India may be facing the greatest famine the world has ever known. Tens of millions are facing possible starvation this year, according to some food distribution experts. Many more millions may suffer permanent mental and physical retardation from malnutrition. Experts warn that the toll could top that of India’s 1943 famine, when more than three million deaths were reported in Bengal alone. Burgeoning population multiplies the problem: there are one million more mouths to feed each month.
For Christians around the world the specter of famine in India, where one-sixth of the world’s population lives, poses a major moral issue. If the prospects are as grim as predicted, do they not place upon churchgoers, especially those in affluent countries, an unparalleled responsibility for compassionate action?
Thus far, churches have largely taken the threat in stride. The annual Protestant “One Great Hour of Sharing” last month was little more than business-as-usual. Some of the indifference can be blamed on the reluctance of those on the scene in India to paint lurid pictures of the seriousness of the food shortage because of the fear of panic and skyrocketing prices.
India is just now beginning to feel the pinch of famine. It is largely the result of last year’s drought, the nation’s worst in seventy years. No new crops will be available until at least October. Prospects of relief in the meantime are fraught with incredible complications ranging from cow worship to enormous waste and the Oriental tradition of face-saving.
Bloody riots that began in mid-March in Calcutta served notice on the world that the crisis was brewing. Billy Graham, who rarely gets involved in social issues during evangelistic rallies, cited the riots during his Greenville, South Carolina, crusade (see story, page 44). He said, “We in America cannot go on driving Cadillacs and getting richer, while the rest of the world drives oxcarts and gets poorer. There is going to be a crash and an explosion some day between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ unless we are willing to share our wealth with the poorer and undeveloped countries of the world.… The hungry and the diseased are on the mind and heart of Christ.… There is a social aspect of the Gospel that many people ignore.”
Religious relief organizations are virtually exhausting resources on behalf of India, but effects are limited by such problems as woefully inadequate budgets and lack of sufficient transportation and distribution facilities.
Church World Service, relief arm of the National Council of Churches, reports it has rushed $100,000 to the Indian churches to help expand a mass feeding program for as many as a million persons. The Lutheran World Federation has approved an emergency grant of $75,000 for milk powder. Australian churches have sent $10,000 from an emergency fund. Danish Inter-Church Aid has shipped three tons of powdered milk and 11 million vitamin pills. German church agencies have promised $125,000 in cash, and the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church intends to send $3,000 worth of dried milk. The Swiss Protestant Federation has allocated $23,000.
Perhaps the most heartening response to the challenge came from the Netherlands, where most churches joined secular organizations and five major radio and television networks in a dramatic one-day appeal for India. The doors of nearly every church in the country were thrown open for two hours on Saturday. February 19, to receive contributions, and $4,998,600 was collected.
The relief arm of the National Association of Evangelicals has no program in India; a spokesman explained that the NAE refuses to accept the Indian government’s stipulation that half of incoming relief be turned over to the government for distribution. The American Council of Christian Churches, which also has a relief arm, cabled $7,000 to India in March and is conducting a drive for more funds, perhaps as much as $50,000. World Vision is planning to start a major relief program in India soon.
Some groups have already resigned themselves to mass starvation this year and are concentrating on long-range relief through agricultural aid, development of irrigation facilities, and birth-control programs. Christian clergymen and missionaries in India, sensing the emergency, are increasingly encouraging family planning, even in unlikely situations. Not long ago a Canadian nurse married to a missionary to India took advantage of a rural evangelists’ retreat to promote inter-uterine contraceptive devices.
An emergency three-day consultation on food production was held in New Delhi in March, sponsored by the National Christian Council of India and the India Social Institute. A number of church relief groups were represented. The aim was to formulate basic strategy and co-ordination. Experts see the problem as worldwide, since there is already a widening global gap between population and food production.
The food crisis also promised to be a prime topic when India’s prime minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, headed for the United States in late March to confer with President Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk. The U. S. government is willing to help India in the current crisis but wants future aid projects tied to assurance that India gives high priority to her own agricultural development. Previously, India had pinned hopes of progress to industrialization, but in her fourth five-year plan (1966–71) agriculture is second in priority only to defense.
Indian officials still insist there is no critical food shortage. They say reports of famine are exaggerated, that no starvation deaths are confirmed anywhere, and that the riots are politically motivated. Food experts tend to dismiss the official statements by saying simply that no government likes to admit it cannot feed its people.
Agricultural development faces major obstacles. India’s peasants use ancient farming methods and virtually no fertilizer, and they harvest one of the lowest yields per acre in the world. With little irrigation, farmlands are dependent on monsoon rains. But the monsoon failed in a number of areas last year, and there was crop damage of 75 per cent or more in six states, Andra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mysore, and Rajasthan.
The government hopes to close the gap with imports and strict rationing, but few are envious of the task facing officials of the world’s second-largest country. A number of foreign governments are providing aid. But mass shipments of food hit critical snags before they reach hungry stomachs. Indian ports, operating on a crash basis, cannot handle all the imports that will be necessary. Inland distribution problems are even more serious.
The nutrition problem, some say, overshadows the threat of outright starvation. Lack of vitamin A commonly causes infant blindness. Protein deficiencies victimize pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children under six.
Raw stomachs reject unfamiliar food, and rice-hungry Indians find it difficult to like wheat. Some mix bread and rice together or grind wheat to make the pancake-like chapattis. Many Keralans eat rice exclusively, although tapioca (an African staple) is grown there. Waters off the coast swarm with sardines, shrimp, lobster, and mackerel. Mangoes, pineapples, sugar cane, peppers, cashews, coconuts, and other foods grow in the hills. Much of these are exported for needed foreign exchange.
Rats and India’s sacred cows are additional difficulties. From 25 to 50 per cent of India’s grain is destroyed by pests and sloppy storage. About half of the estimated 226 million cattle are useless and malnourished, and are eating food human beings could consume. A team of Swedish experts has recommended sterilization of bulls.
For all the problems, India, now a nation of 490 million, is making some steps forward. The government is pushing its own program of distributing inter-uterine devices, hoping for one million insertions in the next twelve months. It is also encouraging voluntary sterilization in families that have two or three children.
India is also making good use of some brilliant and dedicated technical personnel. Model farm projects have shown yields per acre double the U. S. average. If India can somehow learn to farm as intensively as Japan, she can feed all her people.
Says an Indian embassy official in the United States, “God has different destinies for different men. We have survived, thank God.”
Dr. Edward Gardiner Latch, pastor of Metropolitan Methodist Church in Washington, was chosen chaplain of the House of Representatives to succeed the late Dr. Bernard Braskamp.
Dr. Harold C. Howard was appointed executive vice-president and dean of Eastern Baptist College.
Dr. Walter H. Judd, former medical missionary to China who later served ten terms in Congress, will receive the 1966 “Layman of the Year Award” from Religious Heritage of America. Francis Cardinal Spellman was chosen “Churchman of the Year.”
Dr. Alexander C. De Jong was named first president of Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois.
Dr. Elwin L. Skiles was named president of Hardin-Simmons University (Baptist). Skiles has been pastor of the 4,500-member First Baptist Church of Abilene, Texas.
DR. RALPH COOPER HUTCHISON, 68, noted Presbyterian clergyman and former president of Lafayette College and Washington and Jefferson College: in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
BISHOP ALEXANDER P. SHAW, 86, who led Methodist Central Jurisdiction conferences in Louisiana, Maryland, and Texas; in Los Angeles.
REV. THEODORE C. PETERSON, 83, the nation’s oldest Paulist father, noted Semitic scholar, and son of Lutheran missionary parents to India; of a heart attack, in Washington, D. C.
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