A print release by the government in February, 2016 suggests, “India ranks first in milk production, accounting for 18.5 percent of world production, achieving an annual output of 146.3 million tonnes during 2014-15. As compared to 137.69 million tonnes during 2013-14, recording a growth of 6.26 percent.”
While milk production is on a steady high, so is milk consumption. Though research suggests a huge disparity between the amount of milk consumed in rural and urban areas, an average consumer in the north western states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana spends more than Rs 500 per month on milk.
Traditions & Devotion Need Statistical Wake Up Call
The tradition of offering tonnes of milk to the Shivlings (particularly during Mahashivratri, which is around the corner) and other idols has long been under discussion. Reports are suggestive of how gallons of milk are wasted in the name of offering it to gods while millions die of hunger each day. The World Bank estimates that India has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world.
According to statistics, ten million people succumb to death every year owing to chronic hunger and various other hunger-related diseases.
To put facts under a clearer slate of reasons, 92 percent of these deaths are a result of hunger prevailing under normal and even ‘celebratory’ circumstances of the land of festivals. Only eight percent die of hunger as a result of natural calamities such as high-profile earthquakes, floods, droughts and so on.
Can Milk Indeed Treat Malnutrition?
Carbohydrates, protein, fats and vitamins are the four essentials which save us from malnourishment. Surprisingly, just a 250 ml cup of milk per day contains 8.38 grams of fat, 11.65 grams of carbohydrate, 8.3 grams of protein and is an excellent source of Vitamin B12 along with 5 percent Vitamin A and 29 percent Calcium. Eighty-seven percent of milk is water and hence a vital indirect source of nutritional solvents.
A single metric tonne of milk is equivalent to 1,000,000 ml. This quantity is sufficient to feed 4,000 people. Though there isn’t a confirmed statistic on the number of tonnes of milk wasted annually in the name of Mahashivratri season and protests, the fact that there are thousands of temples across the country indicates that the milk wastage is definitely beyond a single metric tonne. How many malnourished children can be fed with this amount? 4,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 or more?
The Courts Agree – Milk Must be Used to Feed Children
In 2014, Madras High Court had passed an order over a PIL that sought to halt the wastage of milk.
The court bench said, “The commodity should be used for the benefit of young children, besides offering to the deities.”
The bench, however, conceded that it could not put restrictions on the rituals under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department.
But some are not willing to give up. Caretakers of Saketri Shiv Temple in Chandigarh came up with an initiative to better utilise the offered milk in 2015. The officials stated that people usually brought their milk for offering in pouches. The temple collected these pouches to distribute instead of being poured on Shivlings. The amount of milk saved this way was about 350 quintals – half procured by the temple itself, half donated by the devotees.
Though an impressive step, it hasn’t been replicated by many. The emphasis must lay on prohibiting the wastage of milk, since it can indeed save lives. With our country's constant impetus on striving to be a major power globally, we must first feed and save millions of kids who die because of hunger.
The choice to move beyond our religious obsessions is in our hands.
(The writer is a journalist and a Political Science graduate and can be reached @SharmaNaina222. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)