“Extensive damage caused to Dalits’ property”


R. ARIVANANTHAM, DHARMAPURI, November 11, 2012

D. Venkatesan, Director of National Commission for Scheduled Castes, listening to the grandmother of the Dalit boy, who married a caste Hindu girl in Natham Colony, on Saturday. Photo: N. Bashkaran
The HinduD. Venkatesan, Director of National Commission for Scheduled Castes, listening to the grandmother of the Dalit boy, who married a caste Hindu girl in Natham Colony, on Saturday. Photo: N. Bashkaran

National Commission for Scheduled Castes will submit report tomorrow, says Director who visited Naikkankottai

Extensive damage has been caused to the property of Dalits in the November 7 attack on their colonies here by caste Hindus, according to Director of National Commission for Scheduled Castes D. Venkatesan.

After inspecting the houses that were torched at Natham Colony, Anna Nagar and Kondampatti new and old colonies in Naikkankottai village on Saturday, he told The Hindu here that the Commission’s report and recommendations would be submitted to the Central and State governments on Monday.

Based on the recommendations, the governments would initiate rehabilitation measures, he added.

Women, especially the elderly, broke down on seeing the official and narrated their harrowing experiences. Petitions were also given to Mr. Venkatesan.

At Natham Colony, he spoke to T. Palaniammal, 80-year-old grandmother of E. Ilavarasan, the Dalit, who married caste Hindu girl N. Divya.

There were tense moments during the official’s visit to the village. Some members of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi sought to block the way of Mr. Venkatesan and shouted slogans to disband the Commission, contending that it should have visited the place immediately after the incident.

They demanded that the Collector, the DIG and the SP camp in the colonies and arrange basic necessities for the affected persons. They also wanted a medical camp to be organised.

Prior to Mr Venkatesan’s three-hour visit of the colonies along with police and revenue officials, he held a review meeting with District Collector R. Lilly and Superintendent of Police Asra Garg at the Collectorate.

Three more arrested

Three more persons allegedly involved in the attack on the colonies were arrested and remanded in judicial custody, taking the total number of arrested persons to 95.

The body of Nagaraj was still in the mortuary at the Government Hospital after post-mortem as his community was divided over receiving it. Though the Vanniyar Sangam called for a meeting in Dharmapuri for Saturday to discuss the future course of action, only 12 members turned up at the meeting, as against the expected 500. The group dispersed without holding the meeting.

 

Girlfriends, bikes, cellphones to blame for road accidents: Raman Singh #WTFnews


PTI
Raipur, November 11, 2012

Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh on Saturday kicked up a controversy when he blamed “girlfriends, bikes and mobile phones” for the rising cases of road accidents in the state.

Speaking at a seminar on ‘Road Safety‘ at a medical institute, he expressed concern over rising
number of youths dying in road mishaps.
“If there is a good motorcycle, a good mobile and a good girlfriend then accidents are bound to happen,” the chief minister said.

He said nearly 55-60% road accident victims are youth. “It’s a common sight to see youngsters driving two-wheelers while talking on cellphones which often leads to accidents. Youths should avoid such habits,” Singh said.

Achhi motorcycle, achha mobile aur teesra agar achhi girlfriends ho to accident hona hi hona hai. Ek haath se baat kiye ja raha hai, aur speed badhata ja raha hai. Jhagda hua to brake maarega aur takrayega… bande ko fir kuch hosh nahi rehta ( Nice bike, nice cellphone and especially if you have a nice girlfriend then accident is inevitable…. If there is a tiff (between the two), he would apply brakes and hit against something…The youth then cares for nothing),” Singh said. “Earlier we felt that bad roads were the cause of accidents, so we constructed good roads but I was surprised to know that the number of accidents went up,” the CM added. He later said that sisters should gift helmets to their brothers.

He lamented that while people are ready to spend thousands of rupees to buy motorcycles but are reluctant to purchase helmets which cost just a few hundred rupees.

Opposition Congress was quick to condemn Singh’s remarks terming them as a ploy to divert attention from government’s failure to curb road accidents.

Leader of Opposition in Assembly Ravindra Chaube said bad roads and corruption in transport department are main reasons for fatalities on road.

A slice of Bihar in Karachi #indopak


Sameer Arshad and Tnn | November 10, 2012, Times Crest

BUILDING BONDS: Nitish greeted by supporters in Patna before leaving for Pakistan. His visit could strengthen ties with Bihari Pakistanis

Few know that Pakistan has an impressive number of migrants from Bihar who have hung on to their cultural identity for decades.

