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