Below is a summary of my work in 2011 in the following areas:  Jivika, Women’s Health, support to AID chapters, projects and publications.




Since the production unit in Orissa has not been running we have approached tailors in Ponduru and Santakavita area of Srikakulam District to make khadi products.  We are working to improve production quality and train new tailors.    Earlier we were relying on already trained tailors but they have so much work already that they aren’t interested in getting trained for new designs.  Though a good government training program exists, it requires full day commitment for three months and daily travel to Etcherla.  Though the program also covers trainees expenses, we haven’t found people ready to go through that program and then get trained in our designs, so we need to set up a local program in the village with timings that are convenient for the trainees.


We have been supplying the Jivika products to chapters and individuals who order them and taking to meetings and in Mumbai, to the weekly organic farmer’s market.

Current Product Line includes:

  • Hoodies, kurtas (men’s, women’s, children’s), pyjamas, yoga pants

  • Cloth menstrual pads

  • Shopping bags & vegetable bags – to say NO to plastic bags


When in Mumbai, I attend the farmers market to promote Jivka products and to connect with organic farmers, rural workers, fair trade workers and promoters, and concerned members of the public.  Apart from products, the Weekly Farmer’s Market provides a space for community voices, in the form of petitions, poetry readings, dance and recently hosted one event in the Seed Festival.


EZ Cooker promotion is going on at village and urban level.  YouTube Performer Wilbur Sargunaraj profiled the EZ Cooker when he visited Mumbai.

Wilbur Sargunaraj presents the EZ Cooker – YouTube


Women’s Health


Goal: To articulate and advocate for a rights-based model of birth for all women in India.


Along with Dr. Supriya Kumar, in 2010 I started talking to mothers, midwives, doctors, health workers about how mothers decide where and how and with whose assistance to give birth.   We have spoken on the phone to women in a number of organizations throughout India and I have spoken in person to women in Srikakulam District, and also with women from Badwani (MP) and Mozda (Gujarat).  When speaking with health workers, we sought to understand the impact of conditional cash transfer schemes such as Janani Surakhsa Yojana (JSY) in the decision making process as well as on the birth outcome.  We have kept notes of our conversations.  I have been meeting others working in the field, including a team of doctors in Mumbai doing a formal study of birth experiences in Municipal Hospitals.


At this stage I am not drawing conclusions but only seeking to hear from women and health workers about their experiences and perceptions on the place of women’s rights in women’s health, particularly with respect to reproduction.   These will inform the way in which women can collectively advocate for health policies that respect women’s rights.


In November I submitted an abstract on Women’s Birth Stories to Birth India conference held in Bangalore in January 2012.   I am concerned about the decline of social and institutional support structures that enable midwives to work effectively with women giving birth.  Part of the work required for reversing this decline is rebuilding confidence in women’s bodies and women’s knowledge systems.  These in turn impact breastfeeding, a critical factor in the the health of women and children.


Although the value of breastfeeding is well known traditionally as well as scientifically,  powerful commercial interests work against this natural and normal way of feeding a baby.   Therefore women need support from social and health institutions that are independent of these interests.  Women’s health must be firmly linked to women’s rights as well as right to health and right to food initiatives.  To explore ways of working with these ideas in practice, I am meeting people from organizations such as Birth India, Society of Midwives, and Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India.  Some of the upcoming conferences through which I hope to identify appropriate partners to get more involved in this field are:


  • National Bioethics Conference (initiative of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics)

  • National Conference of Society of Midwives India | Site

  • World Breastfeeding Conference, December 7-9 | Site



Support to AID Projects


I helped communicate with AID chapters regarding Rural Development Service Society work in Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam districts towards effective implementation of MGNREGA, translating the report and proposal and questions coming from the chapter during review.


In February Ravi and I visited villages where tribal families from Chhattisgarh had settled in Khammam district, Andhra Pradesh.   In March, at the invitation of Center for Social Justice (Ahmedaad), along with Gandhibabu of ASDS, Suresh of AID-Hyderabad and others, I attended a consultation at the Planning Commission office in Delhi with the aim of bringing the concerns of Internally Displaced people before those who would be developing India’s 12th plan.  Groups from Kashmir, NorthEast, and Gujarat also presented the issues of the internally displaced communities of their region.   Prior to our session there was a consultation with representatives of Primitive Tribal Groups, and we attended that as well. We had an opportunity to see the Approach Paper that the committee prepared after this consultation.  I was disappointed that it did not reflect the major concerns or basic perspectives on development and displacement that we and other groups had put forth.  Other members of the group with more experience with the Planning Commission, such as Gagan Sethi, opined that acknowledging the presence of Internally Displaced Persons was itself a considerable step forward and one should not undervalue that.


