Got Junk Food? There’s a National Mission for That.

Hey kids!  Guess what?  Processed Food now has its own National Mission!

Yes, we have a National Mission on Food Processing, a Centrally Sponsored Scheme approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in August 2012.   But how can such a scheme succeed in a country that has grown accustomed to the taste of fresh food? 

Check out this article on “Foreign Direct Investment in Indian Food Processing Industry.”  Take particular note of all the hardships this industry faces:

Food processing industry in India has been facing constraints like non-availability of adequate infrastructural facilities, like cold chain, packing and grading centres, lack of adequate quality control and testing infrastructure, inefficient supply chain, shortage of processable varieties of farm produce, seasonality of raw material, high inventory carrying cost, high taxation, high packaging cost, affordability and cultural preference for fresh food.

Kakali Majumdar, Asian Journal of Research in Business Economics and Management Vol.2 Issue 4, April 2012

Fear not, our industrious Nation is already hard at work alleviating these constraints and forging ahead with the Mission!


Problems faced in achieving the National Mission on Food Processing, Solutions and Budget Allocated


Problem Solution Program Budget
inadequate infrastructural facilities
non-availability of cold chain
non-availability of packing and grading centres
lack of adequate quality control and testing infrastructure
inefficient supply chain,
shortage of processable varieties of farm produce
seasonality of raw material
high inventory carrying cost
high taxation
high packaging cost
cultural preference for fresh food.


For Further Reading

FDI in Food Processing Touches $2.15 Billion, Times of India, January 23, 2014.


The elderly are rising

Return to frontpage

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.


The grammar of non-apology and the penance of Tarun Tejpal

Aravinda Pillalamarri examines Tarun Tejpal’s letter to Shoma Chaudhury to reveal how much accountability he has taken for his actions. Continue reading


To Prevent Harassment

To Prevent Harassment
26th March 2013

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012 was passed by the Parliament on Feburary 26, 2013.

Passing a law is but one step in the long journey towards gender justice in the workplace and in society in general. To make the law effective, people in all workplaces must be aware of the law, be committed to ensuring a safe working environment, and know how to handle complaints in a timely and dignified manner. This will require awareness, policy advocacy and legal actions, both in the organized and unorganized sector, and also to extend this to the Armed Forces, which are not covered by the current act. It is an arduous task and needs much more support from the government, courts, and employers, along with organizations of women, workers and lawyers who have been concerned with this issue for decades. Many people have written about the issues concerning difficulty of reporting and proving harassment, safeguarding against retaliation for reporting, especially in cases where one does not obtain a conviction.

To prevent sexual harassment of women at the workplace, however, we need to prevent more than sexual harassment alone. We also need to prevent discrimination of women. To address the issue of equal pay for equal work, one must first value the work that women do. In many fields men and women are segregated and men’s work is paid more. Even so, men and women must be paid at the minimum wage (Rs. 115 / day) or higher. Though the Constitution of India guarantees equality before the law and Article 39d specifically states that “that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women,” most working women in India earn less than their male counterparts and often earn below minimum wage.

Fighting for minimum wages is no simple task. Recently a team from Hyderabad responded to a call from bonded laborers in the brick kiln industry. While trying to meet the workers, the people faced assault and threats of abuse and murder. Though they contacted many government officials and media persons to witness the plight of the workers, there were ignored, both before and after the attacks.

These are the kinds of battles that those concerned about ensuring safe and dignified workplaces need to fight. As long as threats like those faced by the concerned citizens from Hyderabad go uninvestigated and unpunished, the environment will not be safe for men or women workers to report harassment and oppression, nor for concerned citizens to extend solidarity.

