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Monideepa Sahu

News Highlights

  • Odisha is among 5 poorest states in India with 42% of people in poorest category.
  • The state has progressed but continues to lag behind rest of India and the world.
  • UNICEF cites Odisha as having the highest newborn mortality rate in India.
  • NCRB data says Odisha recorded the most child pornography cases in India in 2018.
  • Leaders and policy experts have much to work upon. Even people like us can make a difference.

The UN World Happiness Report 2021 has placed India at 139 among 149 countries surveyed. We lag far behind our neighbours China (84th), Bangladesh (101) and Pakistan in 105th place. According to the India Happiness Report 2020, the people of Odisha are among the unhappiest in India, which ideally means the state is home to very unhappy people in one of the unhappiest countries on earth.

Other studies also show Odisha lagging behind. The recently released Comprehensive National Nutritional Survey (CNNS) 2016-18 places Odisha among the 5 poorest states in India with 42% of people in the poorest category. The posh hotels, apartments and malls of big cities like Bhubaneswar are enjoyed by only 6% of the population. A world away are poverty-stricken districts like Malkangiri, Koraput or Nuapada.

Odisha definitely has progressed since Independence. But the state has continued to lag behind the rest of India and the world. Vimaljit Dua is happy to see Bhubaneswar change from a gloomy and backward place in the 1970s to a prosperous city today. She came to Bhubaneswar from Chandigarh when she helped to found the Ruchika School in 1978. She observed the moroseness and lack of energy among the mothers and teachers compared to Chandigarh. Even little children focused only on studies. They would not run and play outside as much. The school encouraged playing along with studies. This simple change to a more balanced approach made the children happier.

When I was a schoolgirl in Delhi, our teacher discussed how starving parents sold their children for food in Kalahandi, the poorest region of India. Since Independence, big leaders have visited, launched election campaigns and sanctioned funds for development. Why then, are the local people still so poor? Kalahandi is a sad example of how Odisha has lagged behind the rest of India.

In many regions of Odisha, healthcare facilities are difficult to reach. The government-run Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) lack trained staff, medicines and equipment.  The patients have to travel hundreds of kilometres to reach big hospitals in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. Often ambulances are difficult to get. 

The poor health of young children and women is a cause of grave concern. Sickly mothers struggling to raise malnourished and stunted children leads to misery for present and future generations. UNICEF cites Odisha as having the highest newborn mortality rate in India.

Only 8.9% children aged 6-23 months get appropriate nutrition. Around 51% of women in the 15-49 years age group and 44.6% children between 6 and 59 months are anaemic in the state. Food and income security programs like Targeted Public Distribution Program (TPDS), ICDS Supplementary nutrition program and Mid-Day Meal (MDM) program and National Rural Employment Guarantee Program have not yet eradicated hunger.

Mental health issues in Odisha raise concerns. Odisha recorded the most child pornography cases in India in 2018, according to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. Odisha also took the lead with 1,427 cases of child rape registered. Dr Anuradha Mahapatra of Manam Foundation emphasizes the need for counselling and professional care for mentally disturbed people. She feels many people do not care for their own mental and physical health in a disciplined way. She has noticed a serious sense of entitlement in many young boys who come for counselling. Lack of awareness on sex and related issues brings huge repression within families, she says.

Leaders and policy experts have much to work upon. Meanwhile, even people like us can make a difference. It is time for us to realize that life is more than eating, sleeping and shopping. Money and property alone do not decide our worth. Money alone is not the key to happiness. The United States ranks at 19th place for happiness, while people in less prosperous and moneyed countries rank higher in the World Happiness Report. The idea of charity and community service must take deeper roots in our own hearts and minds. We need to look beyond our narrow self-interest and encourage others to improve and excel. We must realize that variety of interests and selfless service to others makes our own lives richer and happier.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at monideepawrites@gmail.com.)

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