In the first week of September 2021, Reti Bai, a resident of Awaliya village in Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa district, was going about her day when she saw several people from her village accompany a palki. Traditional songs and dances of the Korku people were followed by prasad distribution as if it was a festival. Reti Bai, a Korku community elder, is almost 70 years old; through the decades she had witnessed many events in the life of her community and village, but she had never seen anything like this. It was a poshan (nutrition) rally as part of POSHAN Maah (month), and the palki was carrying food grains such as millet, rice, and wheat and many vegetables that the locals grow. She decided she wanted to be a part of this event.
Poshan maah is not a new concept. Anganwadis across India have been organising them to promote a balanced diet among children, adolescent girls, and pregnant women for some years now. The 2021 event in Khandwa was different because it borrowed tropes from the Korkus’ festivals, including the manner in which the ‘nutrition’ was carried in the palki like local deities during religious processions. It became their event.
Seema Prakash, founder and CEO of Spandan Samaj Seva Samiti, who helped facilitate the event in Khandwa, says the idea was to involve the community in conversations about their diet. “So far these events were organised by the government and nonprofits in the anganwadi centres with no involvement of the community. The community perception was that it was the government’s or the nonprofit’s event.” To change this thinking, it was decided that most of the vegetables and grains used in the event would be from the village itself. Prakash says, “The idea was also to show people that everything you need for a balanced diet is growing in your land, in your surroundings.”
The younger women and children went around collecting the ingredients. People who grew rice brought rice, those who grew bajra brought that, and then there were dals, bottle gourds, eggs, and everything else; only drumstick and beetroot were introduced from outside because they don’t grow in Khandwa. The final result was a khichri cooked by community elders such as Reti, for whom it was an opportunity to pass on her knowledge of nutrition to the younger generation.
In 2021 this version of poshan maah was organised in 15–20 village anganwadi centres in Khandwa, from where it spread to adjoining villages. But in 2022 more than 50 villages are supposed to join the celebration.
As told to IDR.
Reti Bai works with Spandan Samaj Seva Samiti on awareness initiatives in Awaliya village; Seema Prakash is the founder and CEO of Spandan Samaj Seva Samiti.
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