Srikakulam:  Apart from Jivika and Women’s Health, I have been involved in supporting the teams in nutrition distribution, kitchen gardening, and children’s libraries.  We are trying to transfer some of the skills from the village coordinators to the SHG groups so that they take over activities such as marketing hayboxes and menstrual pads.



US Chapter Visits:


In May, we attended AID conference in Boston and stayed to meet supporters and people working like-minded organizations, and to work with Boston chapter volunteers.  In June-July we visited chapters in Boise, Maryland, Charlotte and Duke.   In contrast to holding a concert and using the space in the brochure or the time in the interval to talk about AID, donor dinner allowed us along with volunteers to make a direct appeal to the community with substantial information not only on specific projects needing funds but about the connected nature of AID work on development issues through projects, campaigns and chapter level work.   The format also allowed opportunity for interaction, bridging the gap between volunteers and community members, who rather than attending as “audience” felt like fellow travellers in the common cause.  The time was also useful for addressing issues that community donors but could not resolve through local chapter or phone / email.




AID Archival Material:  Prior to the annual conference, Kavita from Boston sent an appeal asking those to those who had documents, photos, audio and video recordings pertaining to AID projects, campaigns or chapter activities to bring them or bring a list / summary of what they had.  At the conference, we formed a small team to look into preserving the material and making it accessible.   Our goal was to store, catalogue and index these materials.   We could not make progress during the time I was there.   Veena Krishnakumar offered to start the process of digitizing the materials.   She was not able to start this in 2011 but has offered to start in 2012.   It is very important that we digitize and protect these materials so that they are not lost and equally important to make them so that we have continuity with prior work, and learning from past.  This work will need more concentrated and sustained effort.


In Boston, we met with volunteers to record songs of people’s movements.  Unfortunately due to a technical error the recordings were not saved.  I have requested volunteers to redo this and save and upload the recording so that we can add it to the Archive of People’s Movement Songs on the AID website.  The songs reflect people’s analysis and perspective on social and political issues, in a voice, language and idiom that is not reflected in most news media or history books that visitors to AID website normally read.  Having the audio along with the lyrics will enable visitors to hear and learn the songs and carry the message further.


AID Calendar


For the twentieth year of AID the 2012 calendar showcased various AID projects as well as AID chapter activities.  I worked on getting photos and preparing text, stored in Calendar2012  twiki pages.  As usual, Publications & Fundraising team worked together to produce this and distribute it to chapters and donors.



Plan 2012


Jivika – Along with Srikakulam team we will train new tailors and streamline the process of producing Jivika products on demand.


In Srikakulam our team will involve local SHGs in the process of marketing EZ Cookers and cloth pads, and create online training and support resources for other organizations wishing to make these products, to supplement or substitute for onsite training by our team.  Along with Peter Bakos we will train more local tailors to make Jivika Khadi products so that we can have regular supply of consistent quality.


I will continue to work on a rights based approach to health, focusing on birth and nutrition, including breastfeeding.  I will continue to be involved in building consumer-producer links in the area of food through Mumbai Farmer’s Market and other initiatives.  I would also like to expose lies broadcast via food advertising and see that companies are not allowed to make false claims regarding health impacts of the food they are marketing.


Following AID conference I will be in the US till September, to visit chapters and also to work on AID archives and current media efforts.   I need to work with volunteers in the US to set up the process for archiving, cataloguing and indexing AID materials.  We will also need human resources to do the work once the process is set up.    I also plan to take forward the work in recording songs of People’s Movements, both in India and in the US.  In 2003-04 we recorded songs and compiled them, along with oral  commentary by Medha Patkar, in audio cassette and CD format.  Now I plan to distribute the recordings online through the AID website, adding some contextual information as well as lyrics and translation, to encourage more people to learn and sing the songs.  This will help to keep alive our links to the oral tradition of transmitting people’s history and social and political thoughts.


Early discussions indicate that upcoming calendars are likely to feature people and goods in motion – headloads, wheels, mass transit.  Another popular theme option is festivals, performance and theatre.   I will work with Publications and Fundraising Teams to produce the calendar and other awareness and outreach materials.



Goal: to strengthen support for paths of learning outside of the government or private sector school system, pursued in addition to or instead of the standard school system, either by conscious choice or due to inaccessibility / inadequacy of the school system.



