This is one of a series of conversations on covid-19, the right to food and radical politics. Brittany Kesselman, a research associate at SWOP and a founder of the food justice collective, We Will All Eat, spoke to Dipa Sinha, who teaches economics at Ambedkar University in Delhi. She has been associated with the right to food campaign in India over the last 15 years and has also worked with the Office of Commissioners to the Supreme Court of India on the right to food.


Interview with Dipa Sinha, 27 May 2020

Hello I’m Brittany Kesselman. I’m a research associate at SWOP, the Society Work and Politics Institute at Wits University and I’m also a co-founder of the food justice collective, We will all eat. This is one of a series of conversations on covid-19, the right to food and radical politics. Today I’m very pleased to be speaking to Dipa Sinha who teaches economics at Ambedkar University in Delhi. She has been associated with the right to food campaign in year over the last 15 years and has also worked with the Office of Commissioners to the Supreme Court of India on the right to food.

Welcome Dipa, thanks for joining us today. To begin with, could you just tell us a little bit about the right to food campaign in India as well as your own history and role in it.

So the right to food campaign is an informal network of individuals and organizations across the country who came together basically to fight for the right to food for allwith the belief that given the constitution that we have in India that the state pays the primary responsibility to ensure that no one sleeps hungry and that everybody is well nourished. One of the first actions of the campaign kind of came together around the public interest litigation in the Supreme Court which was filed in 2001. The primary claim of that PIL in the Supreme Court was saying that we have a right to life with dignity, in our Constitution, so we went to the court with the question of whether that means that there is right to food also. And if it means that people have a right to food, then how does that get operationalized. That was broadly what the case was about and the context of the case was that we had these overflowing public granaries at that time and at the same time there was drought in the country and many reported starvation and hunger related deaths.

So since then, the campaign took off in various ways and has been fighting for lobbying for different legislations, policies, programs and so on. One of the for instance in 2005 we were centrally part of a campaign for a National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. In 2013 there was a legislation called the Food Security Act that was passed; so a number of these legislations, the Supreme Court… litigation, media, working with media…They are mobilizing people on the ground. These are the kind of things that the campaign does but it is a voluntary network, so all of us have our own day jobs or there are different maybe NGOs, trade unions, women’s organizations, who come together on the issue of right to food. Yeah, on my involvement, I used to so under the same case in the Supreme Court, the court appointed an office; it was like an ombudsman office to monitor… because it was a continuing mandamus which went over almost 16 years. So this office was appointed to monitor whether those orders that the court was passing were actually getting implemented on the ground. I was working in that office where we used to also do research on hunger, on malnutrition and we used to try and work out these tripartite current kind of arrangements where the government could talk to the civil society and both together could report to the court on what was happening, because the litigation was not seen as something adversarial but as how can we all work together with the institutions we have to ensure right to food so that’s how… that was my formal engagement with the Office of Commissioners but I have volunteered, being an activist with the campaign throughout and even after I stoppedworking for the Commissioners office.

It’s a really impressive campaign. You described a bit about the context at the time, the litigation started: what was the context like in terms of food sort of a few months ago just prior to the covid-19 situation and what does it look like now?

At one level, compared now over almost 20 years now what we do see that 20 years now, what we do see is measurable forms of hunger if we say in the form of for malnutrition. There is some improvement in India where about 50% of children were malnourished now we have 38% children malnourished, which is still very high; 38% stunting for a country like India, which is not so poor anymore in terms of its per capita income levels, we still have high malnutrition levels. Also the last three years in India, three-four years, there has been a kind of an economic slowdown so while the economy was growing, we were having a lower growth rate, increasing inequality. There’s been a stagnation in rural wage rates for almost six years now, so we were in a situation where… so it is not a food crisis in the sense that there is no availability of food but because there is definitely a crisis in employment and livelihoods there were reports of increasing hunger from different parts of the country. And ironically again we are faced with a situation now where the government godowns where the government stores what each procures – the rice and wheat – is overflowing. They don’t have place to keep the grain and we had these reports of hunger and in that context in the third week of March we had this very unprepared-for lockdown, national lockdown, that was announced. So it was announced on TV at 8 p.m. in the night by the Prime Minister giving us four hours time to do whatever you had to do to get yourself ready, and that of course again has very unequally affected people.