For further reading …

Attack on Volunteers Investigating the Condition of Workers at Brick Kiln in AP
March 19, 2013,

Parliament passes Bill to prevent sexual harassment at workplace
Gargi Parsai, February 26, 2013,

Sexual harassment of women at workplace bill 2012 passed by Lok Sabha
September 6, 2012

Kiran Moghe (2007), Maharashtra President of AIDWA (All-India Democratic Women’s Association)
“Almost 400 million people – more than 85% of the working population in India – work in the unorganised sector. Of these, at least 120 million are women.”
from “Understanding the Unorganized Sector”

A Brief History of the Battle Against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace
Vibhuti Patel, 2005


Maternal mortality in the first world

Re: maternal mortality in the first world

New postby LS Aravinda on Sat Nov 08, 2008 7:59 am

As with so many issues, we cannot do justice to the problem as it affects people in the third or fourth worlds, if we examine the problem only there. We must also recognize how this persists in the first world, affecting the affluent as well as those less so, and particularly prevalent among the third / fourth world pockets within the first world. In part this helps us understand reasons for maternal mortality that may not have to do with money or state-of-the art facilities. What are the factors related to attitudes, inequality, that contributed to this? How can cultures moving towards affluence and superior technology take care along the way to overcome or avoid the factors that allow maternal mortality to persist in the first world?

Maternal Morality rates in the US – ranked 20th according to CDC and 41st according to UN & WHO – are believed to be under-reported (only 21 US states record on the death certificates if the deceased was recently pregnant). Currently CDC reports maternal mortality rate to be 13 / 100,000 live births, up from 12 in 2003. It is also up from 8 in 1982, and once again higher than 10 , which was the rate in 1977. [A UN / WHO report (2007) places the US maternal mortality rate at 1 / 4800 or 21 / 100,000]. Maternal mortality in the African American community in the US is double, or more – one source reported 34 / 100,000 live births. Poor pre- and post-natal care, in-hospital neglect, denied right to information for patients, and low status of women, vulnerability of pregnancy / motherhood all play a role in this.

Midwife Ina May Gaskin has studied maternal mortality and complications in pregnancy and birth in the US and the social and political factors that cause these to persist and, in recent years, increase. She has raised awareness through the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project.

In “Masking Maternal Mortality, “(Mothering, March-April 2008, pp64-71), Ina May Gaskin asks the crucial question – WHY are we not talking about this serious issue in the United States? Why are we not alarmed that it persists? To her questions, I would add, what can developing countries like India learn from the persistence of maternal mortality in the US, as birth practices are rapidly changing – reducing risks in some spheres, while perhaps unkowingly increasing risks in others?

She writes about shocking cases of maternal death in the US. One case is that of Army soldier Tameka McFarquar who was transferred to New York from her tour of duty in South Korea after becoming pregnant. However, 10 days after being discharged from Samaritan Hospital in New York, she was found dead in her apartment, her newborn also dead from dehydration as there was no one else to notice that the mother was unable to care for her.

Just one follow-up visit would have detected the problem that cost her her life. Tragically, her chances of survival might have been higher had she not transferred to the US. South Korea has a lower maternal mortality rate than the US.

– Aravinda

In May Gaskin, “Masking Maternal Mortality,” Mothering, March-April 2008, pp 64-71.
U.S. ranks 41st in maternal mortality
Maternal Mortality Shames Superpower US
Racial And Ethnic Disparities In Maternal Mortality – American Medical Association
Pregnancy-Related Mortality Surveillance — United States, 1991-1999
Pioneering midwife crusades for natural birth


Jay Jayakumar

When the heavily pregnant woman had complications during labour, the villagers of Shattak faced a problem. The nearest hospital was 60km (37miles) away and they had no car.

“We got a ladder,” says Abdul-Majid, the head of the village’s health shura (council) recalling the incident over four years ago.

The villagers then laid the woman on the ladder and 20 men took turns to carry the make-shift stretcher along a rutted, windy track that rarely sees vehicles. The pace was agonisingly slow.

“We didn’t make it to the hospital,” says Mr Abdul-Majid. “The mother died on the way.”

For almost 16 babies born, one woman will die in labour. As a country, Afghanistan is ranked second in the world for maternal mortality rates after Sierra Leone.

But health professionals in the province are optimistic that a new project is reducing the numbers of deaths.

Run by the Aga Khan Health Services, a midwife trainee programme selects bright young women from districts across the province.

The students take an 18 month course in the provincial capital, Fayzabad, before returning to their villages as trained midwives.


GM Rice

It seems that the article is not in public domain. Based on the abstract, I have a few questions about this “unprecedented push” towards GM rice.

