Exhortation, Memorium

The Call of Harsud: Vikas Chahiye, Vinas Nahin

Baba Amte addressing Harsud Rally Photo by Smitu Kothari.  Photo of Shankar Guha Niyogi by Anand Patwardhan.  Remaining Photos taken from video footage of John D'Souza.

It was at a gathering in 1999 that many of my generation first heard of the Harsud Rally and were present when the 28th of September was declared as Harsud Day which we commemorated along with the people of the Narmada Valley in Domkhedi, in the hamlet called Kuthavani Pada, Akkalkuva Tehsil, District Nandurbar, Maharashtra.

Ten years prior, people of the Narmada Valley along with as many as fifty thousand people from villages and valleys and towns across India had come together to call for a development policy that worked for them, that supported social and environmental justice through the democratic process.  To expose and oppose policies that were made in the name of development but in fact extinguished the very resources that supported people’s lives and livelihoods, as well as the lives of myriad other species.  To stand united for just and equitable development, for the survival of the rivers and forests and all the life and culture they nourish. Continue reading

Exhortation, Tour, Volunteers

AID Connections 2

AID Connections 2

In visits to several AID  chapters we met people engaged in issues deeply connected to AID but not necessarily at the forefront of AID’s currently visible and audible activity.

In almost every chapter there is at least one volunteer who shows interest in working full time on the cause of sustainable development and social justice in with AID India or an AID Partner in India.  Some people choose to work on an agenda complementary to AID or through similar issues through alternate means. Either way, during the years that the volunteer is in the US, AID has the opportunity to help such volunteers better understand the synergy of sangharsh, nirman and seva in such a way that they can meaningfully utilize their talents.  In the case of those planning to move to full time community-based work, particularly in India and to help them plan their transition to grassroots community work
Irrespective of future plans to work in India, while in the US, there are volunteers in every chapter who want to connect deeply with project partners, understand the work and the issues people are dealing with on the ground level, and their connections to national and global policy. It takes time and courage to study and discuss these issues, confront their implications, apply them to our lives and engage with partners who are working from perspectives of sustainable development that take human rights, empowerment, social and environmental justice seriously. Why

AID must be a place that facilitates study and discussion of these issues. This will build our capacity to recognize and support high quality projects.  Such projects are often complex and we need to explain these in greater detail to convince people to support them, morally as well as financially.


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, http://sanhati.com/articles/6239/

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” http://infochangeindia.org/agenda/women-a-work/understanding-the-unorganised-sector.html

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


Little Things

Little Things
14th January 2013

Jasmine Garland photo by Leelawadee

“Give J___ Auntie a string of flowers.” my mother-in-law told me. Suddenly I grew tense with a sense of not knowing what to do.

I had a long string of jasmines which I had cut into small pieces and was giving out to my daughter’s friends at her Sankranti party. My mother-in-law and a couple of her friends were sitting on the sofa.

I busied myself in the kitchen so as not to have to respond to her instruction right away. Away from the crowd, I reflected, why had I become tense? I realized that it was because I was not sure how I could give flowers to J___ Auntie, while K___ Auntie was sitting right next to her. Then I realized that the solution was simple, give flowers to both J____ and K____ Auntie.

Why had this obvious solution not struck me right away? Why had there even been a “problem” requiring a solution?

Let us go back to the instruction, “Give J___ Auntie a string of flowers.” In giving this instruction, my mother-in-law had made an assumption. Someone who had not made that assumption might have had two questions:

1) Why had she instructed me to give flowers to J___ but not also to K___ Auntie?
2) Why hadn’t she herself given out the flowers?

For both questions, the reason stems from a distinction made between a married woman whose husband is alive and one whose husband is no longer alive. My mother-in-law had instructed me to give flowers to J___ Auntie because both of us fell into the former category. She did not give out the flowers, nor did she ask me to give flowers to K____ Auntie, because she and K___ Auntie fell into the latter category.

Upon hearing her instruction, I felt the tension of being unwilling to follow it, but it took me some time to unpack all this to understand why. Once I understood, I saw the way. I picked up three strings of flowers and gave one to each – my mother-in-law, J____Auntie, and K_____ Auntie. K___ Auntie immediately asked, “why me?” I just smiled. My mother-in-law explained, “she doesn’t believe that there should be that difference,” and put the flowers into her hair. K___ Auntie replied, “Yes, these customs should change.”

Note:  This article appeared as “A String of Jasmine” in the monthly newsletter of Association for India’s Development


AID Cares

AID CARES – campaign on organic agriculture: consumer awareness, responsibility and empowerment

Eating, Wendell Berry said in The Pleasures of Eating, is an agricultural act.  What we eat, the farmers grow.    If it comes from a plant, of course.

Michael Pollan said:  “If it comes from a plant, eat it.  If it was made in a plant, don’t.”  He advised this for the sake of our health and the health of the planet – social, economic, environmental, and spiritual.  It is all connected.

The decline of our food habits will result in the decline of agriculture.  Conversely, sustaining healthy food habits will sustain healthy agriculture.  We can:

Grow food: All of us can grow at least one edible plant in our homes or spaces near our homes.  It doesn’t get any more fresh, local, or organic than that.

Buy local: We can also encourage farmers near us who are first and foremost farming, under circumstances that are often difficult, and especially those who are trying to practice sustainable agriculture through low-external input, crop diversity, natural nourishment of the soil and plants, and non-pesticidal and non-herbicidal management of pests and weeds.   You can find locally grown foods at the farmers’ market or join a community supported agriculture.   In response to growing demand, grocery stores have also started carrying food from within the county, state or region, and displaying the location.  Sources of local food in the US are listed at http://www.localharvest.org.

Avoid packaged food: As people’s food habits move towards eating packaged and highly processed foods, eating will become an industrial act and the more industrial food we eat, the more industries will rise to manufacture, package, advertise and market those edible-food like substances.  These industries create pollution and waste, in addition to landlessness, sponsored research,  misinformed policy, and disease.  Remember, the food industry creates customers for the health industry.

Avoid markets that carry mostly packaged food:  

Compare the markets where fresh food is sold to those selling packaged food.  Which is more likely to allow you to bring your own bags, thus avoiding plastic bags?   In which are you more likely to know the shopkeeper?  Which is more likely to allow you to pay later if you are in a tight spot?

Which is more likely to be air-conditioned?  Which is more likely to have security staff guarding the entrance, checking the bags that come in and go out, and deciding who is allowed in the shop?  Which is more likely to send advertisements?

Local or organic? With  consumer support, a local farmer may move towards sustainable, low-external input and non-toxic agricultural methods.  But a Big Organic farm thousand of miles away has no interest in any local community.  It is enough for them if a small percentage of people distributed throughout the country buys their products,  separating the organic haves and have-nots.   More frightening is that the Big Organic companies can drive out the smaller, local players who are more likely to take a holistic view of organic food, not limited to “absence of pesticides” but rather regional biodiversity, intercropping, and working conditions that allow the workers to have a share in what they produce.

We need local and organic.   With community solidarity, organic can be viable for more local farmers and also affordable for more local consumers.


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.)


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.