azal se Adam-o-gandum meiN ae dost
ajab andaaz ki khat-pat rahi hai
barabar baRh raha hai narkh-i-gandum
bani Adam ki qeemat ghat rahi hai
The classic movie Roti starring the legendary Rajesh Khanna begins with his character Mangal stealing roti as a child from a restaurant to fill his empty stomach. This event transforms him for life because he is punished for this â€˜heinous sinâ€™ and from here on in his life of crime begins.
In another classic Bollywood film Deewar starring the legendary Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan, one scene stands out where Shashi Kapoorâ€™s character fires on a boy who is stealing roti for his family. Later he realises his mistake and offers the family food which is rejected by the boy’s mother who cries and throws the roti away upon hearing her son was shot only because he stole roti. The moral behind the stories and their relevance today to a Pakistan crying out for roti is so obvious it need not even be stated.
Yesterday I nearly fell of my chair in bewilderment and anger when Geo TV reported that roti was now selling at a staggering 5 rupees in Karachi. At times of such gloom I then add to my woes by reflecting on the founding vision of Pakistan as a land of the pure. This nation was after all, envisaged as the solution to the problem of bread for the Muslim masses by the great Allama Iqbal. How we have failed!
However the current atta crisis is a crisis like no other having no parallel even for this crisis prone government. Yet its effects on the poor toiling masses cannot be imagined who are literally in agony today thanks to this departing present from a failed Musharraf regime. The price of a bag of atta has increased tenfold with millions of Pakistanis unable to enjoy their most basic of fundamental rights â€“ food. And yes the â€˜Supreme Courtâ€™ should take suo moto notice of this breach of our rights (we are waiting with bated breath Justice Dogar!) but more importantly one must wonder whether the government will take notice itself?
The governmentâ€™s worst crime during the atta crisis has been its indifference by design or default in looking the other way. Just like the sugar scandal and others before it, the government has sat idly by and enjoyed the view as the masses suffer thanks in this instance to the illegal and immoral hoarding of wheat by the powerful atta mafia. Such an act is unforgivable and it is tantamount to a war crime against our own people and it makes my blood boil.
The right to food is a universal human right. Yet it is a right alien to most Pakistanis collectively known as the masses whom live a life of squalor and degradation. Food was first declared a right in the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By 2004 the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization Council had adopted “voluntary guidelines for the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food,” with 187 governments as signatories.
Furthermore twenty-two countries have enshrined the right to food in their constitutions, either for all citizens or specifically for children including Pakistan with Article 38 Section D of the Constitution of Pakistan stating that:
â€˜ The State shall provide basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, housing, education, and medical relief for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemploymentâ€™
On 16 October 2007, the United Nations celebrated World Food Day with the theme â€˜The Right to Foodâ€™ reminding us all that it is the right of every person to have regular access to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable food for an active, healthy life. That it is the right to feed oneself in dignity, rather than the right to be fed. That with more than 850 million people in the world still deprived of enough food, the right to food is not just economically, morally and politically imperative – it is also a legal obligation.
Pakistan too celebrated the day with messages of support from luminaries no less than the â€˜Presidentâ€™ and â€˜Prime Ministerâ€™. Most notably the â€˜Federal Ministerâ€™ for Food, Agriculture and Livestock Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan chose to shout from the rooftops in his address on the day that:
The right to food has been accorded universal recognition. It is a binding obligation which is well established under international law. And the right to food has also been well recognized in numerous national constitutionsâ€™.
However actions speak louder than words for only a few weeks earlier the same Mr. Bosan and his cabinet colleagues chose to look away at illegal wheat hoarding by the powerful atta mafia. Consequently the atta shortage and rocketing roti prices prevalent today all over Pakistan are the sole responsibility of men like Bosan in the Musharraf regime. The following newspaper extracts from September and October 2007 provide ample proof of criminal negligence and even complicity and serve as an open charge and a damning indictment against the Musharraf/Aziz regime:
Federal ministers are divided over a proposal to crack down on individuals hoarding wheat as they feel that action against â€œsome influential peopleâ€ could create problems for the ruling party in the general election. According to a report submitted by intelligence agencies a few weeks ago, a number of â€œmajor playersâ€ are stockpiling wheat. But the government is hesitant to attach â€œtop priorityâ€ to the scandal because of the election factor.
The revelation prompted another minister, from Punjab, to advise the government to avoid launching such an operation â€˜for the time beingâ€™. He said it might â€˜upset influential peopleâ€™, creating â€˜problemsâ€™ for the government in an election season. It has been learnt that black market operators have now decided to make windfall profits by hoarding non-perishable farm produce, e.g. wheat, rice and sugar, because the stock and real estate markets had failed to yield high returns. The average price of locally-produced wheat was 200 dollars per ton against the landed cost of the imported variety, which amounted to $415 a ton in September, leaving a profit margin of more than 50 per cent to the hoarders.
Towering political figures, both on the treasury and the opposition benches, have been found involved in the ongoing wheat and flour crisis, having managed to swindle around over Rs 6 billion by hoarding and then smuggling the commodity to the neighboring countries, top official sources in the finance ministry told The News. The sources said that the opposition parties had more or less also joined the governmentâ€™s â€˜unscrupulous figuresâ€™ in this loot as they had not come out with any protest worth the name against the crisis. Rather, political parties have left the masses in the lurch to bear the bite of inflation.
They hoarded wheat and with the connivance of ministers, both in the federal and provincial governments, they managed to smuggle the commodity, as the said ministers are also landlords, big growers and also possess flour and rice mills. It is pertinent to mention here that the government has decided not to constitute a commission to launch a probe into the wheat scam, as major chunk of ministers and politicians with agriculture background are not in favour of such a move.
Today the poor caretaker government is bearing the brunt of criticism when the real blame lies with Pervez Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz and their respective fan clubs which pass for political parties. The News editorial of 8th January hits the nail on the head by reminding us:
The ‘atta’ crisis is adding to the sense of unease and uncertainty currently prevailing in the country. An inability to readily obtain vital items of food will, after all, inevitably breed insecurity. There is thus an urgent need to ensure that supplies swiftly reach the worst-hit areas, to regulate prices and to act against all those engaged in pocketing large profits, so that the misery of desperate people can be brought to an immediate endâ€™
I echo those sentiments and pray for rapid improvement on the ground so that the masses can get respite. I pray above all that roti is made affordable for the poor and wretched of Pakistan for whom my words of solace are not enough. In the words of the Quaid
â€˜we must concentrate wholly on improving conditions for the great masses of the poorâ€™.
We must do better as a nation, we must build a better Pakistan, a more just Pakistan, an â€˜otherâ€™ Pakistan.
Wasim Arif blogs at Other Pakistan. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org