The Business of HIV


Community kitchen, as a concept is critical for ensuring the food security of the vulnerable population. It is a gathering point where groups of people come together to pool their resources to cook large quantities of food. The main focus of this research thesis is to understand the concept of community kitchens and their operation in different social settings.

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This research also aims to understand the role of the government agencies (if any) in ensuring the food security for the communities (which is their primary responsibility). In the changing context of state relegating to a secondary position, initiatives by such private actors assume significance. By highlighting on two different case studies of organizations, we tend to unravel the process of community kitchens in separate social environments. With the help of participant observation, focus group discussions and in-depth individual interviews, this research is an exploration of the possibilities of food security through the concept of community kitchens.


Community kitchen is an institution where food is prepared by the members of a community in a collective manner. There are different models of community kitchens that exist around the social space. Generally it is observed that members of a community who prepare food are also the consumers of the same meals cooked collectively. However there are other models like Akshay Patra (our case study in the present study) where food is collectively prepared but distributed among the non preparers of the food cooked. Community kitchens aid the community in preparing affordable meals through a self sustaining institution. The purchase, preparation and consumption are more often than not done in a collective manner which makes the enterprise a cost effective and time efficient in nature. While meeting a community’s social needs, collective kitchens are a mechanism which provide financial, social and food security to the community members. Community kitchens are socially rooted institutions, they help in increasing the solidarity among the members of the community. Grace Campbell states “The formation and operation of community kitchens varies widely across communities and cultures and is largely dependent on the membership, yet each organization requires a well-equipped kitchen, willing participants, and initial capital.” Food security is a modern day challenge, which needs to be addressed at all levels of society. Community kitchens at local level provide access to affordable and nutrition rich food to the members of a community, which goes a long way in ensuring food security. Globalization, inflation, increasing gap between the haves and have not’s, are the major reasons which are keeping an average man food insecure. In such a scenario, this research aims to explore food security through the concept of community kitchens.

Food security

Food security is “a condition in which all people at all times can acquire safe, nutritionally adequate and personally acceptable foods that are accessible in a manner that maintains human dignity.”[1] The four components of food security, as described in the literature, are the quantitative, the qualitative, the social, and the psychological. The quantitative component describes what is traditionally known as hunger, not having enough to eat at the individual level, or not having food in the house at the household level. The qualitative component concerns the quality of the available food (its nutritional adequacy, safety, and variety). Individuals often compromise on food quality to cope with a lack of funds to purchase suitable foods. The psychological component includes the fears and decreased feelings of self-worth associated with dealing with the lack of funds to purchase sufficient, quality food, whereas the social component describes many of the coping strategies used to acquire food when funding has run out, such as charity, stealing, and buying on credit. [2]

In the 21st century disparities in economic growth have questioned the socio-economic and environmental sustainability. The issue of food security has now become a global concern. Notwithstanding the technological and scientific developments in the area of agricultural productivity, hunger and malnutrition continue to be a threat to the humanity. Access to food is still perceived by many as a privilege, rather than a basic human right, and it is estimated that about 35 000 people around the world die each day from hunger. An even larger number of people suffer from malnutrition. [3] UNFAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) defines food security as “Food security is food available at all times; that all persons have means of access to it; that it is nutritionally adequate in terms of quantity, quality and variety; and that it is acceptable within the given culture. Only when all these conditions are in place can a population be considered “food secure.”

Based on the UN definition research world over emphasizes on four main components of the issue of food security those being availability to provide sufficient food to all, equal accessibility to nutritious food, acceptability of food based on local traditions and cultures and lastly adequacy which emphasizes on sustainability of production and distribution of food.

Food security in India

Food security has been a major development objective in India since the beginning of planning. The achievements of green revolution have somehow failed to reach the bottom of the pyramid. Chronic food insecurity remains at an all time high. Over 225 million Indians remain chronically under nourished. The state of India’s food security is worsening by the year.[4]The cost of food items is increasing rapidly, making them unaffordable to a majority of the people.

In recent years, there has been a state policy focus towards household level food security and per capita food energy intake is taken as a measure of food security. The Indian government has been implementing a wide range of nutrition intervention programmes for achieving food security at the household and individual levels. The Public Distribution System (PDS) supplies food items, such as food grains and sugar, at administered prices through a network of fair price shops. There have been a range of food-for-work and other wage employment programmes. Another approach adopted by the government is to target women and children directly. This includes the mid-day meal programme for school going children, supplementary nutrition programme for children and women and Right to Food bill. [5]

The Right to Food Bill introduced in the parliament in 2009 insists on “the physical, economic and social right of all citizens to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with an adequate diet necessary to lead an active and healthy life with dignity…”With the Right to Food campaign, hunger and food insecurity have come in the center of development discourse in India. Notwithstanding all these developments, our country is a habitat of people with unconscionable level of malnutrition and hunger. Malnutrition levels among the children and women are even higher than the overall average. Institute of Nutrition, Indian Council for Medical Research) estimates that nearly 40% of the adult population in India has a Body Mass Index of less than 18.5, which implies chronic energy deficiency of epic proportions, bordering on a national humanitarian crisis. [6]

Since food security of the vast majority in the region is at stake, addressing such a wide range of issues demands community value-system based participatory approaches to ensure involvement of all the stakeholders. The various government schemes may serve as immediate means for dealing with food insecurity but shall be of ultimate irrelevance, until we work on developing our local community based food systems strong.[7] One of such means is through the institution of community kitchens.

