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As featured in our 2020 Annual Report Sustaining Social Justice
Two months after the first COVID-19 case in India, the central government imposed a strict lockdown. With no warning, tens of millions of people lost their jobs in the cities and millions moved back to their villages in the countryside. They had no savings, received little or no government support and often settled in informal camps, unable to reach their villages. Government aid was late and poorly coordinated. Workers and their families went hungry.
The Deccan Development Society (DDS), a long-term Inter Pares counterpart, supports rural women, organized into village-level groups called sanghams, to develop sophisticated community-based food systems. In the past, these systems have helped them weather unexpected food crises due to droughts. Now, they have ensured adequate food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seeing the suffering created by lockdowns, the sangham women collected 20,000 kg of grains and pulses from their farms, asking DDS to distribute them to the stranded workers in informal camps. They provided cooking oil, and brought highly nutritious finger millet porridge to new and expecting mothers.
Mayuri Masanagari, a staff member of DDS, helped to coordinate this response. Together with the sangham women, Mayuri went door-to-door, identifying Dalit families who were on the verge of starvation. The women recognized that even with food rations, some families needed support to prepare the food. So they started a community kitchen, serving nutritious meals twice a day. DDS also supported local health workers, serving warm porridge daily to nurses, doctors, and sanitation workers.
For over two decades, sanghams have nourished the land, cultivated a diversity of foods, and built strong social infrastructure to enhance wellbeing and prevent hunger. Sovereignty over their own food systems has allowed them to come through past crises, and now to respond in solidarity to those in need within their communities and beyond. Inter Pares is honoured to be in solidarity with DDS and the sangham women.
In the informal camps, we did a survey, and identified what people needed most, and then we went back to the sanghams and gathered and prepared the food. This way, we made sure people got what they really needed. - Mayuri Masanagari, DDS