This case study is about the politics of malnutrition and the role of public action in fighting the phenomenon. More than 25,000 human lives are lost every day due to malnutrition and related disease. One third of all the world s malnourished children live in India, yet few studies of malnutrition in the country heed the political context in which these violations of human rights exist.
A notable exception is Amartya Sen who has argued that post-independent India successfully has prevented famines due to the functioning of her democracy along with a relatively high amount of public action. However, democratic actors have failed to combat chronic malnutrition despite India s increased agricultural productivity, economic growth, large food stocks and the existence of some of the world s largest nutritional safety-net programs. This contradiction serves as the backdrop of this thesis, in which political agency against poverty and malnutrition is given attention. The main research question is: What is the scope for, and nature of, public action against malnutrition by Adivasis (indigenous people) in India?
After proposing a framework to assess public action against malnutrition from, the functioning and relative relationships between three overlapping spheres of public action state, civil society and citizen action was explored, assuming that viewing public action from outcast angles would provide important insights. Based on a mapping of poverty and voice among Adivasi women of Eastern India, this study critically consider the effectiveness of public action in reducing malnutrition in India.
Citizenship in a democratic setting is no guarantee for government accountability. A contribution of this study is how public action in a formalistic democratic setting produces interesting permutations and combinations in terms of public interaction. Public action is embedded in local contexts, where political culture, norms and clashes of economic class and identity-based interests shape its effectiveness in enhancing the freedoms of the poor. The crux of the public action puzzle is that its effectiveness relies quite substantially on how the outcasts are targeted vis-à-vis the non-poor. Paradoxically, the techniques used for targeting can easily produce the opposite effect i.e. more exclusion. This case study produced examples of how blindfolded targeting can have a negative effect on both redistribution of resources and the societal inclusion of the outcast . In the fight against malnutrition, a most pressing task is to break the silence about its causes by unmasking the politics behind it.