2021-10-13 10:41:57 Dalit, tribal women among worst victims of India’s hunger crisis | Hunger News
Dalit, tribal women among worst victims of India’s hunger crisis | Hunger News
India, Kalahandi – Ranjita Majhi, a 33-year-old Kui speaking Khond woman from the eastern Indian state of Odisha, gave birth to a baby boy on September 3.
She was overjoyed because she had borrowed 30,000 rupees ($400) for the delivery. Because she was severely anaemic, her health complications prevented her from having a normal delivery.
Majhi was forced to travel 60 kilometers (37 miles) to a government hospital in the Bhawanipatna district for a caesarean section.
For four days, everything was fine in the Majhi household. The child, however, died.
“I don’t know how I’m going to repay my loans, and the child for whom I took the loan is no longer with me.” “They said they don’t even know how he died,” she sobbed as she spoke to Al Jazeera.
Doctors at Bhawanipatna’s district hospital say they don’t know how the child died either.
However, activist Roshnara Mohanty of the NGO Ekta Parishad suggests malnutrition. She claims that access to the forest is essential for tribal women and prevents intergenerational malnutrition.
Ranjita Majhi, who is pregnant, expresses her concerns about unemployment and the food crisis, which has left her and her family even more malnourished [Roshnara Mohanty/Al Jazeera].
Majhi moved from Rampur village in Kalahandi to Madanpur Rampur town in 2009. She and her husband were members of the Kui-speaking Khond tribe, but they were landless.
With dwindling access to the forest, they migrated to town in search of work and began working as casual laborers. Her husband began working in a small restaurant, and she became a domestic worker.
The COVID lockdown exacerbated the crisis.
In 2020, India’s COVID-19 lockdown caused a massive collapse of livelihoods, resulting in an epidemic that India has been fighting for decades: hunger.
Majhi’s husband, like countless other marginalized people, lost his job in May of this year, at the height of a devastating second COVID wave.
According to a study conducted by the People’s Archive of Rural India, while 50 percent of households in rural India have been forced to reduce the number of meals since the lockdown was imposed as part of an immediate adjustment for food security, approximately 68 percent of households have reduced the number of items in their meals.
Nisha, 30, who only goes by her first name, tells a similar story about how her anaemia has worsened over the last two years.
“I haven’t been able to see a doctor in a few months, despite having excruciating pain in my ribs, because I don’t have any money.” “We only got help from social workers; we didn’t get any other ration,” she told Al Jazeera.
Nisha is one of several Dalit women who have been forced to return to dangerous working conditions as a result of the pandemic. [Al Jazeera/Bhawana Yadav]
Nisha is a Dalit who lives in a slum in New Delhi’s Shahdara area. Dalits are at the bottom of India’s complex caste hierarchy. She works as a rag-picker and recalls picking up at least one bag of biomedical waste every day during the COVID second wave’s peak.
She is unable to work on most days due to crushing headaches, rib pain, and fatigue. Nonetheless, she must work in order to support her children’s education.
‘What are you going to do with just rice?’
Many Dalit and Adivasi (tribal) women tell of having to return to dangerous work environments.
According to the State of Working in India 2021 report (PDF), 83 percent of women lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, with 47 percent of women and only 7 percent of men unlikely to recover.
According to Beena Pallical of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, most marginalized women were pushed back into work, putting them in unsafe environments and making them vulnerable to the virus.
They had to do the work, she explained, because the system is stacked against them.
“Dalit and Adivasi women die at a younger age than dominant-caste women, and nutrition and health have always been a challenge for Dalit-Adivasi women.” “Throw in a livelihood and hunger crisis during the pandemic, and the effects on marginalized women would be multiplied,” she told Al Jazeera.
According to studies, 56 percent of Dalit and 59 percent of tribal women are anemic, compared to the national average of 53 percent. In 2016, India ranked 170th out of 180 countries in terms of female anaemia. According to a United Nations study (PDF), Dalit women die 15 years younger than dominant-caste women.
Dishanti Majhi, 25, is from Khaliamunda, a tribal village in the Kalahandi district of Odisha state. Dishanti, like many other people in her village, relies heavily on forest products. She would work in the fields, selling siali leaves, a creeper with large leaves used to make plates. The government relief packages she received contained only rice and flour, with no nutritional supplements.
“After selling forest produce and siali leaves at the local market, I used to eat rice and vegetables.” That is now closed, and I have no way of earning money or purchasing produce. We’re not getting any work either. “The government is only giving rice as relief, but what do you do with just rice?” Dishanti wondered.