So food is so much linked to livelihood and over 90% of our labor forces in the informal sector. So what we have been seeing over the last three months is a completely different crisis where actually you forget about the virus and the disease and you’re thinking about the human-created crisis as a response to the disease, so we’ve had millions of migrant workers who’ve been stranded in different parts of the country, who have not been earning wages and therefore unable to live, unable to feed themselves where they are, struggling to go back to their homes which sometimes involves walking more than 200-300 kilometres or even more. So I don’t know if you’ve seen it but if you just google it or look at any of the media you can see these really heart-wrenching pictures of families with young children, old people who’ve not eaten for two days, three days were just walking in the hope that they’ll get to their village and then they’ll get some food and get maybe some livelihood. So it’s been a very difficult situation and there are some relief measures that the government has announced but that is way way too little compared to the kind of problem here.

And when migrant workers find their way to their villages, is the food situation better in the rural areas right now?

Relatively one can say so but just to give you another context the lockdown was imposed just when harvest you another context, what was going on, of the winter crop: so wheat was being harvested and what happened was that in most places the farmers managed to harvest the crop but then, because the lockdown was imposed, they were not really able to get the crop to the market and so… We do have some data which says that the amount of …although they then said that even in lockdown the agricultural markets can function, but the transport systems were all disrupted, so we have some data coming in about if you compare with last year, how much is coming into the markets in terms of roots, vegetables or grains has come down quite significantly. But on the other hand the production did happen. It was a good harvest this time, especially the wheat harvest and so I think when people go back it’s still better than the situation in urban areas because here they need cash to access any food and the hope is that when they go back they’ll get some food at least but it won’t last for very long. And also that eventually the livelihood issue will have to be resolved and we must also remember that all these people were in the urban areas in big cities in the first place because there was no work available where they were, so now if all of them have come back it can become a huge crisis but currently the urban looks even more worrisome.

You mentioned that there are some government relief efforts. Could you tell us what kinds of measures have been put in place?

So basically, broadly the first round of relief that the government announced was two-fold: one was food distribution and the other was cash. So in terms of food distribution, what they announced is that people who have a ration card that is people who are covered under the public distribution system in India through which they get subsidized grains, which is about sixty percent of the current population, they announced that they would get five kilos of grains additionally for free for a period of three months. And the other was they said that all those who were beneficiaries of various social security pensions under schemes like the old-age pension or widow pension, disability pension and so on, they put in an additional amount of rupee (1500) into those accounts which is again a very small amount. It was rupees 1500 for three months so a dollar is 70 rupees, so something like twenty, twenty-five dollars is what they put in so these are very small amounts of cash transfers is what they did, and even with the food the issue was that they said that the food was for those who already were in the ration system, which again kept out all these migrants who are usually out of the system because even if their name is in the ration list it’s usually in the list back home in the village and they cannot access the rations where they are living. And in big cities like in Delhi where I live, the government did set up a lot of like soup kitchens across the city in schools which were of a huge… I mean they were very helpfu. According to the government’s data, a million people every day in Delhi still go to these kitchens for lunch and dinner but still we have reports of people walking back and being hungry.

Wow and I would imagine amongst the different member organizations of the right to food campaign that there are probably other kinds of relief efforts as well?

Absolutely. So what we have been doing – and not just the right to food campaign, all kinds of organizations part of the civil society in the country – whatever issue they’ve been working on, currently everyone is engaged in really relief work, given the scale of the problem. So there are many of us, many networks are running help lines where we get calls from stranded workers or migrants and the work all of us have been trying to do is to mobilize food, mobilize funds. So there are various models: some of us are distributing cooked food, some of us are distributing dry ration. Over the last two weeks now they’ve allowed buses to ply and they’ve opened up some trains, so the effort has also been to arrange for buses for people who want to go back, arrange for train tickets for people who want to go back, and so on – that’s also an additional thing.

I’m wondering how you would characterize these these different food relief efforts and other relief efforts: are they generally framed as rights-based, as solidarity, as charity – sort of what is the thinking behind them?