Community kitchens in their historic perspective

Community kitchen as a concept is old, dating back to the late 15th century, which has undergone change over the years and the current form seems to be involving the community to address larger social issues like food security. In India, Sikhs have a history of providing food along with every worship service, ceremony, or event, and when Gurus gained popularity, people traveled from far of distances and gathered in groups to hear them preach the principles of equality and humanity.

It was in the late 15th century that Guru Nanak dev ji, the founder of Sikhism, started the institution of Langar (community kitchens). Langar is a Persian word meaning “an alms house”, “an asylum for the poor and the destitute”.[8]Langar upheld and reinforced the Sikh principles of service to mankind, equality of all and humility. Although the institution was begun under aegis od Guru Nanak, it was institutionalized by Guru Amar Das, who sought to encourage a tradition of eating together that had begun with Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Langar is the collective kitchen which is run in the Gurudwara. The institution feeds all who come, regardless of their religion, caste, gender or creed. Sikh devotes are involved in each stage from the food preparation, to feeding and to cleaning of the utensils. Today, this institution of Langar is cornerstone of Sikh religion, encouraging “the discipline of service and a spirit of co-operation, philanthropy, equality,” the ideas and practices deeply imbedded in the community kitchen movement. The practice and its origin must be seen in the light of its contradiction to the Hindu and Muslim custom at the time, which separated people on basis of caste (social ranking) or purdah (seclusion of women).

In the recent past various moments around the concept of community kitchens can be seen across the world. In the nineties of the last century community kitchen was seen as a movement in Nicaragua, when Sandinista government lost power. The fall of the government put the nation’s food security policy in turmoil. It was then that community kitchens were set up all across the country to address the issues of hunger and deprivation. Similarly in Abkhazia, after the end of war between Georgia and Abkhazia (1994) community kitchens were established to provide food to the vulnerable populations of the country. The focus of the state sponsored community kitchens were women, children and elderly. Self sufficiency and sustainability were attained by purchase at local level and secondly by employing the local community.

In America too, we see the moment of community kitchens. A not for profit body called Second Harvest was a pioneer to work in the area of food security in USA. Extensive community kitchens were set up to create hunger free America. The programme was unique as it involved students in the food preparation and distribution process. This led to skill enhancement and job training for the unemployed youth. History also holds evidence of collective kitchens operating in San Francisco. Community kitchens were set up there to meet the need of the immigrants and other discriminated sections of the population.

These kitchens continue to encourage community unity through resource pooling, cultural exchange, and social interaction. Although in most of the cases the community and collective meal programmes were primarily organized to address financial challenges, many kitchens now focus on expanding social circles, multicultural interaction, address the challenges of hunger, dealing with food insecurity, and building community capacity.

Food security and community kitchens

Collaborative solutions that will make our communities resilient in the 21st century don’t need to be at vast scales alone. Efforts at local community, household and individual levels play an important role to deal with the issue of food insecurity. One such model of community kitchens is a smart, practical program that has the ability to promote local food security. This model not only ensures that the participants have access to affordable food, but also in a sustainable and cost efficient manner. These are resilience building institutions, and work on principles of shared equality and mutual benefit. This local level initiative has the ability to grow across a wide range and make an impact on the global food security level.

Community kitchens as alternate means of livelihood

Community kitchens can serve as means of alternate livelihood to women of the marginalized sections, unemployed youth, local unskilled labor and other marginalized communities like sex workers. Community kitchen has the ability to provide the financial means whereby a group or a community can live a dignified and sustainable life. Sex workers face continuous social exclusion and are in a constant search for a stigma free means of livelihood as a pre-requisite for a dignified and better tomorrow. Initiation of community kitchens provides as a means of employment for many unskilled and semi-skilled workers thus ensuring a livelihood to the community. Collective kitchens serve to reduce vulnerability of marginalized sections of the society. It provides source of income as well as a sense of ownership and possession to the members of the community.

Sex works lead a life of stigma and discrimination. The degree of stigma is higher among male and transgender sex workers. As members of the society it is their right to be a part of the normal social life, without any marginalization. Especially sex workers facing stigma of HIV Aids have a natural right to live in supporting environments free from social stigmas.

United Nations

Community based programs like community kitchens have a crucial role in assisting communities to identify and change stigmatizing attitudes and behaviors related to HIV and sex work and to foster a spirit of tolerance and inclusion. Community kitchens provide meaningful and comprehensive set of alternatives and meaningful economic options to sex work.

Hunger, food productivity and illiteracy: establishing the link

While talking about building community capacity the children of the community must remain the central focus. Children, who come from remote rural areas, work so hard at the household level that going to school remains no priority for them. It is a well established fact that knowledge has the ability to transform society. Education to these children can serve as a force which can liberate the coming generations from the clutches of abject poverty. Children living in vicious circle of hunger and illiteracy require special attention by the government and society, in form of new schools, better learning facilities, learned teaches, and locally relevant syllabus taught in their local language.