1. Were there any physiologic studies on human beings? What genetic changes were made? Does it have human DNA in it?

2. The UN Environment Programme study indicates that organic farming can feed Africa. What is the need for GM-rice other than ownership of it? … 68641.html

3. Rice is basic food in the world. What corporations are pushing this? Why put such a staple of human kind into few corporate hands?

I wouldn’t depend on Nature to give us the answers to these though. It’s record of scientific integrity where biotechnology is concerned has some serious blots.

When Berkeley researchers, Ignacio Chapela and David Quist published a paper on Mexican maize contamination (Nature, Nov 2001), there was a huge backlash from the Biotech Industry and the magazine bent over backwards to take it back.

Monsanto’s Dirty Tricks Campaign Against Fired Berkeley Professor Ignacio Chapela
Corporate skepticism: Turning doubt into dollars
Rampant Conflict of Interest in Mexican Corn Controversy
Worthy’s ‘Responses to Metz, Fütterer and Kaplinsky’s Correspondences in Nature, 27 June 2002’

John Paull, who has posted a comment on this article, has reported on China’s drive towards organic agriculture:

I would not necessarily depend on China to safeguard our food safety either. What do we learn from the ongoing melamine disaster?

When possible I will try to get the full text of this from a library.

Tue Oct 21, 2008 9:07 am

Agriculture: Is China ready for GM rice?

In an effort to avoid a food crisis as the population grows, China is putting its weight behind genetically modified strains of the country’s staple food crop. Jane Qiu explores the reasons for the unprecedented push.

Jane Qiu

In a paddy field 30 kilometres south of Fuzhou, the capital of China’s Fujian province, Wang Feng is surveying a massive green and yellow chessboard before him. Wang, a rice researcher at the Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and his colleagues have been developing genetically modified (GM) rice strains to resist pest infestation, and have been testing in these plots for a decade. Two strains from Wang’s team are now awaiting regulatory approval by the agricultural ministry for commercial growth. It could represent the largest commercialization of a GM foodcrop. Rice is a staple for most of the country’s 1.3 billion people and a primary source of calories for more than half the world’s population.

other comment

True, we need to look at more than only the science. Still on the science of GMOs, here are some talks on its flaws:

We also have to be concerned about the economics and injustice that is being promoted in the name of science. Even if the science were ok we’d need to be concerned about it. The monopolistic actions, anti-trust violations and complete control over seeds. Why would we expect a corporation like Monsanto to care about farmers and food security? Even in the US Monsanto is actively putting seed cleaners (the people who help farmers save their seeds) out of business.
Agricultural Giant Battles Small Farmers This CBS News report is subtitled: Monsanto Goes To Great Lengths To Protect Its Patents On Genetically Modified Crops


Campus Notes

Campus Notes

21st May 2006

When Simpreet Singh silently held a banner raising the question “Development or Destruction?” before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who addressed the convocation of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the activist community debated the wisdom of his gesture. Was it an embarassment to an institution that has steadfastly supported people’s causes, and in fact from which several staunch activists, including Simpreet Singh have graduated? Did it help or hurt the cause he aimed to support?

The debate, while very interesting, was cut off by the crushing judgements the next day and after – the Supreme Court postponed hearing theNarmada people while allowing dam construction to continue, and explained to the homeless in Delhi that the Right to Housing did not necessarily apply to them. Consider it an early warning to those displaced without rehabilitation.

Reflecting on my own experience teaching college students, I can only wish we had more Simpreets. I can also say with some confidence, that given a choice of embarassments surfacing on campuses today, administrators would vie for an action like holding up a silent message for a just cause at the convocation assembly.

Most contend with the scattered outbursts, that may embarass, which I have come to understand as a “cry for help.” We hear this cry in the muffled students who succumb to mob tactics to raise academic issues; in such practices such as bullying, sexual harassment and regional rivalries; and in some of the uglier elements that come on display during public programmes when students take the center stage.

Small children often experience uncontrollable frustration during ages when they are coming to terms with their own sense of independence. Those who have sought to understand the role tantrums play in the child’s process of growing up advise parents to listen and not only “put out” the tantrum like one would put out a raging fire.

