Despite economic growth, persistent levels of absolute poverty remain across the world. Social protection is an important response to this, guaranteeing a basic level of income support. The state of Chhattisgarh, India, provides an interesting model, as government commitment and people’s action combine to buttress food security in communities with historically high levels of disadvantage.
New research on wellbeing and poverty in Chhattisgarh provides an innovative perspective on these issues. Qualitative and quantitative evidence show more secure livelihoods have a broader effect on people’s confidence and experience of quality in life. Strong traditions of collective identity and community mobilisation constitute important resources for the achievement of rights in practice. Persistent gender inequalities remain, however, in both objective achievements and people’s subjective assessments of what they can do or be.
This briefing paper makes the following recommendations:
Improved Food Security: The achievement of a successful social protection programme in Chhattisgarh shows how entrenched difficulties can be overcome through a combination of government commitment and people’s mobilisation. As entitlements are extended nation-wide under the ‘Right to Food’ Act (2013), this provides an important example for other states. Arguments for universal access to subsidised food-grain are supported by our findings that it is mainly poorer people who lack ration-cards; distribution of Above Poverty Level cards does not follow economic status; and local social and political relationships continue to play an undue role in deciding who gets government benefits.
Popular Mobilisation: Food security appears an individual entitlement but it is collectively established and maintained. Framing food security as a right makes clear the active part people have played and continue to play in securing their entitlements in practice. Our research communities have a long ambivalent relationship with the state. Their low levels of political confidence, despite experience of successful collective action, indicate the importance of local community organisations in educating people about their rights and working with them to ensure these are achieved in practice.
Psycho-social Wellbeing: Qualitative and quantitative evidence reinforce the importance of food security and social protection, showing that more secure livelihoods have a broader impact on people’s confidence and experience of quality in life. While wellbeing may be assessed at an individual level, there is no doubt that collective entitlements, such as those in the Forest Rights Act, are critical to ensure longer term wellbeing.
Gender: There continue to be significant gender inequalities both in formal sector achievement (e.g. education and rates of work under MGNREGS) and in what people feel themselves able to be and do, especially in the social and political spheres. This suggests that gender issues should take higher priority in community mobilisation. The negative impact of violence in the home on men’s inner wellbeing suggests a possible focus for combatting gender based violence.
White, S. Social Protection and Wellbeing: Food Security in Adivasi communities, Chhattisgarh, India. Wellbeing and Poverty Pathways Briefing No. 3. University of Bath, Bath, UK (2014) 12 pp.