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


Food Models that Work

What follows is the third part of a talk called “Women’s Rights Perspective in Birth, Breastfeeding and Food” that I presented at a Training Program on Gender, Work and Health held at the National Labour Institute, Delhi in March 2014.  The earlier two parts concern Birth and Breastfeeding. 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


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.


Threats to Food Security

Among the threats to food security today are:

  • Climate Change

  • Cultural Change
  • Unsustainable agricultural policy

  • Non-implementation of land rights

  • Loss of forests, depriving forest-dwelling communities of livelihood as well as food / medicine that comes from the forest, as well as overall health of ecosystem.

  • Loss of bees

  • Pollution, Submergence, and Diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural use

  • Dams and diversion of water for cash cropping, tourism and other non-agricultural use
  • Land acquisition for industries and projects that benefit industries, rendering 1 million people per year landless, homeless and food-insecure.

  • Food Industry  – nutritionally inferior products, false advertising, government subsidy, corporate lobbyists,

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


Whose permission?

Whose permission?

21st December 2007

Anganwadi Kinthali Sector Meeting

When we had gone around to distribute the sOLLu pindi (ragi flour) several women asked us why they werent getting anything from the anganwadi though their names were registered. We asked them if they had asked the anganwadi themselves and they said “you think they will tell us anything. They will just push us aside and say who asked you to come here?”

So after visiting the anganwadi ourselves, we thought of meeting with all the anganwadi workers and discussing these issues. I thought before calling them to our meeting it might be good for us to attend one of their meetings so that we could better understand the program and how they ran it. Just for good measure we thought we would also introduce the “READ India” program in which we were collaborating with Pratham, which is also meant to link with the anganwadi to utilise the children’s story cards, etc. The local anganwadi worker told us the time and place and said we could come to the meeting. We went back to the women who had first asked us why they werent getting the rations and asked them if they would also come to the meeting.

There was one woman from the village who was interested in attending the meeting with us, though she too had expressed reservations about coming alone, since then only her caste would be represented and only her caste would face any reprisals. They said that if the entire group was going, including members of various castes, then they were willing to go along. SO we said that day may come later, for the first meeting we werent planning any confrontation, we just wanted to ask basc questions and offer our cooperation, keeping things amicable and low key to start with. In the end the woman chose not to come so I went along with two of the village volunteers, neither being beneficiaries of the anganwadi program.

The meeting started out well enough. As we approached the meeting place, the anganwadi center in Kanimetta, we saw a group of women and a couple of men seated oustide in what appeared to be a construction site. Was this where anganganwaditings were heal. ? We entered via the anganwadi building and met the women. Several had notepads out, it looked like the meeting was in progress. Maybe the current was gone so they went inside, I thought. Actually it turned out that the meeting had not yet begun.

It was well past 11 and the meeting was supposed to start at 10. We chit chatted with a few of the women while waiting for the others. We saw her records of what foodgrains she had distributed in her village. The main headings were in English words or abbreviations, transliterated in to Telugu. THR = take home ration. Spot feeding is the material they cook and prepare for the children to eat at the center itself. P & L = pregnant and lactating, though they only give for the first 6 months of lactation. After that the child is eligible for “spot feeding” which, if actually provided is usually taken home.

All her columns were filled right to the decimal place.

When we asked how much rice do you give to each pregnant woman per month, she replied, 80 gms per day. I asked if she measured it out each day. She said no. I asked when she gave it. There was some confusion and all talking at once. Finally I asked, do you give it every month? They seemed to agree that that was about right. So how much do you give every month, I asked. Again cross talk but no answer. Finally one said, it is 80 gms per day. Multiply that by 25. Someone pulled out the calculator and came up with the grand total of 2 kg. SO again I asked, do you give 2 kg per month? No one answered. How do you measure it out and give them, in bags or boxes, or what? Finally the supervisor said, show them our kg measuring can. One women searched and held up an old, rusty nestle can.  All the anganwadi workers agreed that this was the kg measuring can they would use to take 2 kgs and pour it out. Again I asked, “into what? Do they bring a bag or a box?” Someone said softly, they just carry it home in their sari. Which meant that in all likelihood, the quantity they got was less than 2 kg. Probably much less.

Later we learned that they received rice and dal in large 50 kg packets which they were expected to open, measure and distribute. Similarly oil came to them in 1 kg plastic bags which they were supposed to open and measure out 250 gms per beneficiary (garbhinilu, balintalu or pregnant and lactating women). However some complained that they did not get the oil and for the spot feeding they ended up using their own household oil.
Newly introduced into the program was “bamsi ravva” or cracked wheat which they were supposed to give 9 days’ worth, and accordingly reduce the rice ration to 16 days’ worth. Remaining 5-6 days of the month are “off days” – either Sunday or some other holiday like karthika Pournami, Mukkoti Ekadasi, they said. So they gave only 25 days supply of the rations at the rate of 80 gms / day.

We asked them in general if they got the rations on time and in correct quantity. There was general nodding that they did not always get them on time nor did they get sufficient quantity. We said that we wanted to help them resolve these issues and they nodded.

As we discussed these matters their supervisor arrived. We introduced ourselves and said that we were here to learn more about the program. She said this is our meeting time, but gave us 15 minutes. Seeing the direction of our questions she said, I can give you the complete list this evening. We said ok. We continued talking. I said, in the event that the supplies don’t arrive or people dont get the supplies then whom do they ask.

Immediately the supervisor turned irate. Whose permission did you get to come here? What is your organisation doing? Tell us all the services you have provided and then we will tell you what we have done. This is our valuable time and we dont need you here.
All this and much more we said. I tried to explain – first to her, then seeing that she was not listening, to the assembled workers, that it was not on behalf of any district or department head that we came but on behalf of the mothers and children who needed their services.

The village volunteers were angry.  At the bus stop we sat and reviewed what happened and when things took the ugly turn.