2013 Report

Association for India’s Development

2013 Report of work: Aravinda Pillalamarri


Below is a report of my work in 2013, and plans for in 2014 and beyond in the following areas:  Jivika, Women’s Health, Food Security, Consumer Awareness, Learning, Support to AID and AID Chapters, Volunteers, Projects and Publications. Continue reading


Towards a Breastfeeding Model that Works

In Part II of my talk on Gender, Work, and Health, presented at the National Labour Institute in Delhi, first to a group of research scholars from various parts of India and second to a group of policy makers from different countries, I talked about how a rights-based approach would improve implementation of policies that would bring about a Breastfeeding Model that Works.

A breastfeeding model that works:

  • Recognizes the importance of breastfeeding

  • Accords with World Health Organization Guidelines and the Indian Constitution and Maternity Benefits Act

  • Recognizes the importance of food.


Breastfeeding is the normal way humans feed their young, and also introduce their young to the diverse flavours of foods.  Currently in India, however, only 1 in 3 babies is exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, and even fewer continue breastfeeding for at least two years, as the WHO Guidelines recommend. Continue reading


Farmers’ Market

Eating is an agricultural act.   – Wendell Berry

Films like “The Story of Stuff” have made millions of people aware of the connection between what individuals consume and waste daily, to the issues of poverty and pollution globally.  At the local level, we need to translate this to specific changes people can make in food, clothing and shelter habits to meet our needs without exploiting our environment and other people.

While the mainstream media spends billions persuading us that we need to consume more and more to be happy and that simple living is dull and difficult, the Farmers’ Market serves as a place to bring producers and consumers together, to and make a socially conscious economy not only possible but also joyful.  Street musicians perform while children ramble about the park and eager photographers zoom in on birds and butterflies.

The farmers bring fresh vegetables and fruits from their fields, and several stalls sell snacks prepared from organic ingredients.  As well as art and craft stalls, a place to spin thread on a charkha, a stall to get a massage and others that come and go.

I found it a worthwhile place to display our jivika products, particularly those that are not available in most places, such as our convenient nursing kurtas, cloth menstrual pads and cloth diapers, and the veggie-bags.   All of these are designed not only for supporting products made of khadi by rural tailors, but products that make sustainable living easier for all of us.  So I usually take an EZ Cooker, which generally interests people to come and find out what it is and how it works, and a few people order them for home use.  When it is cold I try to take some khadi hoodies as well.  And the usual AID literature, CDs, calendar etc.  Apart from sales, tabling is a great opportunity to meet interesting people and particularly young people looking for volunteer work.  Because the farmers’ market is not just about buying delicious food but connecting with people who believe that we can bring about a better world.

Organic food is expensive.  But polluting the land and our bodies is even more expensive, though as a consolation the vegetables may come with a lower price tag.  I try to keep on buying organic food not only for my own sake but also in the hopes that as the farmers practicing organic agriculture get more demand, they will also increase their supply, get more economic supply chains and eventually more people will be able to afford these and farmers who grow the food will have more secure livelihoods.


Gender Work and Health – Part 1: Birth

Gender, Work, and Health

Women’s Health from a Women’s Rights Perspective

Following are notes from a presentation I gave at the National Institute of Labour as part of a training program on Gender, Work, and Health.  I presented on Women’s Health from a Women’s Rights Perspective, focussing on three themes, Birth, Breastfeeding and Food. 

Before I continue to the three themes I presented, let me share some of my own apprehensions about speaking to both of these audiences.

My brief was to talk to the Ph D students about research methods and to the health officials about policy. Continue reading


Women’s Rights Perspective in Health – dangerous?

At a training program in Delhi, organized by the VV Giri National Labour Institute, I spoke on birth, breastfeeding and health from a women’s rights perspective.  I gave the presentation to two groups – one comprised 36 PhD students from universities and institutes in various parts of India and the other comprised a similar number of health officials and physicians from developing countries outside India.

We sometimes talk about the inadequacies of the biomedical model of health and birth, insofar as it excludes social, psychological, environmental and spiritual factors.   What we notice less often is the possibility that the biomedical model may itself depend on metaphors that are influenced by cultural stereotypes.

In the first part of my talk, I discussed gender stereotypes in the medical descriptions of women’s bodies and of reproduction.  For this I relied on Emily Martin’s work The Woman in the Body and in particular “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles.”  (Signs, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Spring, 1991), pp. 485-501.

Drawing from several standard medical textbooks, Emily Martin shows that descriptions of women’s bodies reflect the values of industrial capitalism as well as gender bias and stereotype.  Take away these values and substitute gender equality and women’s rights, and you would describe these processes quite differently.

I presented some of her examples  and quoted from her article to explain each one. In summary these are:

Biological process

Standard Medical Textbooks

Why not


journey of the sperm

interaction of egg and sperm


passive, fragile, dependent, waiting

connecting with sperm


active, strong, heroic, autonomous

connecting with egg


overstock inventory

just-in-time maturation


amazing feat



failed production

indicator of fertility


factory shutdown

golden years

I continued to talk about how we had the choice to look at these processes in a way that grants women autonomy over their bodies and reproductive health, and this could help us to take a rights-based approach to women’s health.  Just as I was about to move along to a discussion of women’s rights in birth, several hands flew up.