Punjabi folk singers lined the road, performed bhangra to dhol beats to welcome then Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh to the Pakistani side of the land of five rivers in January 2004. Amarinder was overwhelmed and described his journey to Lahore as a pilgrimage, as the city “is the composite Punjabi culture’s central pillar”, while pledging to promote the divided region’s shared heritage.

Eight years later, Nitish Kumar became the second chief minister of an Indian state to visit Pakistan since 2004 on Friday. Unlike Amarinder, Nitish may not feel culturally at home elsewhere in Pakistan, but parts of Karachi would be an exception. The city has a sizeable Bihari population that has retained its distinct identity despite being clubbed with its Urdu-speaking residents.

Abdul Kadir Khanzada, who represents Karachi’s Orangi Town in the Pakistani parliament, says over a million people in his constituency have their roots in Bihar. “My family came from Alwar in Rajputana (Rajasthan), but 70 per cent of my voters are of Bihari origin, ” he tells TOI-Crest. He says his party – Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan’s third largest party representing the Urduspeaking people – have always supported peace with India and hopes Nitish’s visit would help the process. “I will speak to my leader in parliament, Farooq Sattar, and see whether we can invite Kumar to connect with the people of Bihari origin. “

Biharis have over the years been seen as die-hard supporters of the MQM, which is a part of the country’s federal as well as the Sindh provincial government. But a breakaway faction, the Bihari Quami Movement, was formed a few years earlier in Karachi, and is indicative of the community’s attempt to assert its separate identity.

Biharis have enriched Karachi’s cosmopolitan culture. Their imprint on the city is perhaps best reflected in the Bihari kebabs that are an integral part of the city’s culinary attractions. The place where the early Bihar immigrants settled after Partition is still known as Bihar colony in Karachi’s Layari Town.

Mostly well-off immigrants managed to reach Karachi, then Pakistan’s capital, following bloody riots in Bihar before the Partition. The rest of about three million Bihari refugees found it easier to cross over to East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Around 1, 63, 000 of them were repatriated to Pakistan in the ’70s and ’80s after Bangladesh’s liberation as they were accused of being collaborators, stripped off their properties and forced into camps. Thousands returned on their own and preferred to settle in Sindh and its capital Karachi among their fellow Urdu-speaking people. MQM, then known as Muhajir Qaumi Movement, backed them, hoping it would consolidate its political hold over the region.

Nearly 8, 00, 000 Biharis in Bangladesh declared themselves as Pakistanis after the ’71 liberation and sought to be settled in that country to escape linguistic persecution. Most repatriated Biharis settled in Orangi. The process was stopped in the ’80s after it led to bloody ethnic riots in Karachi amid fears that it would further tilt the politico-ethnic balance in favour of the city’s dominant Urdu-speaking people at the cost of the province’s native Sindhi speakers. The latter are now a small minority in Karachi.

The process re-started briefly in 1993 when 321 Biharis were brought to Pakistan on the condition that they would settle in Punjab to allay fears of the Sindhi nationalists. A Bihari colony was set up for them 370 km from Islamabad at Mian Channu in Punjabi Khanewal district. Successive Pakistani governments have since gone back on their promise to bring back an estimated 3, 00, 000 Biharis, who live in 66 camps without citizenship rights in Bangladesh.

A recent Abu Dhabi-based The National report highlighted the miserable condition of Mian Channu’s Biharis, who along with their brethren in Bangladesh represent the horrors of the double partition they faced while other communities uprooted in the aftermath of the 1947 division have moved on and prospered.

The report cited the plight of 60-year-old Manzar Husain, who had arrived in Mian Channu leaving behind his daughter, now a mother of three. He expected her to be on the next flight to Pakistan, but that was not to be and has not since seen her. He has lost all hopes of seeing her daughter and grandchildren. His family had lost everything when they migrated to what was then East Pakistan in 1947, but he never thought he would have to face the horrors of another migration.

The National reported that Mian Channu’s Bihari colony is now a slum and Punjabis occupy most of two-room apartments constructed for Biharis with foreign assistance.

Kamran Asdar Ali, a US-based Pakistani academic whose parents had migrated from Bihar at the time of the Partition, argued that the community is very diverse in Pakistan. “Biharis in Pakistan are there in all walks of life, from the most wealthy and influential to the lowly urban poor, much like in India. “

Sasaram-born scholar and anti-colonial activist Eqbal Ahmad was among the most prominent Pakistani-Biharis to earn international acclaim. Ali says Biharis have been given a “politically available” Muhajir identity, which, he added, “is a constructed ethnicity – a family that migrated from Madras or Bombay is also Muhajir and those who migrated from Bihar or UP are also Muhajirs”.

