Traditional social structures of Adivasis and the constitutional right to food

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Legally entitled to a full stomach

Fifty percent of the world’s hungry live in India. But India is a democracy, which gives her citizens a lot of rights – for instance, the constitutional right to food. Based on this right, Indian civil society organisations won a series of court battles in the name of the poor. Now a Right to Food Bill is about to be passed. Will this be the end of malnutrition and starvation in India? […]

The Bill is expected to result in multiple advantages like providing food to the hungry, reducing the child mortality rate and improving the public distribution systems. But there are several practical and theoretical aspects that could threaten the success. A practical issue is the identification of the priority groups. Who exactly is below the poverty line is a matter of controversy.

Not all state governments in India have clear criteria for defining the persons in need, and the central government uses parameters based on a survey conducted in the year 2002. It is extremely difficult to differentiate who belongs to BPL-group only through certain laid down criteria. Even if the criteria work, it is hard to ignore the recommendation and influence of political and caste-creed leaders who still play a decisive role in village politics. Another potential difficulty lies in including seasonal migrated laborers or Adivasi (India’s marginalised tribal people) in remote areas, who are often excluded from government help schemes because of their geographical location and way of life. […]

There are also theoretical questions to the Food Bill, such as: What will be the consequence regarding the moral and psychological attitude of people who grow up with subsidised food? Is it morally correct to feed more than half the country’s population by government funds, and for how long? Does it not undermine the human potential and contradict the basic principal of human development, namely, to “help people to help themselves”? Can anyone really live in dignity, eating subsidised food? Such questions might seem insensitive to hungry people, but they matter.

However, preventing hunger is certainly a priority. It is a bitter irony to call India one of the fastest growing economies in the world, while half of her population suffer malnutrition. But before implementing the bill, it is necessary to build up enough food storage, an efficient and transparent public distribution system and an administration with accountability. There should be a mechanism to inform villagers about the rules and regulations of the bill and how to get hassle-free service. Not only the institution of the Panchayati Raj (the elected village councils that serve as the lowest tier of the government), but also rural-level NGOs and the traditional social structures of Adivasis in remote areas can play a vital role in disseminating the government’s ideas and policies. […]

Source: “Indian government wants to enforce right to food with new legislation” by Boro Baski – Development and Cooperation – International Journal.
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Dr. Boro Baski works for the community-based organisation Ghosaldanga Adibasi Seva Sangha in West Bengal. The NGO is supported by the German NGO Freundeskreis Ghosaldanga und Bishnubati. He was the first person from his village to go to college as well as the first to earn a PhD (in social work) at Viswa-Bharati. This university was founded by Rabindranath Tagore to foster integrated rural development with respect for cultural diversity. The cooperation he inspired helps local communities to improve agriculture, economical and environmental conditions locally, besides facilitating education and health care based on modern science.

He authored Santali translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s Vidyasagar-Charit and Raktakarabi (Red Oleanders), published by the Asiatic Society & Sahitya Akademi in 2020.

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[…] There was a time when Adivasi communities in the Nilgiris had easy access to food from the forests. “Adivasis are extremely knowledgeable about the tubers, berries, leafy greens and mushrooms which they collect,” says Mari Marcel Thekaekara, who has been working with Gudalur’s tribal communties for four decades. “They would also fish and hunt small animals for food throughout the year. Most homes would have some meat drying above the cooking fires for a rainy day. But then the forest department began limiting their entry into the forests and finally stopped it completely.” […]

Despite the restitution of community rights over common property resources under the Forest Rights Act of 2006, the Adivasis are not able to supplement their diet with resources gathered from the forest as they did before. The falling incomes in village here are also contributing to the growing malnutrition.

Source: “In the Nilgiris, an inheritance of malnutrition” by Priti David (People’s Archive of Rural India, 1 May 2020)
Date Visited: 11 October 2021

Read more posts by Mari Marcel Thekaekara >>

Image © The Hindu for “The Adivasi in the mirror: The lynching of Madhu in Kerala must shock our conscience into recognising the dispossession of India’s tribals” by Nissim Mannathukkaren >>

Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” | Learn more about India’s caste system and the effects of “casteism” on tribal communities >>

How India compares with the world
Graphic © Outlook India 26 August 2019 | Enlarge >>
“The tribal food basket has always been diverse and nutritious” >>

“Health spending by the Indian government as percentage of GDP has long been one of the lowest for any major country, and the public health system is chronically dismal.” – Pranab Bardhan in “The two largest democracies in the world are the sickest now” | Learn more:, 24 August 2020 >>

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India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world with a kaleidoscopic variety and rich cultural heritage. It has achieved all-round socio-economic progress since Independence. As the 7th largest country in the world, India stands apart from the rest of Asia, marked off as it is by mountains and the sea, which give the country a distinct geographical entity. Bounded by the Great Himalayas in the north, it stretches southwards and at the Tropic of Cancer, tapers off into the Indian Ocean between the Bay of Bengal on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west.

Source: States and Union Territories – About India
Date visited: 4 September 2021

Learn more about India’s 28 States and 8 Union Territories – From Andhra Pradesh to West Bengal | Nutrition >>

Research the above issues with the help of Shodhganga: A reservoir of theses from universities all over India, made available under Open Access >>

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