Solidarity, Tour

For a Just Society – Visit to Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan [photos]

Visit to Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan
Dalit Women’s Collective

Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan, a Dalit women’s collective, formed in 1999-2000. AID has supported the group through projects, fair-trade marketing as well as solidarity to the Sanghatan in various phases. Along with AID-Bangalore volunteers Chetana, Karthik, Disha & Tamia, Ravi, Khiyali and I recently visited the women to hear their own reflections on their experiences and successes over the years, fighting oppression based on caste, gender and class, as well as ongoing challenges on all these fronts. Here are some photos from our visit with these grassroots partners. Continue reading


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


Knock, knock

SO the enquiry has begun.  SO have the threats.  “Are you ready to face the consequences?” a voice said on the other end of the phone line to one village volunteer.  Villagers may also have succumbed to pressure to say anganwadi was ok …  But locks don’t lie.  When the officials knocked on the doors of the anganwadi in Dallavalasa, it was closed.

Meanwhile public support for the campaign is growing.  One anganwadi worker followed the village karyakartas as they went door to door for the ragi distribution work, watched as they weighed babies, talked to mothers.   Afterwards she invited them to her home.  Now villagers recognize AID India workers as people who can help them bring grievances to the responsible officials.  In Appalagraharam, where anganwadi is supplying grains, a few have come to show that these grains have worms in them.  Since the new Collector seems to be sincere, we will continue conveying this information and support those anganwadi workers who also want to improve things and have had difficulty given the prevailing modus operandi.

Meanwhile Surya newspaper has published an artice on March 23, pg. 3 detailing the extent of corruption in the anganwadi system.


visit to Collector (again)

Three of the village karykartas went to meet the Collector, Srikanth Nagulapalli, again. The ICDS project Director Vidyavathi was also present when they reiterated their complaint that the anganwadis were not functioning since several years. They told him what the MRO told them (”anganwadi is like that only”) and the Collector called the MRO and asked him how dare he reply like that?  The MRO denied saying any such thing and the Collector said, “the villagers are right here, do you want to talk to them?”  He declined.  The Collector  told him to conduct a proper enquiry.  He scratched his head and asked, “where are all those supplies going?”

Varahalanaidu filled him in.  “pappu kunchem vanda rUpayalaki ammutunnAranDI.”  [They are selling the dal for Rs. 100 / kunchem].  He was not familiar with “kunchem” a local unit of measure so they explained that it was just under 3 kg.  Similarly they told him the going rate of the oil, rice, etc.

They emphasized that they needed to find out from the individual households and not just go by the papers filed.  It so happened that Surya Telugu Daily had just ran an article exposing the extent of corruption in ICDS.  The author of the article passionately appealed to the Collector, as a new, young person, to correct this injustice.

Editor of Surya Telugu Daily can be reached at:

Nukarapu Surya Prakash Rao
Editor, Surya Telugu Daily
Door No 3-6 Kommadi village
Madhuravada  VIZAG 530041


MRO gives clean chit

The villagers learned from the MRO that he got back a report saying that Anganwadi services were running fine. They asked how can he believe that when so many have signed the letter to the collector? He replied that anyway we don’t expect everything to run perfectly. “You know that, right?” he added.

Some important information:

Srikakulam 08942 222555, 222648


Revisiting Barber’s Colony

We visited the barber’s colony again yesterday. They greeted us with puzzled looks. Fortunately we had something new to show them – the haybox cooker. So we interspersed questions about the anganwadi program with talk of the wonders of the haybox.

But the facts were clear, in spite of sending a letter to the collector 6 weeks ago, nothing had changed for them. They had received nothing from the anganwadi. Continue reading


Letter to Collector on Anganwadi

Letter to Collector on Anganwadi

26th December 2007

Morning after Ajay’s talk we sat to draft the petition letter and the format for collecting signatures. Based on our initial survey the previous day, we knew that some families had received rations once or twice, and some not at all. Also it appeared that they did not receive the full quantity allocated to them by the program. For example many reported receiving only one glass of dal (150 – 250 gms) while the program provided for 1 kg / month for 15 months.

We demanded that the Collector and responsible officers of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) see that the anganwadi program gets implemented properly, by ensuring full and timely delivery each month of the “take home ration, ” namely rice, dal, cracked wheat and oil to the pregnant women and new mothers, and daily functioning of the anganwadi centers for feeding anble officers d engaging children in learning activities each morning. Furthermore we demanded that they deliver the rations owed to the families from the past. Finally we demanded that each anganwadi display a notice board clearly describing what services the center offered and what each woman and child were eligible to receive.
We took the forms and looked for homes with young children and mothers-to-be. We had no plan as to who should sign first, but we wondered if there would be any hesitation in signing first. Anyway we approached the SC colony and an elderly woman asked what we were doing. We said we were finding out if people were getting anything from the anganwadi.

“ETi lEdu” (not a thing)
“Emi ivvalEdA? garbhini appuDu istAru kadA?” (nothing? but during pregnancy they give, right?)
“mAlalaki istArEmiTI?” (you think they give to mAlas?)

well that is why we are sending this letter to them, we need you all to sign it.

Meanwhile a young mother came and we explained the letter to her. She said she had received nothing from the anganwadi, and she had even gone to ask once but they didn’t give her anything. She explained that because she was from a low caste, she could only ask so much. “mEmu takkuva jAti kanaka mEmu takkuvaga nE aDugutAmu.” But she was ready to sign the letter. We told them that if the officers come and ask you you must tell them the same thing that you are telling us now.
Sure we will tell them, mAkEmiTi bhayamEmiTI? tinTE tinnAmani ceptAmu, tinakapOtE tinalEdani ceptAmu. (Why should we be afraid to state the facts, if we ate we will say so, if we didn’t eat we will say so.)

