Nutrition Watch

Rural India is eating less than it did 40 years ago

Despite higher economic growth, malnutrition levels are almost twice as high in South Asia as compared to Sub-Saharan Africa.

As India’s 70th year since Independence begins, widespread progress is evident, but in rural India, where 833 million Indians (70%) live, people are consuming fewer nutrients than are required to stay healthy, according to a National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau survey.

On average, compared to 1975-’79, a rural Indian now consumes 550 fewer calories and 13 gm protein, 5 mg iron, 250 mg calcium and about 500 mg less vitamin A.

Children below the age of three are consuming, on average, 80 ml of milk per day instead of the 300 ml they require. This data explains, in part, why in the same survey, 35% of rural men and women were found to be undernourished, and 42% of children were underweight

In poorer areas, the situation is worse, as a survey conducted by Aajeevika Bureau, a not-for profit organisation, in 2014, across four panchayats in South Rajasthan indicated.

Almost half the 500 mothers surveyed had not eaten pulses the previous day, a third had not eaten vegetable and almost none had eaten any fruit, egg or meat. As a result, half of all mothers and their children under three in these areas were undernourished.

What hunger means for India’s future

This data has implications for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make-in-India and Skill-India programmes for economic growth.

“The consequences of child undernutrition for morbidity and mortality are enormous – and there is, in addition, an appreciable impact of undernutrition on productivity so that a failure to invest in combating nutrition reduces potential economic growth,” this 2015 World Bank report noted.

Despite higher economic growth, malnutrition levels are almost twice as high in South Asia as compared to Sub Saharan Africa, V Ramalingasami and Urban Johnson wrote in a seminal 1997 paper, titled Malnutrition: An Asian Enigma. While the lower status of women in South Asia was offered as an explanation, almost two decades later, rural Indians just do not seem to have enough food to eat.

India’s economy has been growing consistently since the early 1990s. The country has survived the recessions that started in the US in 2008 and affected large parts of the world. What is not as well known is that over the same period, more and more people in rural India were eating less and less.

While growth of gross domestic product is estimated every six months using different methods, nutrition levels are estimated once every 10 years, leading to data gaps that IndiaSpend reported in July 2016.

Nutrition monitoring has been defined by the World Health Organisation as the measurement of the changes in nutrition status of a population or a specific group of individuals over time.

The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau was set up in 1972 to monitor the status of nutrition in rural India across 10 states. The Bureau conducted nutrition surveys in rural areas in these 10 states over three time periods: 1975-79; 1996-97 and 2011-2012. These surveys provide us a temporal understanding of food intake among rural India over the past four decades.

Source: National Nutrition Monitoring Board
Source: National Nutrition Monitoring Board

One would imagine that with a growing economy over these years, people would have more food in their plates.

Instead, the intake of all nutrients decreased over these four decades. Why is this happening?

Link between landlessness, prices and hunger

The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau survey also revealed that over 40 years, the proportion of landless people in rural areas grew from 30% to 40%, and the proportion of people who were owners and cultivators decreased by almost half. Meanwhile, food inflation in India increased at a faster rate than overall inflation (10% versus 6.7%).

Within overall food inflation, the price of pulses, fats and vegetables rose quicker than that of cereals. The result is that fewer people can buy these foods. So, most rural people are neither growing food, nor buying it in adequate quantities.

There is a caveat here. Despite declining nutrient intake, malnutrition levels have decreased over the years. In absolute terms, however, these levels remain among the highest in the world, as IndiaSpend reported in July 2015. India has reduced malnutrition, but it is 13 times worse than Brazil, nine times worse than China and three times worse than South Africa.

Yet, India does not take policy action for identifying this hunger, even 69 years after Independence. In 2015, the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau – the only source of longitudinal data on nutrition levels and food intake across 10 states of India – was shut down.

The shutdown makes sure that we will not encounter such uncomfortable facts in future.

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.