So you’ll see a bit of everything currently because there’s so much hunger all around. So for instance, say the rightto food campaign itself, while we are on on the one side doing this thing of trying to do whatever we can to respond to the SOS calls that we get, say there are 200 people hungry somewhere. So it is where we are appealing to charity as well as an immediate response although we do believe that there is a right and it is the state should have got there, but then the immediate response sometimes does… that’s where you can manage to raise funds from. There’s a lot of religious charities distributing across the country. There are a lot of these online crowdsourcing, fundraising happening for food, so there is that whole charity element to it.

But on the other hand, campaigns like ours have also been continuously putting pressure on the state saying that: I mean these people are workers and they have rights. We have a national food security act and that the state has to get its act together, so that we have been doing. Again our usual forms of organizing in the forms of picketing or demonstrating is not possible in the current situation. You can only do these calls but we have been writing open letters to the prime minister, to various ministers. We have been doing SMS campaigns; we have been using social media as much as we can – so Twitter and Facebook and so on – to also spread this message because, like I said, it’s not the case that the government doesn’t have the grain. We think there is a fundamental injustice there but there is so much grain going to waste, there is a good harvest, there’s a crop, the farmers are not getting any money for what they’ve produced because the markets are not functioning, so we do think that both from the point of view of the rights of the farmers as well as the rights of the consumers this is the time for the government to really step in and ensure that people get a full balanced meal so that the producers get a price for it and people are also able to eat. So we have been continuously responding to what the government is doing and trying to put out things saying what they should be doing, aligned with other groups – very little response yet.

It does sound like there, like so many other places in the world, the lockdown is what really exposes a lot of the flaws in the market-based food system and I wonder if it’s opening space for alternative food systems in any way, if you’re seeing small-scale farmers organising alternative ways of getting their produce out to people, collectives, cooperatives, solidarity purchasing – are things like that coming up as well?

Not at a very big scale given the size of the country. It’s also still happening where there is some NGO which has been doing this kind of work in which it is kind of catalyzing that from happening, but unfortunately not so much. But on the other hand, what you said in the introduction that in South Africa that the government’s response is also through these large food and industrial food systems – that is something also we don’t see. I mean in terms of both the charity as well as the government response, it’s still being largely… for instance I was talking about Delhi. So we have kitchens: schools have been converted to kitchens basically and feeding centers, and it is still in that sense local food of course at a very large scale but it’s not packaged, processed food that’s being distributed. That is not the problem here as of now..

And is there any discussion around the need for an alternative to the current system? Is that coming up right no? Here for example, the idea of basic income was very unpopular before but has become a lot more mainstream at the moment and more localized food systems have also sort of risen on the agenda at the moment. Is there discussion around these kinds of alternatives?

Absolutely, there is a lot of discussion in fact around an alternative economic model, let’s say not just to do with food because like you also said, the lockdown is really … and now they’re really in your face. The lockdown has affected people very very differently. For some of us the conversation is about how do you work from home and how do you spend your time, are you learning baking kind of thing.

On the other hand, for some people the issues are where do we get our next meal from and how do I take my eight-year-old mother’s a thousand kilometers away to my village while we are working. So that that kind of amplification of the inequality I think, somewhere at least, has touched the hearts of a lot of people who didn’t know that this is what our country was about or who did not think about it as much. On the other hand, also the whole theme of the environmental impact of the lockdown which is also ironical. I mean it is a fact that Delhi has cleaner air now to breathe and you’re able to see the sky and things like that, which is also kind of motivating people to ask questions on what is this economic model that we have been all depending on and why was it first of all this kind of a situation that there’s so many people working in such precarious conditions so far away from their homes, in such different places, what brings us to that. So there is some discussion on having more localized, you know discussion on small-scale industry, rural industrialization, and now if all these migrants have gone back do we just wait for them to again come back or what kind of models can we think of that you can actually create more sustainable employment where they are. And all this of course links to the food system also quite centrally, on what kind of food system this kind of a model would generate. Just to add, I don’t know that this kind of questions are also coming because what we have seen through the lockdown is not just that the government is not responding in terms of relief but also we are seeing some very regressive measures being taken. So for instance many state governments have used this opportunity to dilute their labor laws saying that because the economic activity is down and to boost investment and to start things again, minimum wage laws can be ignored for X number of months or the working day can be increased from 8 hours to 12 hours, you don’t have to pay overtime. So there’s also all of this going on on the side where widespread campaigns were actually demanding the people should continue to be paid even through the lockdown period even if they are not working. What we see from the government is actually that even now when activities are resumed that they would be on even worse conditions. So therefore, this whole question of labor. labor rights, who does… I mean, where does production happen? Who does it belong to, how is value generated? – those kinds of questions are all being asked again and on the relief measures side, like you said, basic income, which was not a very popular idea in India either, particularly because in India, even among activist groups, because it was always posed as an alternative to food transfers or providing universal health. Right now at least till the lockdown and the aftermath continues, most of us also see a point in having a combination of both. We do see that there is a need for an income transfer along with a food transfer and of course health facilities, which is another disaster.