The academic says most Pakistani Biharis may not know about Nitish, his visit and what he has done in Bihar. “But his coming to Pakistan may change that, ” he says.

 

Woman’s access to Dargah –Shrines to tolerance


Mohammed Wajihuddin | November 10, 2012, Times Crest

Some Mumbai dargahs have banned the entry of women devotees into the sanctum. When the Sufi saints lying buried there didn’t discriminate between men and women, why should religious busybodies, ask liberal activists.

Covered with green chadars and rose petals, the shrines of Sufi saints are usually enveloped in a fragrant haze. And if you happen to be at there at the right time, you can catch Sama, the session of devotional music dedicated to the inclusive, tolerant character of the saints. In the durbars of the saints young and old, rich and poor, men and women are treated equally;discrimination is the antithesis of the Sufi cult.

This air of easy egalitarianism took a beating last week. Mumbai’s leading Sufi shrines, including the iconic Haji Ali and the Makhdoom Mahimi, have banned the entry of women devotees from entering the sanctum of the shrines. Leading the protest against this move are members of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) which, through a survey done in September this year, found that seven out of 20 dargahs in Mumbai prevent women from going closer to astana (graves of the saints).

While dargah committees cite Shariat to justify their action, scholars and activists call it an insult to the Sufi tradition which is based on a moderate variant of Islam. “We are not antiwomen. We are just accepting what many senior clerics have been demanding for long, ” says Sohail Khandwani, managing trustee of Mahim dargah and one of the trustees of Haji Ali. “Dargahs are basically premises which house graves of the saints and Shariat prevents women from visiting graves. “

Many scholars are aghast at this gross “misreading” and “misinterpretation” of the Shariat. “The Quran doesn’t say anything about visiting of graves. They call it Shariat rule just because the Prophet is believed to have asked women not to visit graves. The authenticity of this tradition is doubtful and in this case we must follow the Quran which is silent on it, ” explains Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer.

Other scholars cite instances from early history of Islam when women did visit graves. “The Prophet’s daughter Hazrat Fatima visited her father’s grave. Do the dargah committees want to tell us that daughters should not visit graves of their parents, ” asks Ali. He adds that there is anyway a difference between grave of an ordinary person and that of a Sufi saint. “Sufis are sacred souls. People visit mausoleums of saints not to worship, but to pay homage to the Waliallahs, friends of Allah, ” says Ali. BMMA activist Noorjahan Safia Niaz says earlier women would touch the shrines at Haji Ali, the new rule would obviously put an end to that proximity.

However, Dr Syed Liyaqat Hussain Moini, scholar of Sufism and a khadim gaddi nashin (direct descendant ) of famous Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, says Sufism doesn’t discriminate against human beings on the basis of caste, creed or gender. “At Ajmer, both men and women have visited the sanctum for centuries, ” says Moini.

Spiritual tourism is booming and many dargahs in India see a large number of celebrity devotees. Will the ban stem this flow? Moini says it will. “How will it help if women are banned? It will only discourage members of other communities from visiting dargahs. Unlike mosques, dargahs are purely secular spaces and this feature of the Sufi shrines will be affected if women are banned, ” he adds.

Dargahs are a magnet for those seeking relief from distress and grief. Devotees seek the “intercession” of the saints in their destiny. “Women dealing with emotional troubles often find solace at dargahs. This ban will seem to them like a divine rejection, ” says Mumbai-based senior Hindi commentator Feroz Ashraf.

The government is refusing to step into the debate. In Mumbai when activists of BMMA requested minority affairs minister Arif Naseem Khan to intervene, he refused calling it a purely “religious” issue. “Only muftis and clerics can decide on this, ” he says.

Urdu poet-lyricist Nida Fazli quotes a famous incident from the life of Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuudin Aulia (incidentally women are banned from entering sanctum of Nizamuddin too). One day the saint’s disciple, Amir Khusrau, found his master watching Hindus devotees offering libation to the sun on the banks of the river Yamuna in Delhi. “What do you think of sun worship?” asks Khusrau. “Every follower has his own Kaaba and that is the right path, ” replies the saint.

“Such was the tolerance of a Sufi who was a devout Muslim as well as a great human being. Those who want to restrict women’s access to the dargahs are fanatics who are shattering the tolerant image of the saints, ” says Fazli.