Have we ever wondered why the hungry are always also illiterate? A study by World Bank states that “the people who are undernourished and the adults who are illiterate are mostly the same people, mainly the poor in rural areas.” Illiteracy and hunger thus are cause and effect of one another, making it a vicious cycle of poverty.

Collaborating the solution of the issues of education and hunger represents an important step forward, it has led to the creation of a new partnership initiative called mid day meal scheme in India. Hunger among children leaves them with very little energy to attend school and learn effectively. Medical research proves that hunger impairs both mental and physical growth of children. If millions of hungry children cannot learn, or are forced to work instead of attending school we will not reach the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education. Offering incentives like noon meal encourages children to attend and their parents to send them to school and such initiatives could have a major impact on child nutrition, school attendance and social equity. Universal and nutritious mid-day meals would be a significant step towards realization of the right to food.[9]

National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education

National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE), popularly known as the Mid Day Meal Scheme, was launched as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme on 15th August 1995, initially in 2408 blocks in the country. The mid day meal scheme aims to ensure food security among the school going children in India. Under the aegis of the scheme the school going children in all government schools are to be provided with free lunch. Midday meal scheme began as a strategic program to address two most pressing problems in India: hunger and education. The government of India had made education for children between the age group of 6-14. Hunger obstructs the process of holistic education, as children are forced to leave schools and take up menial jobs. Lack of education curtails opportunities for development and leads to vicious circle of poverty and hunger. Midday meal programs (school lunch) emerged to address the multiple challenges of poverty, hunger, and access to education.

Rationale behind the mid day meal scheme is firstly, to protect school going children from chronic hunger. Secondly to attain advancement in school attendance and enrollment rates. Thirdly, enhance socialization and feeling of oneness among students, thus breaking the schakels of gender, race, class and caste. Supreme Court of India passed an order on November 28, 2001, which mandated “Cooked midday meal is to be provided in all the government and government-aided primary schools in all the states.” This order expedited the implementation of the scheme. Mid day meal scheme was soon extended across the nation and across all government schools, government aided schools and for children in anganwari centers. The allocation and off take of food grains under the scheme during the 10th Plan and the first two years of the 11th Plan – 2007-08 & 2008-09is presented in Table 1.

The table 1 summarizes the allocation of funds in terms of food grains each year, from 2002-03 to the last financial year. The allocations have risen considerably over the years, both in terms of the rice and wheat food grains. It is seen from the table that allocations from the central government have been more than the off take or utilization of the food grains in the implementation of the scheme.

The summary of subsidies in different states, as on November 2009, is listed below:

The table 2 shows a comparative analysis of how the central government is contributing in terms of money and food grains for the smooth running of the mid-day meal scheme. It can be seen that in Karnataka the subsidy varies with three grade levels. Subsidy in terms of money is same for the level 1 to 5 and from 6 to 7, however it increases from 1.80 rupees to 2.20 per child per day when students reach grade 10. The grains available for children below grade 5 are 100 grams per child per day, which increases to 150 grams of grains per child per day from grade 6 onwards. On an average all states are providing 100 grams of grains per child per day in lower primary level and 150 grams per child per day in the upper primary level. Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh provide highest amount of monetary subsidy per child per day that is 3.00 rupees. Karnataka state shows the lowest figures (1.80 rupees) in terms of monetary subsidy. It must also be borne in mind that higher subsidy does not necessarily correspond to better performances. We shall look into the state of Karnataka in detail in section three.

The scheme has a long history especially in the state of Tamil Nadu, where it was introduced by K. Kamraj government in 1960’s and expanded by M.G Ramachandran in 1982. Ever since it has been adopted by most of the states in India after the landmark directions by the Supreme Court of India. The purpose behind the judgment was to enhance enrolment, retention, and participation of children in primary schools, simultaneously improving their nutritional status. The judgment aims to cater to the nutritional needs of low-income groups in both rural and urban areas (Planning Commission, 2007).[10]

As per the programme the Government of India provides grains free of cost and the States will provide the costs of other ingredients, salaries and infrastructure. By January 2004, nearly 50 million children received midday meals provided either by the Government or by NGOs working in partnership with the government.[11]

However, inconsistent food quality, occasional food poisoning, poor hygiene, and operational concerns were among the complications to the provision of government-sponsored midday meals. The meals were prepared by teachers, who cooked the same meal every day: ghoogri, gruel made of boiled wheat. Children reported that that they grew tired of eating the same food daily, they did not like the taste, and it often made them feel sick. In 2004, a fire accidentally started by a teacher cooking the midday meal killed 90 children in Tamil Nadu, an event which underscored the safety issues inherent in meals prepared in makeshift kitchens based on school sites. Given the scope of hunger in India and the difficulties faced by the government programs, the task of feeding school children was still a significant challenge.