Along with Homeschool groups in Mumbai and Pune, as well as at the Learning Societies Conference, using information obtained from the Department of School Education and Literacy, MHRD, we are working to raise awareness of alternate learning paths, improve their accessibility for all, and to nurture the connections between formal and informal learning.  I have listed the various support groups available.  I plan to attend these conferences:


  • Learning Societies Conference in Jhadpoli, Maharashtra – March 2012 | site

  • All India Homeschoolers Meet – July 2012 | site

  • Northeast Unschooling Conference – August 2012 | site


In the long term, I would like to work on critical pedagogy, to help education and literacy achieve their potential to act as tools of empowerment.  Today we see them promoting conformity and consumerism.  Right to Education, however, must not only mean right to be admitted in a school and consume the information and ideas dictated, but right to ask questions and actually learn without fear while in the school.  Outside of school, children do ask questions, question the answers, and even question the questions.  Unfortunately in school, the vast majority of students get little time or space to ask or even answer questions in their own words.   Their role is to reproduce the answers provided to them.  Children who step outside of this expected role will typically be punished by a bad mark, humiliation or even physical punishment.   There is no grievance redressal mechanism for children whose right to education is violated in this way.


I would like to explore ways to introduce theories and practices commonly associated with homeschoolers to school-goers as well as in environments where children are not attending school because there is no school available or because they are unable to get admission.  This is not to suggest that they forgo their efforts to get admission.   But just as we have found that farmers are more receptive to trying out new techniques following a disaster, and have used that opportunity to shift from conventional, chemical-based farming to organic, self-reliant farming, something along the same lines may work for education.   Similarly, just as a farmer can try organic techniques in part of the field, a family can explore practices of free learning, slow learning, and independent study, if they are prepared to free some of the time and mental space currently occupied by conventional education.


I am also working on a series of books for children that draw on traditional knowledge, local heritage and rural culture.  I hope to have these beautifully illustrated and published in Indian languages.

Selected References



Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, May, 2009


Naomi Baumslag and Dia L. Michels. Milk, Money and Madness.  Bergin & Garvey, 1995.


Stephen S Lim PhD, Prof Lalit Dandona MD, Joseph A Hoisington BS, Spencer L James BS, Margaret C Hogan MS, Dr Emmanuela Gakidou PhD, “India’s Janani Suraksha Yojana, a conditional cash transfer programme to increase births in health facilities: an impact evaluation,” The Lancet, Volume 375, Issue 9730, Pages 2009 – 2023, 5 June 201


DILEEP MAVALANKAR, KRANTI VORA and BHARATI SHARMA, Strengthening Midwifery Services, Seminar Issue 604




14th March 2012

How do we learn to share?

Often the people who ask are concerned about helping their children learn to share. Is sharing something that we need to learn? If so, from whom?

Someone once said, while asking for contributions to a charity, that when you give, it is a way of saying, that you have enough.

In a world where one is continuously being sold the message that one does not have enough, it can take some effort to remember and acknowledge that we actually do.


Very true and yet very hard concepts to get, for me. In my mind, I completely agree that food must be shared, one must not eat alone … but I often eat alone. I am happy to “share” in that when people come to the door and ask for food I give it to them, or contribute in other ways. I am happy to do it, but if no one “needed” my help in getting food, I would not necessarily have that feeling that “my stomach will hurt if I eat alone.”

We are reading more and more – or at least I who have lost touch with the social and cultural aspect of eating, am reading more and more about the value of eating with others. Food habits are changing so much in this generation, I hope that those who haven’t yet lost the habit of eating as a family, sharing food, etc, value these and keep them alive so the next generation can feel it in their hearts and not only in their minds. In closing, I wish to share something I heard from an elderly woman in a village in AP, when someone was commenting on the way she fed any and all who came to her. There is nothing remarkable in this, she insisted. “The food is not me, or mine. The food is Krishna. It is Krishna who gives and Krishna who receives it. Where am I in all this?”

One might say that this woman could afford to feed everyone. She wasn’t particularly rich, but it was not her wealth that generated this attitude.

Two young people who tried living at the poverty line of Rs. 26 / day wrote about “generosity we got from people who live on the other side, despite their tough lives. ”

(See more at

I too have experienced the insistent generosity of the poor, seemingly oblivious to the concept of food scarcity. Even among those whom we only know because their community was in the news for poverty and hunger, as Somnath describes in his article, “Eating in Amlashole” When they offer him more food, they insist,

“We have plenty”