 

Women are not outsiders in Dargahs #discrimination #Religion


Syeda Hameed | November 10, 2012, Times Crest

 

 

MYTH MAKING: 'La ikra fiddin', the revolutionary Quranic verse, says that there is no compulsion in religion

Men and women perform the ‘tawaaf‘ together at the Kaaba during Haj. Why then is there a debate over women’s rights to worship in the sanctum of dargahs?

The issue of women not being allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum in dargahs is nothing new. It has been raised over ages in many parts of the world. But it is now time it is challenged and challenged on the very ground on which it has been imposed.

I have been turned away from the astana many times. The simplest question to ask is this: would the Sufi saints whose remains are buried in the astana and whose creed embraced all regardless of caste, creed, sex or even religion, ever condone that a woman is forbidden to recite the Fatiha at their grave? The answer is a resounding ‘No’.

The fact that Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has raised this issue with widespread political support is commendable. If you want to be enlightened about the spirit of Islam, dear reader, read on. If your mind is closed, stop here.
My study of the Quran the Sunnah and the Hadith has given me the confidence to claim before the world that Islam gives equal rights and status to women along with men. In pre-Islamic Arabia there was a time when the birth of a girl brought such shame that the child was placed in her living grave. This practice was prevalent then and is not unknown today in many other forms. At that time the new religion which was revealed (Islam), gave property rights to women and girls. Here begins the story of a woman’s place in Islam;a story that the gatekeepers and so-called custodians of Islam continuously abuse by issuing false and damaging fatwas. These are placed on a religion that was the first to require that women when they earn, have a right to spend their earning as they wish. How many of these custodians of Islam even know this? And how cleverly those who do know it, conceal it.

Gyanvapi Masjid in Varansi, Hazratbal in Sirinagar, Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi, Kalyar Sharif in Roorkee, Khwaja Gharib Nawaz in Ajmer;are a few dargahs that have restrained my movements. In Srinagar I was with a group of women of all faiths. When we were prevented from entering the shrine and asked to do the tawaaf (circumabulation) ‘outside’, I protested before the guards. I asked my host family, who are among the most respected, devout people in Kashmir, why this happened. They were shocked;they had never heard of these restrictions.

The arguments raised by those who support the Mumbai shrines’ establishment – that the Sharia forbids men and women from performing rites together – negates the very basis of Haj where lakhs of men and women perform the tawaaf of the Kaaba together. They have strict instructions that when they tie their Ahraam they must leave their faces uncovered. The Ahraam is like a shroud;clothed in that one piece of garment, women and men stand equal in the eyes of God. Again, the Islamic injunction for modesty in dress, applies equally to men and women. Ayats in the Quran are clear. If men are permitted to give talaq women are free to give khula, I could go on quoting Surahs after Surahs.

During the life of the Prophet, women were free to enter mosques and question the Prophet on Quranic revelations. It was the query of his wife Umm Salama which resulted in the revelation of Surah Al Nisa, the second longest Surah of the Quran, elaborating on the rights, responsibilities, and defining the dignity of women.
The important fact which is conveniently forgotten by most patriarchs is that unlike Christianity, Islam has no organised church, no Pope, no religious head. Islam is the world’s last revealed religion. The Quran says that 1, 24, 000 prophets preceded Prophet Mohammad. But post-Islam there is no ‘guide’ for the Ummah. The Quran therefore makes the momentous statement that Allah is closer than you shehrug (jugular vein).

Therefore, as Mualana Abul Kalam Azad has said in his monumental work Tarjumanul Quran, human beings are asked to understand the religion and its injunctions according to their “own light”. With this clear direction given by the Quran, many sects, and many schools of jurisprudence came into being;each one interpreting its tenets in its own way. People were free to choose any or go their own way. Where is the place here for dictatorial muftis? La ikra fiddin is the revolutionary Quranic verse: there is no compulsion in religion.

I should have spoken up much earlier in defence of Islam which is endangered by false interpretations. To confuse archaic traditions with the religion itself is to do it huge disservice. I would rather join my voice with the poet Ghalib who has written: Hum muhid hain aur hamara kaish hai tar e rusm (We are believers in One Allah and our creed is to reject customs). 

The author is a human rights activist and member of the Planning Commission

Fatima nightingale #empowerment


Mohammed Wajihuddin | November 10, 2012, Times Crest

OUT OF BOUNDS: Conservative elements in the community feel the profession is unfit for Muslim women as it might entail close proximity to male patients

Orthodoxy has kept Muslim women from taking up nursing as a career. One man’s campaign in a sleepy Maharashtra town might change that.

