On his trip to the Adivasi belt of Thane, teachers who got wind of journalist P. Sainath’s (The Hindu’s Rural Affairs Editor) visit approached him with a problem. “Could you please ask the government to provide twice the amount of mid-day meal on Monday? After the Friday afternoon meal, our children starve over the weekend. No teacher is willing to teach this bunch of kids whose bellies are on fire every Monday,” a school teacher told him.

“That is hunger,” said Mr. Sainath at the 23rd T.V. Chidambaran Memorial Lecture held at South Indian Education Society’s High School on Saturday. SIES has a network of colleges and a school which have played a significant role in the education system of Mumbai.

His lecture “Why Inequality Matters” traced the glaring disparity between the 55 Indians whose net worth was $193.6 billion last year and the large number of people dying of hunger.

Hunger, he said, that makes the mothers of Mahbubnagar in Telangana to ask the government to reopen schools in the middle of a heat wave in May. “It’s better to see our children die of heat wave than of hunger in front of our eyes,” they told Mr. Sainath.

The Planning Commission may have made a mockery of the poor by saying that poverty had reduced this year, but Mr. Sainath’s talk highlighted a different reality which sparked off a thought process in the audience. “We are fifth in the world on Forbes list of billionaires, but 136th in the human development index below war-ravaged countries like Iraq, Sri Lanka and Vietnam,” he said.

Mr. Sainath said: “Last year, during an acute water crisis, there were hoardings, advertising buildings with swimming pools on the Mumbai-Pune highway. These expensive apartments are owned by the aspiring rich; the super rich have their investments elsewhere. There was another advertisement of a luxury villa with a reserved forest attached. In Maharashtra, even the tiger doesn't have a reserved forest.”

Mr. Sainath asked students to educate themselves if they wanted to see a change. “Begin by reading the Directive principles of State policy, which gives a vision for an equal and just society.”