Any criticism of the Ehsas Langar scheme recently inaugurated by the prime minister is unwarranted and completely uncalled for. Soup kitchens provide a much-needed service to the homeless, the hungry, the destitute and low-income families. They are not a novel concept as shrines, charities and philanthropists have been feeding the poor through soup kitchens for a long time. Thus, if the government has set up a soup kitchen to provide free meals and attached its name with a reputable charity then this is a great step indeed.
The scheme aims to provide hygienic food to the poor so that no person goes to bed hungry. The government intends to set up 112 soup kitchens across the country within a year. Earlier the prime minister had set up shelter homes for the homeless to stay indoors during the winters, and now the government is establishing soup kitchens to feed the poor.
Soup kitchens are common even in developed countries where meal programs are provided. During the Great Depression, soup kitchens were set up to provide warm meals for those who had nothing. These were run either by private citizens or churches. Soup Kitchens were criticised for encouraging dependency. But the concept of government’s role was significantly different back then. They stayed out of people’s lives and there was no concept of welfare or even private insurance. It was a commonly held belief that welfare made people lazy and complacent.
This has changed now and most people believe that it is the responsibility of the state to provide basic amenities to its citizens particularly food, shelter, healthcare, education, and employment. Governments around the world now see it as their social responsibility to help the less fortunate. In countries such as UK, food banks hand out groceries directly to the hungry. Soup kitchens remain the most widely used form of food aid in the world.
There are 795 million people in the world that do not have enough food to lead a healthy life. That’s about one in nine people in the world. According to World Food Programme, 43 percent of Pakistan’s population faces food insecurity, and out of these eighteen percent severely lack food. For many of these hungry souls, soup kitchens are the only solace, which also provides warmth, companionship and shared communal experience of dining valued by the underprivileged sections of society.
Even as the government struggles to uplift the poor sections of society, welfare remains their priority. Pakistan is facing a myriad of problems including economic issues, and lack of resources. In such circumstances, efforts to set up soup kitchens and other food programs should be appreciated.