In her white nurse’s uniform, Sumaiyya Imam Hussain takes a bus everyday from her college to a hospital. There, under the guidance of trained gynaecologists, she learns about different stages of pregnancy, childbirth, how to care for newborn babies and other facets of nursing. “It is a new life for me, ” says Hussain.

For over a dozen Muslim girls training at Shabbir Ahmed Ansari Nursing College in Miraj, a sleepy town in Maharashtra, it has taken a giant leap of faith to even consider nursing as a profession. While there is nothing in Islam that specifically frowns on it as a career, conservative elements in the community feel the profession is unfit for Muslim women as it might entail close proximity to male patients.

It was to change this perception that Shabbir Ahmed, the college’s founder, decided to do the unusual. “Many Muslim educationists with more resources and better connections than me have failed in this field. It was a challenge and remains a challenge even today, ” says Ansari, who is also founder-president of the All-India Muslim OBC Organization.

As a champion of reservation for Muslim OBCs, Ansari has toured the country’s length and breadth, especially Muslim hamlets and pockets. He knows the socio-economic situation of his community like the back of his hand. “I have seen poor Muslim women slogging in bidi making units and working as maid servants. I always wondered why there were no Muslim female nurses, ” says Ansari.

A look at the background of some of the students at this nursing college proves Ansari’s point. Sumaiyaa Imam Hussain is the daughter of an unlettered tailor from Kannur in Kerala. Maryam Shamsuddin Shaikh from Miraj is the first child in her family to study beyond Class VII.

“We have a joint family and my uncle was against my decision to join this course, ” says Shaikh. “But I was adamant so my father convinced my uncle to let me have my way. “

Shama Jalaluddin Khatib’s father works in a power loom factory in Ichalkaranji in Maharashtra. When she decided to take the nursing course, a woman in the neighbourhood tried to stop her. “You will have to not only touch strange male patients but also watch a lot of births. Teri ankhon ki haya khatm ho jayegi (You will lose all sense of shame), ” her neighbour warned. Undeterred, Khatib went ahead with her plan.

Many have tried to bring Muslim girls into nursing but failed. Pune-based educationist P A Inamdar who runs a dozen educational institutions, including a dental college, tried to establish a nursing college a few years ago. “I placed advertisements and held meetings but never got the mandatory quota of 20 students. I gave up, ” says Inamdar. How valid is the argument that a Muslim woman should not touch a male stranger, even if it is a patient? And does Islam stop women from joining the nursing profession ? Islamic scholar Zeenat Shaukat Ali says the religion has nothing to do with such beliefs. “Such ideas have many followers because of the patriarchal culture that wants to keep women subservient, ” he says. Ali points out that many women worked as nurses during battles the Prophet participated in. “When a nurse touches a patient it is to bring him/her relief, ” she says.

Ansari could not have pulled off this effort without the help of Naseem Mahat, his colleague and chairperson of the trust which runs the college. Mahat personally visited many Muslim homes and convinced parents to let their daughters train as nurses. “I told them that even if their daughters didn’t work at hospitals, their training could come in handy in their villages and neighbourhoods. In villages there is an acute crunch of trained midwives, ” says Mahat who, as a warden, keeps a protective eye on the girls at the hostel.

At the hostel, while they are encouraged to offer namaz and read scriptures, the girls don’t have the luxury of watching television. “While these girls learn nursing, they must be focused and committed to their works, ” explains Mahat.

The Full Ponty- ICDS and Corruption in India


The full Ponty
Samar Halarnkar, Hindustan Times
November 07, 2012
High-school dropout Gurdeep Singh Chadha, or “Ponty” as his friends call him, has achieved the Indian dream. A portly, religious Punjabi with a salt-and-pepper beard, Chadha (52) has a farmhouse in Delhi’s power belt, Chattarpur; a mansion in Dubai; and sundry other homes and cars. Chadha’s  business empire, the Wave Group, is conservatively valued at Rs. 6,000 crore. It encompasses distilleries, multiplexes (Wave cinemas), sugar and paper mills, real estate, poultry and films (he produced the 2005 Sunny Deol starrer Jo Bole So Nihaal). Chadha’s brothers, sons and a grandson run parts of the empire, but it is Ponty’s networking skills and acumen that keeps them ahead.In 2005, during the reign of chief minister Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh (UP), Chadha won statewide contracts to supply ready to eat food for poor, underweight or otherwise malnourished children under the world’s largest child-health programmes, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). Many thought – wrongly – that Chadha’s interests would suffer when Singh’s rival, Mayawati, later won the state. Chadha’s company, Great Value Foods, retained the nutrition contracts, and in 2009, he gained an unprecedented monopoly over the state’s wholesale liquor trade.

