15, Oct 2021 | Mamta Pared
Adivasi families of Maharashtra’s Wada taluka are shocked. “This is the first time we have seen such rice in our life,” say villagers from Gaurapur, referring to the uncooked rice distributed under the government’s nutrition scheme. The rice is distributed from the Anganwadi centre, and locals alleged it is “made of plastic”.
According to Raju Vitthal, a resident of the village, he was alarmed when he began washing the rice before cooking. “It was floating on the water. I feared that it was not regular rice, and so, I did not cook it further and did not feed our children,” he says.
The story spread, and the Adivasi beneficiaries of the area were both scared as well as angry. They too had seen this white rice “floating on water” for the first time. Many such incidents were being reported from various villages and places in Palghar, and the people were too scared to cook and eat this rice.
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However, according to officials, the rice is “grade-A fortified rice”. In order to increase its nutritional value, the rice is fortified with “Iron Folic Acid and Vitamin-12”, the clarification was also made public on some news channels. However, the information did not reach fast enough to calm the fears in the minds of those who needed it most… the beneficiaries of the government’s nutrition scheme.
“This rice is fortified, so what exactly does it mean?” ask the villagers who have not been given the correct information they need. Some were scared to even talk about the rice, but told us that they were given the “plastic rice by our Anganwadi”.
I had heard that similar incidents had been reported from Mokhada, in Vikramgad taluka. So, I went there and met Suraj Dalvi, an activist and social worker. He assured me that the so-called ‘plastic rice’ had been examined and proven safe as it was fortified.
Dalvi said, “People are coming to us with such complaints, and we are explaining the whole process of fortification”.
Information sharing is the need of the hour
While the government devises various schemes for the development of rural areas, it is often met with a mixed response. Like in the case of the fortified rice, in some cases the results are far from the ones desired. The reason, I realised, was the lack of proper information about the product, and the process, before the item, rice in this case, is distributed to the people. Now look! This rice is nutritious. But only if the consumer knows why and how the grains may be different but will taste the same as regular rice and give them added vitamins and minerals. Thus, neutralising confusion in their minds, can in turn control fear. Information, and transparency, I realised, are the key ingredients for any new policy served to be accepted, and enjoyed by those it intends to benefit.
This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by Mamta Pared who hails from the Warli tribe and lives with her family in Nimbavali village in Palghar district. Here she showcases how life-long poverty and deprivation affect people’s approach to life and livelihood.
Meet Mamta Pared
Mamta Pared is a young Adivasi woman hailing from the Warli community. She lives with her family in Nimbavali village in Palghar district. Her mother is unlettered, while her father was educated up to the fourth standard. After they got married, her parents started working together at a brick kiln. Every year, their family used to migrate for employment and live near brick kilns, six out of twelve months. There are five siblings, the youngest was born when Mamta was five years old. As the eldest daughter in the family, she was responsible for caring for her siblings, and also helped with household chores. She had to skip school frequently and stay home to take care of her brothers. But she studied hard, passed scholarship exams, stayed in a government hostel, even borrowed money to pay college fees. Mamta eventually earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media. She wants to be a journalist, and later become a professor in a college. She is working on earning a Master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Abasaheb Garware College in Pune.