Public private partnership implementation

As the research is based on two organizations located in the state of Maharashtra, the following section analyses the public private partnership model used to implement the mid day meal scheme in the state. The State of Karnataka introduced the provision of cooked meals in June 2002 which saw a successful private sector participation in the programme. One such initiative was Akshaya Patra, which started with leadership from ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness). The programme has evolved into a movement where by children in the government schools are provided with cooked lunch on all working days. The state and the central government support the Foundation in the execution of the programme. Hence the programme runs a collective kitchen based on a public-private partnership. The Akshay Patra program is conducted in partnership with the various State Governments and Central Government. All of these governments provide a subsidy to support about 55% of the running cost of the Akshay Patra program. The Central Government support is routed through the respective State Governments. The meal includes a nutritious mix such as sambar, rice, vegetables and some curd on most days. Since the success of this programme there has been an in the private sector participation in India. The partnerships in execution of the programme are not limited to rural areas but also major urban centers like Delhi, and Hyderabad.[12]

About the study

Statement of the problem

In the Indian context both GDP and food grain production have risen at a faster growth rate than growth in population over the past 50 years. Yet our country faces chronic hunger and starvation among large sections of our population. There has been declining calorie consumption especially in the bottom 30% of the pyramid. Attempting policy reforms in an era of overall weakening governance and state commitment in social sectors seems a challenge. In this background, concept of collective and community kitchens have evolved and grown acquiring various dimensions in the past few years. This research aims to explore the possible link between community kitchens and food security. The research revolves around the idea of community kitchens being the possible means to attain an end of food insecurity examining the models of Ashodaya Samiti and Akshay Patra in the Indian scenario.

Ashodaya Samiti is a sex worker’s organization working for HIV prevention since January 2004 in Mysore district of Karnataka. In 2004 University of Manitoba was directly implementing the HIV prevention project ably supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Avahan project.[13] The organization’s collectivization and formal registering as Ashodaya Samithi was done in December 2005. Community mobilization since then has today resulted in the formation of the community based organization to take ownership of HIV awareness, prevention care, support activities and beginning of an entrepreneurial venture in the form of community kitchens.

The second organization under study is Akshay Patra. Children from economically weaker sections are forced to seek work in place of education. Some of those who do manage to attend the school drop out to feed themselves and their families while others are known to perform poorly because of short attention spans and extreme hunger. Realizing that a nutritious school meal is an effective means of gettingunderprivileged childrencome to school and complete their education, Akshay Patra was formed as a not-for-profit organization in June 2000. The purpose of the organization in their words is – to provide “unlimited food for education”, through modern community kitchens, thus freeing children from the vicious cycle of poverty and ensuring them an education.[14]

Objectives of the study

The main objectives of the current study are to

  • Understand the evolution of the concept of community kitchens in India
  • Provide a socio-economic profile of the respondents who are engaged in community kitchen in both settings (of the cases undertaken)
  • Analyze the implementation of community kitchen undertaken by different organizations namely Ashodaya Samiti and Akshaya Patra
  • Study how community kitchen is serving as a means to break social barriers (as demonstrated by Ashodaya Samiti).
  • Understand how community kitchen could be a potential mechanism for eradicating hunger among school going children in the context of mid-day meal programme of Akshay Patra.
  • Analyse the constraints in mobilizing the resources to keep the community kitchen a sustainable enterprise.


Data collection for the research was done in two major organizations, Ashodaya Samiti in Mysore and Akshay Patra in Bangalore. The period of data collection was from 10.02.2010 to 22.02.2010. The data collection involved personal visits to both the organizations, interviews, focus group discussions and -participant observations.

The current exploratory study attempts to understand the functioning of the community kitchens. Both primary and secondary sources of data have been collected for the study. The secondary data for the study came from annual reports of the organizations, websites, documentaries and media reports that have been provided by the organizations. The primary data for the study was collected from a diverse group of individuals engaged with both the organizations. In Ashodaya Samiti focus group discussions were carried out with the 20 sex workers who are the key in managing and operating the community kitchen. Individual in dept interviews were also carried out with 2 senior officials of the organization. The interview schedule consisted of open ended questions to include more information, their feelings, attitudes and understanding of the subject of community kitchen. In Akshay Patra data was collected through participant observation and interview schedules. Interviews were carried out with the workers in the kitchen to understand the mechanization of the operations. In-debt interviews were also carried out with the media spokesperson of the organization and the programme director. Visits to the kitchen on daily basis allowed an in-depth investigation of the process of food preparation and its distribution among the schools across the city.

In this study in depth interview was useful in understanding the concepts related to community kitchens. The tool was helpful as it ensured that I received detailed information which helped me in exploring the idea to its depth.

Focus group discussions were used as a form of qualitative research in which a group of people which included male, female and transgender sex workers of Ashodaya Samiti were asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes towards sex work as their livelihood, need to collaborate at community level, evolution of the organization from heath interventions to community kitchen, empowerment through community kitchens and their future expectations from the project. Questions are asked in an interactive group setting where participants were free to talk with other group members.

Participant observation which has its roots in the traditional ethnographic research was used a qualitative research strategy. Participation and observations were carried to varying degrees to study the community’s daily activities in both the cases (Ashodaya Samiti and Akshay Patra). Participant observation took place in the community settings, in locations like the sex workers day care centers, the Ashodaya hotel, community kitchen of Akshay patra which had direct relevance to the research questions.

Engagement was done in such a manner such data could be collected by observing what life is like for an “insider” while remaining, inevitably, an “outsider.” While in these community settings, careful, field notes were made to record all observations.

