A tale of Food Security: ‘If you are what you eat,then we don’t count for much’

In times of inflation,the FSB has huge potential to provide means of sustenance

Written by Shikha Sharma | Published:September 29, 2013 12:00 am

Everday,she is forced to make difficult choices for her family. What they eat,however,is not one of them. Being a beneficiary of the UPA government’s much-touted National Food Security Act means there’s usually ample cereal to go around the house. Being a below poverty level household in times of backbreaking price rise means,there’s hardly anything else. Welcome to the life of Nooresha Khatoon,living in Delhi’s Vishwas Nagar—one of the first beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act.

It has been months since the entire family got together for a minor celebration or feast. “We aren’t the types to celebrate,” shrugs Khatoon,talking of her family of seven,sharing a 12ft X 12ft home.

The last grand party she remembers attending was at the Talkatora Stadium on August 20,where she was among those invited by the government to collect their spanking new food security cards,amidst much hoopla and fanfare,and with Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in attendance. “I got the card four days after the event,but what a function it was!” she exclaims.

Such days are an exception in Khatoon’s life. Her husband Mehmood Alam,45,and she,41,moved to the capital 20 years ago from Bihar,and he has been earning a living since as a rickshaw puller. His income of about

Rs 10,000 a month barely leaves enough for her to feed the family including three adolescent sons and two daughters.

The card was supposed to be the family’s passport to better times,or so they were told. That has turned out to be wishful thinking.“We were getting wheat and rice earlier through the ration card. We are getting wheat,rice and sugar now. Sure,there’s a slight decrease in prices,but nothing that has revolutionised our life,” says Khatoom. “The only good thing is that no one in the family goes hungry now.”

However,as Khatoon points out,that’s barely a compensation. The rise in prices of basic commodities—vegetables,fruits,dairy,gas,electricity etc—has recently forced the family to give up on a lot of things they earlier took for granted.

Khatoon’s day starts early,with a quick tea with the entire family—the only time they are all together. Then the early morning bustle begins—lunch being packed and prepared,husband being sent to work,children heading to school and the two elder sons going off in search of work. Afternoon’s all about household chores and resting,before evening sets in and she heads to the market to shop for dinner and next day’s meals.

These days,she dreads going to the local shopkeeper. “Everything is getting out of reach. It started with fruits,then milk,then pulses and now it’s vegetables. A day in the market has actually become an exercise in finding out new things I can’t afford,” she says.

A quick look at her kitchen pantry tells the story. There are large canisters of wheat and rice,and packets of everyday spices,but hardly anything else. What the family eats depends on what’s cheapest at the stores. Today,she has bought 200 gm of toor dal,a kilogram of bottle gourd and 50 gm each of onions and tomatoes,for Rs 150.

Back home,she is cautious not only with the onions and tomatoes but also in using the gas cylinder. “If this runs out,I’ll have to purchase the replacement in black paying Rs 1,500,” she says,estimating it to be approximately a week of her husband’s salary.

“I’m not saying the government’s intentions aren’t noble. We have this cylinder,but we have no way to replenish it without paying a bribe. We have food subsidy,but still can’t have a good meal. There’s something very half-hearted about everything the government does for us,” she says as she puts the dal on the flame.

Her children agree. Their desires are small,but increasingly seem farfetched. While Akram,the eldest one,yearns for his mother’s biryani,a simple meal of rajma and rice would make Yasmeen,15,happiest.

But Khatoon can’t promise her children these “small luxuries”. It has been years since a birthday or anniversary was celebrated,months since the mother made kheer.

“If you are what you eat,then we don’t count for much. But we are hoping things will change,once Akram starts working,” says Alam,eating a simple meal of dal and chapati at night.

Khatoon,the more pragmatic of the two,seems more worried. “Things can’t change this way. If only the government could help my children find jobs,or empower them enough to make something of themselves,maybe then things would finally change for the better,” she says hopefully.

Sometimes,Khatoon talks of the government like one would talk of god—someone with answers to all her troubles. But then she changes her mind quickly about that too,as she contemplates her own reality. “Government ne humein sab kuch diya hai. Lekin kuch bhi poora nahin diya (the government has given us everything,but nothing complete).”

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