From courts to streets
The Supreme Court hearing has been of great help in generating a political momentum for the right to food in India. A network of organisations and individuals committed to following up this process with grassroots action is rapidly building up.
The court had ordered on November 28, 2001 that all States and Union Territories in the country should start providing cooked mid-day meals in all primary schools. Each state had to cover half its districts by Feb 28, 2002 and all schools in all districts were to be covered by the end of May. With most states defaulting, a need for other forms of public action to supplement the court process was felt. With this the campaign saw a step up in its activities.
The “right to food campaign” entered a new phase on 9 April 2002, with countrywide agitation for the immediate introduction of mid-day meals in all government schools. The Action Day saw widespread mobilisation of people in many hundreds of villages across nine major states. To remind the government of its responsibility, the community prepared mid-day meal for thousands of children. Widespread publicity was given to the order of the Supreme Court. Popular mass mobilisation was combined with engaging the polity, media, bureaucracy, teachers, the local governments & of course, the larger society.
This initial action in the form of Action day on mid-day meal has paved the way for other activities focusing not only on school meals but also on other aspects of the right to food. What the day of action also did was to consolidate the groups with an interest in the issue of right to food. In many states committees were formed to plan for joint action. An information sharing exercise began earnestly between various groups across the country. The issue of food began getting more space in the public domain.
Since then there has been a gradual step-up in the activities of the campaign. Most of the activities of the campaign have so far been locally based. Just two events have been organised at a national level. But the national day of action has given a sense of the campaign being rooted all over the country. This has increased a sense of solidarity. There has been a greater degree of sharing of information between the groups.
Apart from mid-day meal scheme the campaign has taken up some other ‘special initiatives’ so far. One was to ask for the right to work for those who can take up unskilled manual labour and for a food based social security system for the destitute. The Support Group has been asking for a massive increase in the Antyodaya scheme. It is an existing scheme for the destitute and has been found to work reasonably well in many states. Given the massive demand in the grassroots for the right to work it is becoming a major campaign issue now. A much broader coalition of organisations and many networks is building up very fast. April 24, 2003 to May 1 have been designated as a week of action on the right to work. This is getting together various groups from across the country. It has the potential to take the campaign to the next level.