Data Analysis

The current section provides an overview of both the organizations included in the study i.e. Ashodaya Samiti and Akshaya Patra.

Ashodaya Samiti:

‘Community kitchen used to break social barriers’

The first case that is presented in this section is the Ashodaya Samiti. The history of Ashodaya Samiti has to be seen in the backdrop of project Avahan. In the year 2003 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded an India Aids initiative to reduce the spread of HIV in India under the project AVAHAN. Avahan was set up as a far ranging Aids prevention project, and has been a success story since its inception. Under the aegis of the project aids prevention work is carried out in six major sates in India. Within these states, it provides, prevention services to nearly 200,000 female sex workers, 60,000 high-risk men who have sex with men, and 20,000 injecting drug users, together with 5 million men at risk. [15] In 2003, UNAIDS studies reported that Asia presented the greatest risk of expansion of the global epidemic. The HIV cases have been on a continuous rise since the past decade. The major reasons for that are high prevalence of unsafe sex work and injecting drug users. Initial interventions by Avahan indicated that HIV transmission in south India was primarily sexual, and in the north-east mainly related to injecting drug use.[16]

The Indian national response had a sound strategy for addressing high-risk groups. However, coverage of these groups was variable across the states and national average strikingly low.[17] [18] The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation designed a programme with help of technical experts to look into the HIV and aids prevention strategies. The project began with full co-operation from the Indian government. Avahan’s aim was to help slow the transmission of HIV to the general population by raising prevention coverage of high-risk and bridge groups to scale by achieving saturation levels (over 80 percent) across large geographic areas. Considering the scale of the country the project was magnanimous in its objectives. To avoid any complications the project began with local level involvement in operations and planning.

Avahan in Karnataka

As mentioned earlier, the project was started in six high prevalence states namely Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Manipur and Nagaland. The prevalence in the first four states was predominantly due to male, female and transgender sex workers. In the other two states there were high incidences of the spread of virus due to injecting of drugs among the people.

In Karnataka, University of Manitoba took the initiative to take up the project in the 18 of the 30 districts. Among the 18 districts, in 16 districts the implementation was done through the NGO’s already working in the area of HIV prevention. In the other two districts of Mysore and Mandya the implementation of the project was directly adopted by the university itself directly. There were two main reasons for the same, first being, that there was no NGO implementing any kind of HIV preventing programme in these two districts, secondly the research needs of the university could be satisfied in these raw districts where no previous work had been done.

In the year 2004 it was realized by the implementers of the programme (University of Manitoba) in Mysore that it was very important to involve the community in the project implementation. Otherwise the community would feel that the interest of the implementer is greater than their welfare, thereby decreasing interest from the community, thus resulting in low community participation.

The period prior to the project was characterized by lack of self identity among the sex workers. There was high evidence of police attrition and also the sex workers were forced into free sex. The university team along with three main people from the community Raghu, Chandan and Akram, started with health interventions. There was reluctance among the sex workers initially due to the fear of sex trade and organ trade. Another reason for the reluctance of the community to work along with the project implementers was that the project Avahan was the first of its kind in this area. However with time, the trust was built and a team grew to strength of 30 people. They were divided into three groups: mapping group, spot validation and peer recruitment. The mapping group was to map the areas in which sex work was prevalent, spot validation group was in charge of confirming the exact locations (spots) of sex solicitation and the last group of peer recruitment had the job of making more and more sex workers aware of the work of Avahan project and mobilize them to work together to fight the epidemic of HIV and Aids.

Through the capture-recapture methodology effort was made to find out the total number of sex workers in the city of Mysore. Capture-recapture (CRC) method has been used in a range of settings to quantify the size of hard to reach populations. Typically, this method is initiated with detailed mapping to identify “hotspots” of the high risk population, and then samples are taken with the overlap determining the overall size.[19] The exercise took two weeks in Mysore to find the number of sex workers in the city. Lottery tickets were distributed in the spot validated areas and at the end of two weeks the number of tickets sold helped the project implementers to arrive at a figure. As a result of this methodology the head count of sex workers in 2004 came out to be 1,420.

The research also revealed that there was no active sex-work happening between 1.00 p.m to 4.00 p.m, so the HIV awareness programmes were designed during this time. The field programs such as safe sex practices and condom use were designed on the peak hours. Such programs involved a deep rooted involvement with the community, thus improved the rapport of the implementers with the community. Soon the community began to approach the implementers with all sorts of their personal problems and not just health related issues. As the project was limited to HIV and Aids prevention there was a need to come together at the community level to address other needs of the community. It was then that Ms. Sadna Mukherjee from Sonagachi came and helped the community to form a sex workers association. It seemed a difficult task to replicate the model in Karnataka on lines of Kolkata, so a visit was made by four groups of the community to Kolkata to understand the concept and decide on its replication.

After 36 community meetings registration was done in December 2005 under the name of Ashodaya Mahila Samanvaya Samiti. After the elections five members took the lead. An organization named ‘Gaelaya’ which means ‘friend’ used to work for male sex workers soon merged with Ashodaya Mahila Samanvaya Samiti and the name was changed to what is known today as Ashodaya Samiti.