Nothing has come of recent moves against Chadha, such as the income-tax department raids in February this year on 25 of his properties in Delhi and UP. Two days ago, the UP Lokayukta was asked to investigate his 2010 and 2011 acquisition of four State-owned sugar mills for roughly – according to the government auditor’s report – a tenth of their value. I had no luck reaching Chadha for comment.

Chadha’s story is unexceptional in a country known for crony capitalism, except that his dominion over the child-nutrition programme does not help a state that is home to every sixth malnourished child in India. Eight million women and 30 million children in UP depend on the ICDS for basic nutrition.

“The (food) is produced in poor hygienic conditions…does not seem to contain the ingredients claimed and the weaning food may not be suitable for babies,” says a report of the National Human Rights Commission, after investigating one of Chadha’s factories and the government crèches in Gorakhpur district during March and April, 2011. Referring to a centralised, poorly supervised nutrition programme, the report says, “63% of the food and funds is misappropriated.”

The contracts awarded to Chadha’s Great Value Foods are also symptomatic of a larger, rarely discussed issue: how politicians, officials and private companies often conspire to fix ICDS contracts, which, according to a 2004 Supreme Court judgement, should be handed only to local self-help groups, women’s groups, or mahila mandals, and village communities. Chadha’s contracts are “a complete violation of the Supreme Court orders“, says a letter sent last month to the Supreme Court Commissioners – who have monitored litigation related to food for India’s poor since 2003 – by their principal adviser Biraj Patnaik.

ICDS contracts are worth more than R8,000 crore, the financing split between central and state governments. In some states, local cooking and supply has had significant impact; in others it has become the subject of scams.

“Despite seven years having past since the Hon’ble Supreme Court banning contractors from the ICDS…the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus has managed to violate the orders of this court with impunity,” says Patnaik’s report, which reveals how ingeniously the Congress-controlled Maharashtra government and contractors undermine laws. Similar fiddles were previously revealed in BJP-ruled Karnataka.

After the 2004 judgement, Maharashtra, like many states, continued giving nutrition contracts to the old contractors, arguing it needed time to make the changeover. Five years later, when the state supposedly switched to local groups, Patnaik’s investigations revealed that three mahila mandals had been awarded contracts for the state. The private companies leased by the mandals to produce take-home rations, he discovered, were owned by wives, daughters and sisters of the same mandals.

To be sure, over the last six years, Maharashtra has almost halved the incidence of malnutrition in children, reveals a provisional report released by the International Institute of Population Sciences. But that is largely because a host of government departments acted in concert against the diverse components of malnutrition, including promotion of breastfeeding, the use of toilets and improving healthcare. In vast swathes of the state, things are as bad as ever. Causality is hard to establish, but in Nashik, where 32% of children are stunted, or below normal height, the ration programme is being run by one of the mahila mandals investigated by Patnaik.

India’s progress against malnutrition is out of sync with its economic progress. More than half of children under three were undernourished in 2006, when the last such survey was conducted. That’s only a 6% fall since 1999.

Things can change only if the rot that Patnaik’s report hints at is eliminated. He recommends a special investigation team. Indeed, there is much that requires investigation, locally and nationally. For instance, Patnaik found one of the Maharashtra mandals had subcontracted take-home ration production to a Tamil Nadu company called Christy Fried Gram Industry, which after two years of pressure from the SC Commissioners was blacklisted this year by the Karnataka government for supplying substandard and possibly toxic food to crèches statewide.

Back in UP, two government tenders (issued in September 2012 and due to be opened this month) for micronutrient-rich powders meant for infants being weaned, or moving from breast milk to semi-solid foods, invite applications – for the first time – from mahila mandals, self-help groups and village communities. Prospective suppliers must deposit R45 crore as earnest money and should have manufactured and supplied, to any state, at least R25 crore worth of powdered weaning food over the last two financial years.

As I read the tender conditions, it’s obvious no grassroots group can fulfill such conditions. However, one company can: Chadha’s Great Value Foods.

Samar Halarnkar is a Bangalore-based journalist

The views expressed by the author are personal