“The processes are described this way because that is the function of the reproductive organs,” one doctor said.  I replied that we could look at the process differently if we did not assume that the objective of every woman and every menstrual cycle was to have children.

Why are you calling menopause “Golden years?”  several men asked.

I answered that it signals a transition in life and that each phase of life could be appreciated on its own terms rather than regarding the woman’s body only through its child-bearing function.  It is not to imply that earlier phases of life are less “golden” but simply to use a positive and respectful term.

“These ideas would be all right coming from a Western Perspective,” commented a physician from Sri Lanka.  “But you being from our culture, should not be spreading these ideas.  This kind of thought, if it spreads would be very dangerous,” he said.  “It would cause a disruption in our society.”   A physician from Afghanistan agreed with him and added,  “In our culture motherhood is not a burden, it is a privilege.”    One more health official from an African country added that menopause should not be called golden years and went on to explain that men could continue to reproduce for the whole of their lives.

I asked, “Can we hear from any of the women in the room?”

No one spoke up.  The physician from Sri Lanka said, “I am speaking on behalf of the women.”

I was stunned that no one objected to such a statement.   Nevertheless, I stayed on message and reiterated that a woman has the right to decide whether to have children and that having children was not the only, primary, or necessary purpose of a woman’s life and by extension, women’s health.  To address women’s health from a women’s rights perspective, one must recognize the value of the body without limiting it to its capacity for childbearing.   One must also respect women’s rights when addressing women’s reproductive and maternal health needs, including during pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond.

During the break several women approached me and said, “Your lecture is very interesting.  Some of our colleagues are from very patriarchal backgrounds.”  I said that they should speak up during the discussion.   Later in the evening, I thought of I should have replied to those who cautioned against the social disruption that feminist ideas may cause.  In order to make progress on women’s health issues, we must change our ideas and practices, and be prepared for the disruption that such change would cause.

In the remainder of the seminar, I presented on three themes:

Birth Models that Work.

Breastfeeding Models that Work.

Food Models that Work.

(to be continued …)


Women’s Rights Perspective in Birth, Breastfeeding and Food

On 10 March 2014, I spoke about Women’s Rights Perspective in Birth, Breastfeeding and Food at a Training Program on Gender, Work and Health held at the National Labour Institute, Delhi.  In one session, graduate students from institutes in various parts of India attended.  In another session, Health Officials from various countries attended. Continue reading


Save Open Schooling

The National Institute for Open Schooling serves millions of children every year, and its programs, including the Open Basic Education program should be recognized and supported under the Right to Education Act.  Instead, some important programs of NIOS are facing cuts.

There are a variety of reasons that children may not attend or may not thrive in a legally recognized, Board-affiliated school and for these children, Open Schooling offers a meaningful path of education and vocational training and certification. In the case where the reasons stem from poverty or injustice, we should certainly address these causes and clear the obstacles for school admission and achievement. Nonetheless the option of open schooling should remain available.  To close the option of open schooling while there are still people who want and need it and are making good use of it, is a disservice to those people, who for the most part are among the poorest and marginalized sections of society.  There are also people who opt for open schooling by choice.  And why not – the freedom and flexibility and respect for the learner that NIOS builds into its learning programs are difficult for any school to match. See for example, this description of the NIOS Open Basic Education program for children aged 6-14:

Like all Academic and Vocational Programmes, the foundation of the OBE programme is based upon openness and flexibility. The registration period is valid for five years thereby not only giving freedom to the learners to choose their subjects but also to study at their own pace. It also provides freedom to select the medium of their choice. A learner has a choice of Hindi, English or any Regional Language as medium of study. Like all academic programmes, OBE programme has no upper age limit for any learner, though children below the age of 6 years are not registered in the programme.

Although the RTE Act states that schools cannot deny admission, and aims to enroll every child in school, there are many who are unable to go, who go and find conditions intolerable, or who are, in violation of the law, denied admission. There are also children attending schools that are not legally recognized as schools. There are trusts, co-operatives and other organizations running schools under a variety of circumstances and conditions that are not recognized within the purview of the RTE Act – for example, they may be teaching in a local language, with staff that does not have B.Ed degrees, or teaching in a refugee camp or in a region zoned for displacement and therefore not allotted any schools or other government services.   They may be teaching children with different learning styles or abilities in a way that is customized to the special needs and abilities of each learner.

After attending such a school a child may appear for the Secondary exam through NIOS, and possibly continue in a mainstream college or other course afterwards.  NIOS also offers the Senior Secondary exam.    The service is available to all out-of-school learners regardless of reason for not enrolling in school. In 2011- 2012, 2.5 lakh students passed the Secondary (10th standard) and Senior Secondary (12th Standard) NIOS exams.