It’s interesting that there’s space for more progressive ideas and of course more regressive and repressive actions at the same time and I noticed on the right to food campaign website that different states have sort of different measures. So I’d also be interested, sort of a two-part question: what kind of actions and measures are needed to push towards the progressive end of things moving out of this crisis? And also in India, would those be sort of state-level campaigns or would they be national level? What’s the scale of action to move things?

So like I said, a the way the responsibilities are divided by the Constitution in India, a lot of the social sector subjects – they’re state subjects, the states have a final say in how they are done and implementation particularly, even if it’s funded by the center finally comes from the state. So for instance, say in the ration system, it’s the center that procures grain and pays for it but it leaves it to the states to decide who it will give food to, what the criterion will be and what the system will be and so o. So we see our struggle being both at the state and the national level. The state level is also more responsive these days; it’s kind of easier, at least some states respond, some don’t. There are different parties in different states so you have greater space there. They have an ear closer to the ground and they do. But the big challenge is that while the Constitution gives the responsibility of the social sector to the states, the states have very few powers to generate resources on their own. So all direct taxation can happen only through the central government and then the center distributes, shares part of that with the states. And that is a big challenge we are facing now, that even in states which are very progressive and very receptive, after a point they’re not able to take it forward because they don’t have the resources, even if they have the will, and they’re not able to generate their own resources because they just don’t have the powers under the Constitution to tax, and how else do you generate resources in such times? So we are in a bit of a bind there and therefore we have to continue putting pressure on the central continue putting pressure on the central government as well.

You also mentioned the cleaner air in Delhi as in so many other places. Are people making links between this crisis and the climate crisis and also between the food system and this crisis and the climate crisis?

There is some discussion around this because we have, like particularly in Delhi again, the climate crisis it has been quite severe the last few years. Every year in the winters we’ve been facing the smog and schools being closed down because we just can’t breathe. So that is something you immediately feel because it has been affecting daily lives. At the same time, we have also across the country been facing much more unseasonal rains. Other than the floods and the droughts, also just unpredictable climate which has been affecting agriculture, although it has not been across the country. One year somewhere, something happens, another year it’s a different place. So one can see the link; so now, for instance, there’s this locust attack that’s been happening the last few days all over North India. People are seeing the links that somewhere we have probably gone the wrong way in terms of the economic model because of all that’s happening. There are for instance also questions asked on this: so our earlier food policy of the Seventies resulted in the system where there is an exclusive focus on rice and wheat with some parts of the country which are not traditionally rice growing areas shifting to rice because that’s where they got a remunerative price because the government was procuring only rice and wheat and so diets have changed because of which the water levels have gone down in many parts of the country. Nutritionally also, polished rice white rice is not necessarily the best. Some of the older millet which people were eating was healthier, healthier for the soil healthier for the body, so all of this is definitely coming back into discussion, especially here because it is true that even in most rural areas other than maybe for some few staples. everyone is dependent on the market for food and that’s something that’s really hitting at a time like this so it’s not as if there is no shortage of fruits or vegetables or even meat and eggs in rural areas because even there, it’s completely market-dependent and so some of these issues, which say something like the right to food campaign has been talking about earlier as well, has a more receptive audience now because people can see… I mean it’s affecting a wider set of people and they can relate to what is wrong.

And of course issues around the the food system and alternatives in the food system are linked to broader questions like you said, the entire economic model. Also issues around access to land, to water, to energy for production or for cooking: what are some of the most important other issues that you would see linking to the longer term right to food?