Unseemly as it may be to tell men of 18 or 20 years of age not to hit their classmates or not to masturbate on stage in front of their peers, faculty and townspeople, one must also look into the source of these tendencies to violence and vulgarity. What frustration or insecurity drives this exhibition of machismo? Perhaps it is because at a time when people are expected to be prepared to stand on their own, make their living and take greater family responsibilities, they harbor deep-seated anxieties over these very matters.

What resources do we provide for young people to share their anxieties? I read the tendency of some to condone practices such as ragging, eve-teasing, and other routine harassment to which some students resort, as an abnegation of responsibility to address the real issues bothering our young people today. This is a question for our society as well as our campus community. Fear of failure, introduced from class I or even earlier, has shown its ugly consequences in myriad ways. Acts of rage and desperation including suicide and homicide have captured headlines. At the same time, there are less noticed yet in some ways equally alarming impacts of an educational system that associates discipline with punishment and education with segregation, teaching students to judge one another as harshly as they themselves feel judged.

From judgment follows reward and punishment. Yet there is a disconnect. Students are ready to judge, but lack the capacity to implement any meaningful action (certainly not one that deviates from the norm) based on the judgment. This very frustration fuels the tantrums of very young children. A society that has not developed a caring approach to these should not be surprised to see this frustration resurface in uglier proportions in adolescence and beyond.

While it is tempting to blame popular culture for the cheap thrills associated with sex and violence, one must also answer the question, “why and how has this culture become popular?” Is it in fact “what people demand” or could there be other forces driving certain themes and scenes into our TV programs and films, both fiction as well as those broadcast under the banner of “news” or “opinion.”

Not all are interested or willing to take up media activism, or even to write a simple letter to the editor. Yet how critically do people read and how seriously do they take their own opinions? While the Chief Guest at a recent student’s assembly was offering valuable advice on raising one’s own standards of excellence, a wave of students made noises to suggest that he should truncate his prepared remarks. However, the speaker, perhaps hearing the silence of those who were actually savoring the pearls of wisdom, continued unfazed by the peremptory applause or other actions. One wonders whether the catcalling students even wished to be taken at face value. Did they really reject the idea of a Chief Guest at the annual program, and if so were there not other opportunities to express this opinion? If they had better ideas for involving accomplished community leaders in the institution, probably they could be implemented. Or do they indulge in disrupting the dignity of the occasion because they know that saner voices, including the silent majority, are there to prevail?

But what if the crowd mentality takes over? How to account for mob dynamics which exploit the silence of the majority for their own ends? Do we know how to protect ourselves against that? In all our years of education do we learn to speak truth to power, to say what we believe without worrying about who agrees or disagrees with us, and how much money or might they have? Sadly our schools often teach us to do exactly the opposite.

Regarding the routine humiliations and severe harassment that plagues many college campuses, a student in my Group Discussion class exclaimed, “without being hit a child does not even learn 2+2 = 4!” Such violence, passing through the system to higher grades, has reached a level of complacency. Outraged, many have called for ragging to be banned and perpetrators to be punished. However few have looked into the violence of our education system in itself. How many would share this student’s recollection of being put down, whether by words or by stick, even in elementary stages of learning?

At the root we must ask what it really means to “learn 2+2=4.” Is it simply being able to produce the answer “4″ when asked for 2+2? Today’s children are hardly given a chance to discover concepts such as quantity or accumulation through their own intuition and aptitudes, which have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. Instead, so eager are we to impose our so very recently standardized alphanumeric codes on human experience and impression, that very young children are expected to accommodate their expressions to adult languages. Adults reward children who “correctly” do so through external praise, gold stars, grades, and even junk food. This craving for external affirmation may grow addictive and get internalized through the school years, with almost no reciprocal expectation placed upon parents and teachers to understand the world from the way children make sense of it, or deal with the senselessness of it.

When we confront problems such as violence, vulgarity, sexual aggression and exhibitionism we must search for the causes and solutions not only in the extra curricular realm but also in our very approach to education.

Therefore Institutions of higher learning take seriously their obligation to model the kind of leadership that relies neither on the pocket nor the fist but truly engages people’s hearts and minds towards a shared goal. This kind of leadership relies on reciprocity, in that one must recognize the individual aspirations of those one leads, and also inspire in them a yearning for the broader vision, which all create co-operatively.