NEW DELHI: In today’s India, when news stories are dominated by plans for bullet trains, soaring GDP figures, free internet on railway platforms, new IITs and IIMs and what not, the recent news of 52 infants dying at a Jamshedpur city hospital of malnourishment is a terrifying reminder of the reality of this country.

The horrific tragedy follows two other tragedies of children dying in hospital this month: On August 20, three newborns died at the Bhim Rao Ambedkar Memorial Hospital in Raipur -- reportedly because an oxygen operator was drunk! In Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College and Hospital, more than 60 children have died since August 7 -- while the government insists it’s because of encephalitis, others have alleged that the deaths were due to lack of oxygen supply at the facility.

These recent incidents reveal the reality of India -- where underneath the jingoistic 52-inch chest thumping driven policies of rising GDP, bullet trains, foreign world tours and the like, base concerns such as lack of healthcare, food and nourishment, housing, sanitation et cetera form the core.

It’s perhaps because of this realisation that the deaths of infants in Jamshedpur pulled at a few additional heartstrings, as in this day and age, it absolutely shameful that India as a country continues to grapple with malnourishment as an everyday reality.

The statistics are mind boggling. Over 44 percent of children under the age of 5 are underweight. 72 percent of infants and 52 percent of married women have anaemia (research clearly links malnutrition during pregnancy to the child having increased risk of future diseases, physical retardation, and reduced cognitive abilities). In fact, according to the Global Hunger Index, India is 67th on a list of 80 nations having the worst hunger situation -- it’s worse off in this department than countries like Sudan!

The World Bank corroborates this reality as it estimates that India is one of the highest ranking countries in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of Sub Saharan Africa with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth.

Worst still, the rising GDP -- that our political elite and corporate moguls keep harping on about -- has done little to improve the situation. Despite India's 50 percent increase in GDP since 1991, more than one third of the world's malnourished children live in India. Read that sentence over and over again, till it’s permanently imprinted within your fabric of nationalism.

A seemingly unrelated incident comes to mind when writing this piece. A few months ago, seven people -- including four Muslims -- were lynched in Jamshedpur over rumours of being ‘bacha chors’ (child lifters).

How ironic is it that within the same city, seven people were lynched to death over unsubstantiated rumours of kidnapping children, while a few months down the line 52 children die within a span of weeks of malnourishment.

The reason why the above is important is because it serves as a reminder of India’s real problems. Rumours are often spread as political opportunism, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that the target of these rumours are usually from the minority communities (Muslims, Tribals, etc). In recent months, rumours have ranged from ‘beef smuggling’ to ‘cow smuggling’ -- and enraged people have acted upon them, lynching the targets to death!

Instead, if that same anger could be directed to children dying of malnourishment, perhaps we could see more of a headway in terms of development. If more time could be spent educating families about proper nutrition, and making available a balanced diet -- free of stigma and fear -- we could take a step forward as a nation.

Our nationalism instead is coated in either jingoistic superficial developments such as GDP figures, business deals and foreign trips or pseudo-nationalistic endeavours such as banning beef or chanting the national anthem.

The real progress of this nation lies in none of the above -- but in contending with realities that are entirely preventable in this day and age through education, nutrition and access to healthcare. The Jamshedpur tragedy should make us all hang our head in shame!