Ashodaya Samiti

The birth of Ashodaya holds immense significance in the lives of several sex workers in Mysore and Mandya districts. Though the women in these two districts were working for HIV prevention from January 2004 onwards as discussed above, collectivization came with the formal registration of Ashodaya Samithi which was done in December 2005.

Along with working against HIV, the organization also talked other issues that directly or indirectly affected the sex workers like the children of sex workers were put in CWS (children welfare society), counseling of sex workers; regular health checkups, last rites of the disowned sex workers and below 18 years of age community members admitted to Shaktidham rehabilitation center. Ashodaya Samiti started associating with other organizations with similar objectives and worked towards integration of the organization and its members into the society.


Ashodaya have spread its Branches in both Mysore and Mandya Talukas. A board of 11 members consisting of all three sectors of sex workers is formed to run the organization. The ultimate decisions are taken by the Ashodaya board member. Separate branch committee is formed for Mysore and Mandya district. Apart from the branch committee the organization has other committees for its smooth running such as Clinic Management committees, Out Reach Management committees, Cries Management committees and Rapid response team. In these committees Ashodaya executive board members is responsible for the respective committees and also the representatives from its members.

Services provided by Ashodaya

The Samiti undertakes different kinds of activities like health care, peer counseling, anti-trafficking, Aids awareness generation among others. A profile of activities undertaken by this organization is as follows:

Ashodaya Samiti has set up an in house clinic where awareness is provided about HIV and AIDS and for several other sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). Clinic also provides free medical facilities for sex worker and regular health check up. Counseling for the HIV patients and the sex workers forms an integral part of their activities. There are peer counselors and counseling doctors working in the clinic. On interaction with one of the peer counselor, who himself was a male sex worker suffering from Aids, it was found that the follow up rate for Periodic Asymptomatic Treatment was 68% and for Syndromes Case management was 70%. A clinic is set up in Drop in center and Outreach clinics are conducted at taluka & village levels.[20]

Ashodaya also provides a private resting space place for its members with all comforts. “Drop in Center feels as my home” says the community member. They get the television facilities, indoor game, bathing facility, dressing room, a doctor, apart from that they have got good friends with whom they can share their feelings and experiences. The drop in center has helped a lot of the sex workers to bond together as a community. In the leisure time the members can also attend literacy class, where trained teachers from the community teach the illiterate community members.

Ashodaya as a sex workers’ community has established its anti trafficking team which attempts to rescue minors from entering into sex trade. If Ashodaya find a minor who is below 18 years, Ashodaya address to her issue and refer her to rescue home or to their residence. So far, 23 women have been referred to rescue home and 3 to their own homes.

Ashodaya has formed a kitchen for its own community where their community members can afford healthy food at the low cost, at the same time Ashodaya can also make small profit from it for its sustainability. The community kitchen is discussed below in detail.

The Community Kitchen

Ashodaya Kitchen represents a unique and successful case of community kitchen. The uniqueness lies in the fact that it’s an all sex worker’s kitchen that has given a new identity, security and acceptance to the sex worker community in the larger society. After its inception, the Ashodaya community realized that a major chunk of money earned by their members was spent on feeding themselves and their families. The cost of each meal per person was around Rs 25/- which put strain on the individual household income. After deliberations, it was decided that the community could start cooking food on a collective basis to reduce the cost of food per person and enhance their ability to save.

Initially the kitchen began as a voluntary start up with only five kg rice and kitchen began cooking for staff and the community members. The charges in early 2007 were 6 rupees from community and 12 rupees from non-community members. In December 2007, this hotel got an order from the district health office to arrange for a 1000 guests party which came as a breakthrough for the community kitchen. It has brought about recognition for this community in the wider social groups and also led to the project tread the path of sustainability. The next big leap for the organization was when Ashodaya participated in the World Bank grant competition in 2007-08. Over 1000 organizations from 11 different countries sent in their entries, out of which 75 were shortlisted and 26 organizations finally received the World Bank support, Ashodaya Samiti was one of them. Their proposal had four main objectives, firstly, direct service to the community, which meant that the enterprise (community kitchen) shall benefit the community of sex workers directly. Secondly they wanted to establish the enterprise in such a way that it helps in enlarging the self belief in the community of sex workers and prepare amongst them leaders to fight the HIV and Aids. Thirdly the objective in the proposal was to expand the enterprise as a business idea not merely social good or philanthropy. Lastly, the objective was to document against violence and use press/media support to make more and more people aware of the social stigmas faced by the sex workers and educate as many people about the HIV/Aids syndrome. They have taken up activities in line of the above mentioned objectives.

Ashodaya community kitchen looks at serving food to fight social barriers. Across the nation the word ‘hotel’ conjures up a picture of tables and chairs with crowds jostling each other to find a place to sit, calling the waiter to bring idlies, vada, pongal or water. Hotel Ashodaya is this and more. This kitchen in Mysore city is projection of sex workers as successful entrepreneurs. The seed of starting such a community kitchen began with a need to get food at a reasonable price. What started as a provision to address sex worker’s need evolved into a hotel that welcomed people from all sections of the society and share the table with them.