Just one line on water I didn’t say anything about but’s a big big issue also and has been coming up in the context of the whole hand-washing issue where, you know, both these things of maintaining the social distancing and hand-washing, how they sound so simple and easy to do but the challenges are so differently challenging for different classes and their access to water in urban slums, that’s of course a big issue. But going ahead, like I said, I think one is definitely the link to livelihoods and employment. You know, finally, that is very closely linked to what kind of food system we can have and what kind of a society we move forward towards also, and that, again, because it’s not a new problem – it’s been something that’s been building up and this pandemic, in the lockdown, has just blown it up in our faces and that is something also that is not going to get resolved the day the lockdown ends. It is going to be a longer problem; like you said, it’s related to access to natural resources, who owns the land, who owns the rivers and so on, so that is one big challenge within which, while we have a lot of movements and therefore a lot of ideas on issues of say land, of agriculture, of farming and so on, urban issues in the country like India are now also something where we do need fresher ideas and much more thinking about the kind of urbanization that happens, because much of the society activism in the country has also been very rooted in rural areas and that’s where we learn our lessons from and where we kind of blow them up to the national level. But understanding urbanization and what kind of urbanization we want, that’s one whole area. The other of course, which some people are talking about not enough, is the whole issue of gender as well, even in relation to the pandemic and the lockdown… definitely in relation to food systems. And who controls food is not just within the community but even within the household and that those two link and that that a more equitable gender relations have better nutritional outcomes as well. For India this is a big challenge and we’re actually we are seeing reports for instance of increasing domestic violence during the lockdown across the world, not just in India. It’s happening here as well, increasing burden of care work on women through this whole period and now with all these migrants going back, with more sick people, so there is a whole gender dimension to this which would be the other challenge.

The situation you’re describing is quite similar here. I wonder, we’ve certainly seen women being affected and often excluded here from some of the relief efforts. I wonder if there are particular groups; we hear a little bit about religious minorities being excluded, perhaps slum dwellers. Are there certain groups that are especially badly affected by the situation and perhaps most excluded from the relief efforts at the moment?

So there are and it’s the same groups that unfortunately get excluded always; so for homeless people for instance, and street children is a difficult to reach group always. At this time you know with the lockdown and how strict it was in the initial phase, they’ll suddenly be off the streets but nobody bothered to find out where they went or how they vanished. Of course some of them got to the government relief centers but it would have required more kind of effort. Over a longer period of time, adivasis, the tribal population who live in forests, close to forests, and once again therefore, difficult to reach and for long a socially marginalized group in India and who are also now so market dependent that their lives are quite intertwined with what’s happening in the economy and the relief would not reach them as much. Single women-headed households and old people, the disabled, nobody’s talking also about how to reach disabled populations because we have very few home services that are happening. We still need people to get to a center or get to a bank to get their money out, without transport because transport has been completely stopped. So the traditionally socially marginalized groups are the ones that we are seeing… There are no special additional efforts, despite knowing that these are the groups who would be most affected, in trying to reach them; no efforts by the government.

What are the key demands from the right to food campaign right now and going forward?