Emboldened by her response and signature we proceeded to other homes. Not a single person hesitated to sign the letter. Many told us they had come to the meeting the night before. One woman who had spoken up strongly at the meeting talked to us again when we visited her at home. Apparently that morning some officials had visited her house and asked her why she was making all this fuss. Why all this fuss now, when no one raised the issue before? They implied that there may be some ulterior motive, that she was trying to get the anganwadi worker fired. She told them that there was no personal agenda here, and if she did her job right then no one would have any complaint.

Later we learned that the sarpanch had also called our coordinator’s home. So he and two volunteers went to meet him. They came back even more vigorous than before. They explained how we got into this, that while distributing ragi to severely malnourished children we heard from many people that they were getting nothing from the anganwadi, so we are trying to change that.

The sarpanch understood the goals of the letter, and appreciated the part AID India was playing. At least he realized that there was no ulterior motive, no political agenda or affiliation, and nothing against the people occupying the post. But he promised to correct the problems within a day or two, and asked us not to send the letter. Let us see.

A sad fact that emerged as we talked to the women while collecting the signatures was that the anganwadi workers do administer the “injections” though they do not give them the food rations. Giving malnourished children medicine or immunizations may be risky. Even well nourished children can have adverse reactions to immunizations. If they are able to see a doctor who can correctly diagnose that, then subsequent immunizations can be modified – either delayed, separated (giving one at a time rather than multiple innoculations at once), or cancelled altogehter based on the risk to the individual patient. It is highly unlikely that a village health worker would be equipped to diagnose adverse reactions to vaccines. Basic issue is that good nutrition is the primary immune booster.
Looking back it is almost funny how we stumbled into this issue. When I had asked where is the anganwadi for Sravani, I heard that the anganwadi was actually in the house next door to hers, but it never ran. However the next day Varalakshmi told me, the anganwadi is running do you want to go see it? So I did. After chatting a while with the worker as the children trickled in, I said I would go and bring Khiyali. In this way I visited this center three days in a row and all three days it ran for nearly an hour. At the meeting someone reported that because of my visit, some children who were attending some other preschool were pulled to come and attend this anganwadi. And on the day when I was not in the village, apparently the ayah had started to call the children but the worker told her, “no need to call them today there is no visit.”

Notice board seems to be a very important component because people don’t really know how much ration they are supposed to receive each month. Even when we asked the anganwadi workers themselves it was hard to get a simple answer to the question, “how much rice do you give each month?” A clear notice board would fill in an important missing link – right to information went hand in hand with their right to food.

In fact some people expressed surprise when we asked them if they were receiving anganwadi services. “mI pillalu anganwadi ki veLtArA?” “mIku anganwadi ninchi Emi istAru?” we always phrased the questions positively. Some simply answered that they got nothing or that their kids did not go to the anganwadi, but some said, “what anganwadi?” In the weavers colony, one conversation went as follows:

“anganwadi lEdu mA panchayati kE lEdu” (anganwadi? our panchayat has no anganwadi.)
“manaki panchayat undEmiTI?” (panchayat? we have a panchayat, what?
“adEmiTi panchayat unDakapOvaTam EmiTI?” (what do you mean, how can there not be a panchayat?)
“weavers ki panchayat undEmiTI?” (do weavers have a panchayat?)
“wevers ki lEdu.” (no, weavers dont have one)
“mari aTlA aitE lEnETlE” (then it’s as good as not having one.)

I should have probed further as to whom they felt the existing panchayat belonged. Probably notice boards on the panchayat meetings, etc would help. as well.

On the train back from Srikakulam I described these recent events to an elder woman from Bhubaneshwar sitting next to me. She said that the government has very good services, they just do not reach the right hands to implement or benefit from them. I told her how we talked with the anganwadi workers and the supervisor. She said “struggle karna paDega, aur kuch nahin.” (People must struggle, there is no other way.)

Notes, Uncategorized

Tolapi Meeting on Anganwadi

Tolapi Meeting on Anganwadi

24th December 2007

Varalakshmi went back to talk to the mothers about taking the next step, which would be to prepare a list of all the people within the beneficiary zone of the anganwadi centers and record how much they had received. In a list of 18 names, there were reports of some who had received once, some twice and some not even once. In order to meet a large group of the women at once, we would have to have the meeting in a neutral place, so Varalakshmi suggested the elementary school. This way no single caste would be singled out.

Taking advantage of the presence of guests from the AID conference, including seasoned satyagrahi Ajay from Anakapalle, we called for the meeting today. We gathered about 20 mothers and by the time they all reached the elementary school a crowd of about 20 more had gathered as well. We briefly recapped the issue which was anyway well known to them. Varalakshmi summarized her discussions with the women in their homes, the anganwadi workers at their centers, and also at the sector meeting. The next step was to submit a list of names of those who were eligible but had not received the food. Simple enough.

A young man from the village immediately said that he could tackle the issue, call the press, take videos and meet the required officers. Ajay told him that getting our pictures in the paper was not going to get the results, and could even sidetrack us from our actual goal which was to get the children their food, which was their right. Another said, “ippuDu manaki svacchandi seva samstha undi kada, AID India, manamE Edo cEskovaccu kada, vILLu vALLu cEyyalEdanakunDaga) why harp on the negative saying what government is not doing, we have our voluntary organisation, AID here, why dont we do what we can ourselves and not blame others for not doing this. Reminds me of the words of Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, “When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were hungry, they called me a communist

After a lot of discussion and after driving home the point that people had to write a letter, sign their names and be prepared to tell the same truths they told during this meeting at the time of any enquiry, Ajay closed with a song on Ambedkar and reminded people that we do not get our rights by begging.