Running a hotel and serving food has not altered the face of the organization. Ashodaya Samiti continues to be a sex workers organization working for advancement of female, male and transgender sex workers. Implementing the HIV prevention interventions has not helped much in the social integration of these members of the community into larger society. It was realized that to mitigate the stigma and discrimination faced by the sex workers, it was important for the sex workers to come face to face with the people of society. What started as a voluntary effort by the community members to cook collective food culminated into idea of starting a restaurant. The hotel was inaugurated by the city police commissioner of Mysore. This was a display of both business and political astuteness – from serving themselves through community kitchen the idea expanded to serve the people of society.

As one steps into the hotel, one is greeted by a soft tune from overhead speakers. The interior is simple, colorful and rests lightly on one’s eyes. The customers include people from the nearby banks, the city corporation, students from nearby college, auto drivers and tourists, indeed a mixed baggage. More than 90 percentage of the workers including waiters and person behind cash box are all sex workers. They toil the entire day to ensure quality food and service, by late evening they pack up, dress quickly and are back on the streets of Mysore to solicit their main livelihood option. They volunteer their time during the day so that Ashodaya can profit. Much of the money earned is expended towards a care home that serves as a hospice for people living with HIV. Some members from the center who cannot afford a means for a square meal are provided food free of cost. The hotel is looking forward to set up co-operative society where the members of the community can be trained for making pickles, noodles etcetera.

On interaction with the sex workers the following advantages of setting up community kitchen and extending it to a hotel were revealed. Firstly, the sex workers felt that the stigma that has been associated with the sex workers over the years has been reduced considerably after the setting up of the kitchen. Majority of them during the interview had observed that the discrimination against them has been reduced due to higher level of interaction with the people from all walks of life who come to eat in the kitchen. Thus, the sex workers now feel more comfortable with their own existence. One of the sex workers feels that eating in the same place and sharing their food has led to more interaction between the society and the sex workers community.

The establishment of the community kitchen has also helped in breaking of the preconceived notions of the outsiders towards sex workers and a new level of bonding is seen to be established between them. Another sex worker shares her viewpoint and says “Initially the members of our community were only known as sex workers. However with the establishment of the kitchen our entrepreneurship skills have also been appreciated.” The sex workers are happy to have moved beyond the stigma of sex-work. The community kitchen gives them an identity of being successful and entrepreneurial which has helped them a great deal in rising in their individual self esteem. This self esteem for them has also led to a rise in their self belief and ability to fight Aids and HIV. Sex workers are also of the view point that they have received more exposure through the media since the establishment of the kitchen. They feel that they can now voice their opinions more freely; people know them and acknowledge their view point. One of the female sex worker also talked about how setting up a community kitchen has helped in breaking a three tier stigma for them, one that of being a women, second of being a sex worker and last that of being an HIV patient.

Akshay Patra:

‘Community kitchens for mid day meal scheme’

The second case that has been included in the study is that of Akshay Patra, which is a case of large scale mechanized kitchen which meeting the needs of the hungry school children across Bangalore. In addition to Karnataka where the study was conducted, this organization also works in eight states across the country. The mission of Akshaya Patra is to provide secure food to the school children started stupendously. The programme began with initial support from Mohan Das Pai, then CFO of Infosys, in the form of two vehicles that could transport 16 tons of food each. Thus began a simple partnership that has grown to become Asia’s largest mid day meal kitchen programme. [21]

In the year 2000 Akshay Patra started a pilot project of feeding 1000-1500 students in surrounding five schools of Iskon temple in Bangalore. Soon the organization began receiving letters seeking support from other surrounding schools. After the Supreme Court ruling in 2001, the government of Karnataka approached Akshay Patra to establish collaborative partnership on a larger scale. The work of the Akshay Patra’s community involved preparation of nutritious noon lunches for school children and efficient distribution of the same. The program had a simple vision: “No child in India should be deprived of education because of hunger.”

Expansion of operations

As already mentioned, Akshaya Patra started with feeding 1,500 students in five schools in Bangalore. It was one of the first organizations in the region to provide freshly cooked, hot and nutritious and balanced meals to the children. Within six months of launching the program, it had requests from 3,000 schools and Akshaya Patra soon scaled up services to feed 30,000 children. When the Foundation’s growth caught the attention of local government officials, the organization began receiving government financial support. By April 2003, it was feeding 43,000 children in Bangalore daily. Akshaya Patra recognized the need for midday meal programs in other parts of the country and expanded the program to other areas.

In August 2003, it opened a kitchen in Vrindavan, in northern India. In July 2004, in partnership with Mrs. Sudha Murty, the chairperson of Infosys Foundation, it began a midday meal program in Hubli-Dharwar. By November 2004, Akshaya Patra had also commenced a pilot program in 25 schools feeding 5,200 children in Jaipur, Rajasthan. As the urban operations grew, Akshaya Patra recognized that in order to reach the majority of India’s most undernourished children; it also needed to serve the rural districts. In August 2005, Akshaya Patra began services in the region of Baran, located in east Rajasthan, in response to the number of starvation deaths in the area. Because very few midday meal programs operated in rural districts, the Baran program was an experiment. Neither the government nor Akshaya Patra was able to serve these communities adequately on its own, but as partners, their mutual goal was achievable.

