is by-passing millions of children, women and men of our country. We are seeing urban poor and farming communities displaced across India. Through this campaign we hope to amplify their demands for justice.”

Statistics says 221 million people live in hunger in India.

Commenting on the sorry state of affairs, Shaban said, “Indigenous (tribal) communities, who were previously self-reliant, are now stripped of their livelihood, and are displaced from their homes due to developmental activities.

“Unfortunately, government is failing in its duty to protect the lives, livelihoods and rights of some of India’s most vulnerable people in its quest for corporate profit. The question we need to ask is whose progress and at whose cost? It cannot be the progress of a few at the cost of many.”

Shabana said “I’ve had glimpses of this reality, when I played the role of a domestic worker in Bihar, a traditional embroidery woman in Lucknow and a slum dweller in Mumbai.”

She said terrorism and poverty – the two critical issues – were co-related.

“The roots of terrorism stem from the sense of deprivation and marginalization, so the two are related. The hunger free campaign is to make the world leaders aware that they cannot ignore the fact any more that every three seconds a person dies of hunger.

“We will together raise our voice at the UN General Assembly in New York and share the stories of people who are at the frontline of this reality, to get the hunger issue on the international agenda. We need to shout about hunger. At the moment amongst the world leaders it is barely a whisper.”

Hunger Free is a five-year global campaign of ActionAid in partnership with thousands of organisations and groups worldwide to highlight the hunger issue.

The campaign will push another case study that will highlight the plight of the poor in Lanjigarh in Orissa after the establishment of the mining company Vedanta Resources.

The campaigners say bauxite mining will endanger the indigenous tribes living in the area and seriously affect thousands of villages in the plains dependent on the mountains for water.