So in the immediate term, like immediately today…actually last month… what they shoot down and what we’re demanding is is an universal public distribution system for at least six months. So there you don’t ask for any identity cards or income certificates and so on but make food available, dry rations, food grains available to anybody who comes and makes a claim and we think that this is a fair demand to make because, like I said, the government is sitting on so much grain and there is a network of fair price shops already. So every village has a fair price shop which is in some ways the most easily accessible place that people can go to but not to distribute only rice and wheat there but to give a mix of commodities so to include lentils cooking oil, millet, eggs so on. So, one, because we do think that the situation of hunger is quite serious and has to be addressed immediately before you can talk about people again going to work or whatever it is. Along with that we have been demanding for an income transfer of at least seven thousand rupees per household per month; that’s about $100 per household per month, that also for six months because, again, we do think that with all the supply chains being disrupted and everything being disrupted, the economy will take at least six months to start getting back to a state which is not the ideal situation but where at least we go back to where we were, so that people’s needs …to survive, there is no demand in the economy right now; people don’t have money to buy anything and therefore the various measures that the government has announced, other than the little bit of relief that I told you about, is mainly to do with easier access to credit for small entrepreneurs. But what we are finding and we are quite confident is that the small entrepreneurs do not want to take more credit in a situation where they’re already indebted and where they do not see a market available – who will they sell to if nobody has money? So even for that, the basic income transfer has to happen. So if you just asked me to tell you in short, these would be our two main big demands: a universal public distribution system and a universal basic income transfer. But at the same time, we do think that there’s multiple other things that the state needs to do; for instance, we have an Employment Guarantee Act in rural areas; we need to see how that can be expanded to the urban areas. And we also need to see how we can use this – the employment generated through these acts – to create the kind of things we were talking about, to strengthen a local food system, to strengthen local forms of say small irrigation, of soil conservation – these kinds of activites to be taken up through an Employment Guarantee program. They have so much labor that has gone back to the rural areas and it can be really productively used, we feel, towards both of these – towards conservation activities as well as towards care activities. So childcare, making masks you know, there are so many of these other things that need to be done on the pandemic, so linking employment to all of this in a slightly longer term, if not next month but we need to start planning for that. Also, in some time. Then of course there are lots of issues related to the pandemic itself; for instance. the tests are not free still for everyone everywhere. And there are a lot of reports coming up on the impact on the non-covid patients because there’s been a complete disruption in health services; many hospitals have been put aside for covid, so the tuberculosis patients … the mosquito season is coming up so we’ll have the malaria, dengue and so on. The antenatal care, immunization, all of this is happening at a much slower pace than normal. So to a revival of the non-covid health services while we are addressing covid is also another demand; and the labor laws, that they can’t be allowed to use this crisis as an excuse to dilute labor laws. And they’re doing it. It’s again… I’m being very angry and negative, but it’s also what they do with health workers: like the government is putting out in some parts of the country advertisements for nurses in which clearly they’re not even paying minimum wages, like for contractor nurses because they need more, so that all of this, whatever you do the response also has to keep in mind the rights of the service providers, your health workers, sanitation workers, the frontline workers who are working overtime without protection, without even wages in many instances so there’s a lot of demands, per diem…

Well they make sense. How receptive is government to these demands at the moment?

Unfortunately, not very receptive and … The present government in India has not been very receptive to any civil society suggestions, not just in relation to covid and the pandemic and the lockdown. So the lockdown also came at a time when the whole country was protesting an amendment to our Citizenship Act, so there was a lot of tension. I mean it was not a case where the civil society is working with the government. There was a lot of protests going on, that was the environment in the country when covid began; so there is no trust; there is a lot of suspicion. The ruling party I mean through social media and otherwise has been making villains out of a lot of people in the civil society who work on things like access to land, access to forests, who are being called left-wing extremists, terrorists, some of them have been arrested and put in jail. So in that kind of a context, and there is a whole troll army on the social media, so when you make these kind of suggestions you often are also faced with questions. And it’s not just civil society, surprisingly even media who is reporting the ground truths are often also faced with questions: also, what have you done for them? What have you done to help the poor? if you were going…. Media journalists are being asking, ‘instead of shooting videos of these people walking home could you arrange a bus for them?’ you know, this kind of thing, where there is almost a blurring of lines of what is the responsibility of the state and what is the role of the civil society or the media. Where people also seem to be quite convinced and get swayed by these kinds of arguments, it’s very difficult to make rights-based arguments in this climate, so there has not been much reception and there is all kinds of these kinds of counter arguments. Even when the opposition party, the main opposition party, raises questions this is the kind of response that comes, you know, like it’s if you had done your job 50 years back then there would not have been so many migrants, so how dare you ask us what we are doing for them. Those kind… that is the kind of rhetoric that we are seeing, so it’s difficult, very difficult.

Before we wind up, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about Kerala because from here at least we hear about things happening in Kerala in general, and now during covid-19 that seem to be a sort of a best practice model compared to many other places and I wonder if you also see it that way and if other states in India are trying to model things after Kerala, or reject it, or how does that look?

Absolutely I think Kerala definitely is a best practice model and something we need to study much more in the context of covid as well. But to understand Kerala we also have to understand that Kerala has always been a best practice model in India, so it has always had the best human development indicators in India, so the infant mortality rate, the life expectancy in Kerala are equivalent to some of the upper-middle income or high-income countries far far away from the rest of the country. They achieved you know universal literacy 20 years back when the rest of us could not even dream of it and that has to do with the social and cultural kind of politics that Kerala has had over the last hundred years at least. So given that background and I think we cannot undermine that background.