“My children are at home, and my husband is also not working.” I work a lot more now, at home and in the woods when I can, but I can’t eat like I used to two years ago. “I’ve gone to bed hungry on many occasions, and on most days, I only eat one meal so that my husband and children can eat more,” she added.
Women eat last and eat the least.
According to Rajendran Narayan of the Stranded Workers Action Network and Hunger Watch, job losses for women have been disproportionate, even in the informal sector.
“Caregiving and domestic work have also increased for them at home.” Their workload has increased, but their pay has decreased. Women are the last to eat and have the least to eat in their homes. “When there is a hunger crisis at home, women automatically have less to eat,” he said, adding that the situation is especially dire for pregnant and lactating women.
“We are facing a crisis that may not be obvious right now, but will have such long-term consequences for public health and nutrition that we must intervene right away.”
In March of last year, the federal government declared relief initiatives to mitigate the effects of COVID. The distribution of free food grains to ration card holders was deemed insufficient because only rice and lentils were included in 2020, while the latter is now excluded.
During the second wave of lockdown, no such relief initiatives were announced.
Kaushalya, a Dalit woman from a forest-dependent community in Chhattisgarh’s Kasdol, couldn’t get her hands on the mahua, harra, and other leaves she used to sell. She claimed she was unable to provide for her children.
Women like Kaushalya, who are marginalized, are anemic and have struggled to get nutrition during the lockdowns. [Al Jazeera/Rajim Ketwas]
Marginalized women have had difficulty accessing not only subsidized or free food grains, but also government cash transfers.
“Many of the women I speak with claim they were afraid of contracting the virus while going to banks for cash transfers, and many have not received their entitlements at all.” “There are usually conflicts with forest departments,” Rajim Ketwas of Chhattisgarh’s Dalit Adivasi Manch told Al Jazeera.
Changes in cash transfers under the National Food Security Act may also be to blame for the rise in anaemia among pregnant women from marginalized communities (NFSA).
“The NFSA demands that pregnant and lactating women receive an annual cash transfer of 6,000 rupees [$80].” “The federal government subverted the NFSA and replaced it with the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana scheme, which reduces the amount of this transfer to 5,000 [$72],” Narayan of the Stranded Workers Action Network and Hunger Watch explained.
The amount allotted to the scheme in the government’s budget for 2020-21 was also cut by 48%. According to a study (PDF) conducted in rural Bihar state, 41% of households with pregnant or lactating women reported being unable to obtain ante- and post-natal checkups after the pandemic began.
Lakshmi Devi Bhuiyan, a 60-year-old Dalit resident of Barwadih village in Jharkhand’s Latehar district, is unsupported by her children. She has constant headaches as a result of anaemia and other illnesses, and she appears frail.
Lakshmi Devi Bhuiyan, 60, claims she does not have adequate nutrition, housing, or healthcare and continues to work as a casual laborer. [Al Jazeera/Dheeraj Kumar]
Bhuiyan and her husband work as day laborers and do not own any land. Many elderly Dalit women are forced to work in heavy labor jobs well into their old age.
“Our house is on the verge of collapsing. We received no money sanctioned by the Modi government – no elderly pension, no 500 rupees [$7] assistance, nothing. “We voted for him, and now look where we are,” she told Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera attempted several times to reach out to the federal ministry of women and child development for comment, but they did not respond.
‘Wrong ideas about vegetarianism’
Sylvia Karpagam, a public health researcher and doctor from the southern state of Karnataka, explains how malnutrition has an intergenerational impact on women, particularly those from marginalized communities.
“When a young woman from a disadvantaged community becomes pregnant, she is already malnourished due to caste, class, and gender disadvantages.” Even before she reaches the age of one, the child is likely to be malnourished. “This goes on well into adolescence,” she told Al Jazeera.
Karpagam believes that addressing the issue of caste is critical to combating malnutrition among marginalized women.
“Access to nutrient-dense foods may be limited for families from underserved communities… The truth is that what the government is currently providing is inherently insufficient for a person to obtain complete nutrition. Eggs, meat, poultry, and milk products are the first to be eliminated from a person’s diet when they are diagnosed with diabetes.
“Access to nutrient-dense foods may be limited for families from underserved communities… The truth is that what the government is currently providing is inherently insufficient for a person to obtain complete nutrition. “When people lose access to money, the first thing that goes out of their diet is eggs, meat, poultry, and milk products, and these should be the government’s priority in relief,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Instead, the system perpetuates unscientific, harmful notions about vegetarianism, enforcing a dominant-caste, upper-class binary view on nutrition and health.”
Ranjita’s problems, on the other hand, are far from over.
“I’m worried I won’t be able to keep my older child alive as well.” My husband and I no longer have enough money to feed our family. What will happen to my other child? Only God knows.”