The elderly are rising

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Beyond small mercies

December 25, 2013 01:16 IST

HARD TIMES: Even in relatively well-off families, money is always in short supply and the comfort of the elderly often takes the back seat.

APHARD TIMES: Even in relatively well-off families, money is always in short supply and the comfort of the elderly often takes the back seat.


wage and pension

social security

In the harsh lives of the elderly, the pension is a chance to enjoy small comforts — relieving their pain with some medicine, winning the affection of grandchildren with the odd sweet, or simply avoiding hunger


Rs. 200 / month? I spent Rs. 200 this morning. What did I get?

2 kg tomatoes – Rs. 80
6 santras – Rs. 45
1 kg atta – Rs. 36
1 loaf of bread – Rs. 38

Apart from the atta, which will last 4 days, the other items will be finished by tomorrow, by our family of 4. Not to mention provisions already in stock.

Why 2 kg tomatoes? Everyone at home is sniffly & sneezy. Cold and cough are going around. Tomato soup, made with onion, garlic, ajwain and tulsi aid our recovery. So will the santras.

The same cold and cough can turn much worse for the weak and hungry, especially without clean water, proper shelter or blankets. Or Rs. 200 for fruits and vegetables.

Food prices are through the roof. Six months ago I paid Rs. 150 for the above. Rice and wheat are subsidized – so far. What about pulses? The WTO has put the brakes on supplying oil and pulses in the PDS.

The elderly are rising – and not a moment too soon. We need their voice in the struggle for food security for all.


Should the ICDS serve packaged food?

In the 2010 Seattle conference we held a debate on the question:  “Should the ICDS serve packaged food?”  Volunteers broke up into small groups and tried to argue for and against this proposition.   Afterwards one person came forward to argue in favour and another to argue against in a debate before the entire group.

Two points are worth mentioning from this exercise

– People found it very difficult to find any points in favour of procuring and serving packaged foods through the ICDS.

– After the session, one person came to me, as the facilitator of the session, and complained that the entire session was a waste of time because it was simply a “no-brainer” that the government should provide food grains or freshly cooked food and not processed and packaged foods through its welfare programs.

All the same, Amartya Sen, Jean Dreze and many others others have spoken out publicly against the proposal.

Yet this no-brainer proposal continues to come before the Ministry of Child Welfare and several states have in fact introduced packaged foods through the ICDS.   The packaged food industry markets and lobbies for their product very aggressively.  Using the same tactics that worked fifty years ago in the US, the industry first persuades people to think about nutrients rather than foods, and then prints nutrient information on their labels and advertisements.  Unlabelled and unadvertised food does not boast such nutrient information and may come up with lower numbers even if someone calculated specific nutrients.  But there is a world of difference between nutrients occurring as part of food and nutrients added in a factory.

See also: ICDS gets packaged food for the malnourished.   Down to Earth, March 15, 2008.
Hot meal for kids? Renuka sells ready-to-eat.  Telegraph, Oct 3, 2008.
Keep industrial food out of ICDS


Pedaling and Performing and Stuffing our way to Sustainability

As the year of the bicycle draws to a close, thousands of AID volunteers, well-wishers, family and friends-of-friends of AID around the world are preparing to take down the calendar that brought outstanding photographs of bicycles in use in diverse aspects of sustainable development including health, environment, employment, education, civic engagement and girl power.  The hard work, heartfelt aspirations, and simple joy shine through all the months of the year.