Also twenty years back, Kerala started this very effective process of decentralization where they shifted funds and functions to the local government and gave them… empower them a lot, and it is all that that they have been really able to use at the time of this crisis to respond quickly. Currently the Kerala Government is a Communist Party: it’s the CPM coalition of Left parties, but in Kerala it has… the local governments are about 60/40 of the opposition and the Communist Party and all of them have been responding like this, so Kerala has had this history of progressive politics, also a history of a very strong welfare state kind of a model where actually primary health centers work, they put money into these places and they are functioning, and especially in the context of the pandemic I think they did new kinds of things which have clearly been quite effective and something not just the rest of India but the whole world can learn from. One was just a preparedness, I mean when they heard something like this is going on in China they started preparing in Kerala because it is a state which has a lot about migration so they knew it would come at some point. NEPA came to them two years back so they knew that so they’re doing the whole contact tracing, testing, isolation quite well although they are the only state to keep saying we know we cannot be complacent because migrants will come back. Even armah, people who who’ve gone out will come back and so the cases will increas. The other side to it I think, which is even more important, is that it’s one of the very few governments who responded as a caring state. I mean right from the beginning there has been a care that has been taken not to stigmatize the covid positive people, not to stigmatize the migrants, not to stigmatize anybody but to say that the state is… I mean we are in a crisis, the state has to take care of its people and people have to take care of each other. These are both of these messages that you could see. like the Chief Minister does this press briefing almost every day and you can see these are the kind of things he is saying and that’s a language we are not hearing anywhere else.

That then translates into policies where every life is cared for; so we hear stories about for instance, Kerala has had I think about six or seven deaths only; even its burden of the number of cases and they talk with a lot of pride that even if it is a 92-year-old woman we will try our best to save that person, we are not giving up on a single life. At the same time, for instance, they stopped calling their migrants migrants; they said guest workers, they said we have our guest work we will take care of them and Kerala is a very different state from North India in terms of language, food and so on, so they actually are trying to understand this and address the issue telling the migrant workers that we understand you want to go back home but you cannot; we’ll try and give you your kind of food, we will try and provide entertainment in your language, please stay. You know, there would still be some people who are not happy staying there and wanting to go back which is understandable but overall this kind of a caring attitude where you involved the local women’s groups, involved the local governments to go door to door explain to people, so everyone from the Chief Minister down to the frontline worker seems to understand that this is not something where it’s a war against some enemy and that anybody… You know that it’s something we have to fight together and it’s about solidarity and that is something that’s definitely working and something all of us should learn. It was one of the first states even before the lockdown to announce an economic relief package despite not having much resources much better cash transfers than what the central government announced; food, I mean if you see the pictures that people have been putting out of the food that they are distributing, again it’s not just that rice and wheat but it is a variety of food that people actually like to eat. so it is a state that we can learn a lot from. For me, the big lesson is the caring part of it that… I mean the feeling you’re getting everywhere else is that nobody seems to care. I think if you have that then everything else probably will fall into place.

An impressive and inspiring example. I will give you a chance to add any final comments that you want before we wrap up and also just to ask if maybe after the interview you could send us a recipe of food that you like or food that’s traditional for you; we’re just trying to collect some recipes from the different people we speak to as well but aside from that thank you so much for for taking the time today. And is there anything else that you would like to add?

Not really but sure I will send a recipe and that if there’s something like this going on, on what’s happening in South Africa or even in the region,we would really be interested to know. All of us have been quite caught up with our own lives in post-the-lockdown and just our localities and what’s happening around us, but I think we would really like to know how the other developing countries are responding to this. We hear a lot about the US and the UK and Europe but we hear [inaudible] any countries in Africa what’s going on so if there are resources and if there’s anything online, if you could share not just with me, I would share with colleagues who are interested tounderstand trends.

Definitely, well we are gathering interviews from people around the world and then we do hope maybe to bring everyone together in dialogue on the webinar after all of the interviews to sort of see if we can learn more directly from each other. But in the meantime I’ll certainly share with you some of the things that are happening here. It will be our pleasure and good luck with the campaign and stay safe and we’ll be in touch.

Thank you