At the National Institute of Open Schooling’s 25th Anniversary celebrations at Chennai, a student spoke about the importance of NIOS and the need to make more people aware of the educational options it offers: There are so many people like us who do not thrive in the conventional system, but do not know that they have another option. And it is for this reason that each of us must become personal ambassadors of NIOS. Whenever I explain the concept of NIOS to anybody, more often than not, they say, ”Wow, I didn’t even know that such a great framework exists!”

– Aditi Parekh, “The Power of Open Schooling

If you read the 2010-2011 Annual Report of the NIOS, you will see an institute that is functioning well, whose leadership takes seriously its mission to reach those in need, and works wholeheartedly to extend and improve its services, in the public interest and without profit. The inspiring letter from the chairman, S.S. Jena concludes, “The ever-increasing student enrollment and collaboration with premier institutions indicate the confidence of the society and Government in the multifarious activities of the NIOS.” In a climate of growing privatization and commercialisation of education and weakening government support for public education it is very important to support an institution whose stated goals are “universalisation of education, greater equity and justice in society, and the evolution of a learning society1.”

Therefore it is alarming to read, later in the same NIOS Report, that although the institute is doing so well and serving so many across the country, it is being curtailed or discontinued in the name of Right to Education. I quote: “However, in the light of the RTE Act, NIOS will have to discontinue catering to children [up to] 14 years of age after 20132.” In July 2012 the government extended this deadline to March 2015. but the Twelfth Plan (2012-2017) does not mention the Open Basic Education program and focuses on NIOS services for secondary education and vocational training3.  The main program serving children up to age 14 is the Open Basic Education (OBE). With the future beyond 2015 looking bleak, many of the OBE study centers have already begun to close, leaving millions of children with no other route towards mainstream education.

This is the wrong direction to take.  The Open Basic Education program should be strengthened and supported with individual and online registration facilities.  In fact, schools can learn from the OBE model, including allowing children to learn at their own pace with no upper age limit.   

What will happen to the millions of children who depend on the NIOS?

At a meeting held in November 2013 at Gujarat Vidyapith, a number of educators from various institutes including Nai Talim Samiti, Azim Premji Univ, Vigyan Ashram and Multiversity’s Taleemnet, endorsed a letter to the Prime Minister calling for strengthening of State Boards of Secondary Education as well as the NIOS. Nyla Coelho of Taleemnet made a similar appeal during the Right to Education session at the India Homeschoolers’ Conference held in March 2014.

Homeschooled children in India who need a certificate for admission into any stream of their choice after the tenth standard, have been able to meet this need through the NIOS. While there are private services and international boards, these are expensive and have no commitment to the public, as NIOS does. Homeschoolers who have taken the exams through NIOS have also identified needs for improving the way the examination is administered. For example, recently a child in Maharashtra taking the 10th standard exam through the NIOS was shocked to find that when he asked for additional paper to continue his answers, he was not allowed, as the rules state that only one sheet is to be provided per student. The family has filed a case to change this policy. Perhaps other students suffered because of this unfair rule but did not have the means to file a case; if the rule is changed and students are allowed enough answer sheets to complete all the questions, this will benefit all who take the exam. If the reason that students are allowed only one answer sheet has to do with staffing limitations of the NIOS, then we must advocate for the NIOS get the required budget to hire additional staff and see that students are empowered to do their best.

Currently no body has announced or proposed closure of the NIOS, but many parents are worried, after seeing the cuts to the OBE program.   Cuts to NIOS would create problems for millions of students who depend on this institute and cannot afford other means as well as those who opt for the NIOS by choice. Even if the RTE is fully implemented and schools are available, people who are affected by displacement, migration, unemployment, sub-minimal wages, ill-health and other issues may not be able to complete 10th standard through the school system and need the option of appearing for the exam through NIOS. Even if they day dawns when people enjoy land rights, sustainable livelihoods, living wages, health security and accessible schools, the NIOS is part of the educational safety net and serves those within as well as outside of the formal school system.

Therefore in solidarity with all out-of-school learners, including millions of open learners already registered with the NIOS, and with the hardworking staff of the NIOS, all of us who care about education in India and about keeping educational options open for our children must stand together in support of the National Institute for Open Schooling. We need to urge the Ministry of Human Resource Development to recognize the role of the NIOS and all of its programs including the Open Basic Education program in fulfilling the mission of the Right to Education and to support the multiple paths of learning that children in India are following. We must demand that the NIOS remain open and receive greater support to improve the quality and reach of its services.


1 NIOS, “What is NIOS?”  Source:  accessed March 2014.

2 From the NIOS 2010-11 Annual Report.  The NIOS website states:  “The MHRD letter vide no. DO 10-4/2009-EE-4 dated 7th April 2010 has permitted NIOS to continue its OBE programme for 6-14 age group for a period of three years wef 1st April, 2010.”  Source: accessed March 2014.

3 “The Twelfth Plan will strengthen the infrastructure facilities for NIOS and 16 State Open Schools (SOS) under RMSA in order to improve the outreach of open schooling programmes with special focus on skill development and vocationalisation, particularly in the educationally backward districts of the country.”

Source: accessed March 2014.