Not a month has gone by that Bicycles have not made news – be it the rise of bicycle sharing programs in cities and villages, the struggle for bicycle lanes and rights of cyclists, and the inspiring messages of youth undertaking bicycle tours to raise awareness of green living and green policy.  Even as we fold the 2013 calendar, let us recommit ourselves to the humble bicycle, and the rights and safety of the people who pedal the path of sustainability.
In 2014, our walls will showcase performance from various regions and traditions of India, as well as projects reflecting the depth, diversity, and reach of AID work in sustainable development.  Kavita from Boston has brought together the sounds of Bhil, Baul, Kalbelia, Garo, Muria and other musical and dance traditions featured in the 2014 AID Calendar in this soul-stirring video:  Natya.
Working on the eve of Thanksgiving, AID Berkeley volunteers stuffed envelopes with calendars and the letter to donors to ensure timely year-end mailing before the onset of final exams, papers and winter travel.
Now that I know this, you must be asking, what do I do? 
  • Watch the video
  • Reach out to to your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family to let them know about the work AID is doing in collaboration with grassroots organizations.
  • Ask them to keep the AID 2014 calendar on the wall of their homes and offices, to remember AID all year long.
  • Send a calendar as a new year gift to near and dear.
  • Raise funds for AID!
2014 Natya: Performance, Identity, Expression | video
2013 Bicycle:  Pedaling towards Sustainability | video

2012 Safar: Along Roads Less Travelled | video
2011 Jivika: Living in the Margins
2010 Makan: A Place Called Home | video
2009 Roti: Sharing Food, Sharing Values | video
2008 Kapda: Clothing the Nation
2007 Nurturing Nature
2006 Pattachitra on Rural Living
2005 Looking Forward: A Journey through North East India
2004 Wisdom of Grassroots
2003 Women and Work (Photos of P. Sainath)
2002 Inspiring Changes
2000 Rethinking India (Photos from Narmada Valley)


Keep industrial food out of ICDS

Three years ago we campaigned in these villages for accountability in ICDS services.  Villagers filed RTI Applications, met the Collector, held inquiries and saw services improve measurably, from the measuring cups used to the frequency and equality of service in centers where these were lacking previously.

Now we visited the anganwadi to see how things were going. I was shocked to find that in lieu of the bimonthly ration of wheat, rice, dal and oil that the ICDS distributed to pregnant women and mothers of children up to age 3,  they were now distributing packaged powder!  Packaged in a glossy plastic bag with a drawing of a mother and baby and a table of nutritional information, the powder, made of refined flour, sugar oil and nut powder, is a “Ready to Eat Theraputic Food” or RUTF.  RUTF is recommended only in emergency relief situations where fresh food is difficult to procure or prepare, or other special circumstances.  For regular nutrition, fresh local food is the priority – it is more nutritious, costs less, sustains local agriculture and is better in the long term for producer and consumer alike.  

Instead they are distributing these:

icds kurkure3 icds kurkure2 RUTF Balamrutam

In the name of “nutritional supplement,” Packaged Snack Food being distributed by the ICDS. Appalagraharam, Nov 2013

I talked to local women and asked them what they thought about this.  Some said that the powder did not suit their children.  Others said that they thought it was nutritious and that they were supposed to give it.   They said, “It is approved by the National Institute of Nutrition.”   This is the same institute whose deputy director Veena Shatrugna stated that packaged food was not nutritious (“ICDS gets packaged food,” Down to Earth, March 15 2008).

We have in fact been hearing about the proposal to push packaged food into the ICDS for many years, and seen this idea criticized by Amartya Sen and other respected economists,   Recently when it came into Jharkhand, the Ministry of women and child development, in a strongly-worded letter, has asked the Jharkhand department of social welfare to stop.  (Times of India 17 Oct 2013).

Apart from violating the norms and indeed the purpose of the ICDS, the “Balamrutam” supplied to mothers of children under 3 threatens to reduce breastfeeding.  Complimentary food starting after 6 months of age should be made of family food and not powdered food from a package.

The ingredients are:  wheat, chana, sugar, refined palm olien oil, skim milk powder, calcium, iron, and B vitamins.    Preservatives are not required to be listed on the package.   Added vitamins and minerals are not well absorbed and the dried wheat and chana would not have the nutritional value that the child could have obtained from wheat (or better yet local millet) and chana prepared at home.   Oil that is processed for including in dry powders can never have the value of oil in its own liquid form.  Sugar is included to disguise the stale taste of the packaged food and take advantage of the taste for sweet food.  For young children just learning about the diverse flavors and textures of foods, a homogenized sweetened powder will only orient them to the taste of packaged food.

The ICDS is in a position to provide grains, dal and oil to people’s homes and should not use its offices to provide packaged, sugared food instead.