All kitchens are designed by Akshay Patra management consisting of qualified engineers to optimize quality and minimize cost. These are located in Bangalore, Hubli, Dharwad, Bellary, Mysore, and Mangalore in Karnataka. Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh. Jaipur, Baran and Nathdwara in Rajasthan. Puri and Nayagarh in Orrisa. Ghandhinagar in Gujarat. Hyderabad and Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and Bhilai in Chhattisgarh.

With rapid growth the program supports 1.2 million students in 18 locations across 8 states in India presently. Akshay Patra follows a dual model of setting up operations in every state. To ensure quality and get economies of scale the organization prefers centralized kitchen that can feed up to 100,000 children each day. It has 16 such kitchens in the cities, in rural areas like Baran (Rajasthan), where centralized kitchen is not feasible, a decentralized model is followed where self help group women cook food with ingredients provided by Akshay Patra.

The kitchen in work begins at 3.00 AM in the morning, and the cooking process continues till 8.00 AM. Workers from poor local neighborhoods transfer hot cooked rice from industrial-size boilers to individual delivery containers, while other employees stirred spices into large vats of simmering mixed vegetables and broth. Trucks wait outside, ready to load the proper quantities of food for their daily routes. The centralized kitchens have capacity to make 1 lakh meals a day and cost up to 9 crore to set up over a period of six months. Kitchens with a capacity of 50,000 cost up to 6 crore to set up.

On my visit to the kitchen it was observed that the kitchen is highly technological in design. The process of food preparation was highly mechanized. There was minimal human capital involvement in the preparation of the food. This ensured adequate hygiene standards. The food is distributed and transported through covered stainless steel containers that retain heat till the food reaches the schools, and lastly there are custom-built vehicles to transport food to the schools. In each region the capacity of the kitchen varies depending on the number of children to be fed.

Decentralised community kitchen model in Baran (Rajasthan)

In sharp contrast to the centralized model of community kitchen, the instance of community kitchen in Baran, Rajasthan presents an interesting case. This is managed by Trilok Gautham is the executive supervisor of the Baran program in rural Rajasthan. He supervises the programme in a simple room that serves as a kitchen for the village school. This kitchen is supervised by the local women to prepare food for the school children. This becomes an important for ensuring the one meal that most of the school going children receives in this part of the country. The team alternates duties, sharing the chores of rolling dough into flat bread, tending the fire, and chopping vegetables for the daal (lentils).

Gautham inspects seven more schools in a day; part of his routine includes ensuring cleanliness, hygiene, food safety, and quality for each of the 79 schools he covers. Till 2006, no food was served during the school day and children often went hungry. Today more than 15,000 children in Baran have a hot meal.

Tribals of Baran were organized into self help groups and with the support of Akshay Patra the community kitchen was set up. The kitchen became as a source of employment to the local tribal women. This has helped them considerably in moving out of the clutches of abject poverty, malnutrition and disease. Food is distributed among the government school children, which has helped in raising the attendance ratios considerably. This decentralized model has been replicated in various other locations as well like, Mathura District, Uttar Pradesh, feeding 14,419 children in 88 villages and creating employment for 220 women and Nayagarh District, Orissa, feeding 15,562 children in 180 schools and creating employment for about 400 women.

Constant learning and improvement

An important lesson to learn from the Akshay Patra case is the importance the organization has given to constant leaning to improve its efficiencies. Most of the development and growth has occurred through trial-and-error, a culture of constant improvement and learning is observed throughout the organization and extends to everything from kitchen design to delivery of service. Akshay Patra as an organization had appointed a distribution supervisor who was responsible for handling school complaints. The initial complains were generally related to time of delivery and insufficient quantity of food, taste and quality of food. The distribution supervisors determined if the problem lay with the school or with the organization and worked to find a solution.

At one school, for example, a teacher noticed that students were not eating the vegetables. Upon investigation, Akshaya Patra learned that the vegetables were too big for the children to chew comfortably and recalibrated the vegetable cutting machine to ensure smaller-sized pieces. The teacher subsequently reported increased vegetable consumption. Similarly, several schools complained that the curd tasted sour. Aware that they had taken great care to ensure that the time of transportation and vehicles would not allow spoilage to occur, Akshay Patra approached the curd supplier and determined it was the quality of the curds that was leaving a bad taste. A new supplier remedied the problem. Such initiatives have led to improvements in kitchen design and operations.

Community kitchen today

Akshaya Patra offers unlimited, nutrition-rich food everyday to the school children in over 6900 government schools in seventeen locations in India. Since its inception, the program has scaled up to provide about 11, 86,206 hygienic and nutritious meals every day through an extremely cost-effective process.

The kitchen has successfully been able to address the criticisms of the mid day meal scheme implementation. The scheme’s implementation earlier involved the teachers in the cooking of the noon meals that led to reduced teaching time, with Akshay Patra’s efforts the teachers can now concentrate on dissipation of knowledge to the students without worrying about the meals, which are now assured at regular timings. With Akshay Patra running the programme in collaboration with the government the pilferage and corruption at school and community levels have also declined considerably.

The experience so far shows that mid-day meals have much to contribute to the well-being and future of Indian children. As things stand, the way to go is forward. With adequate resources and quality safeguards, mid-day meals can play a major role in improving school attendance, eliminating classroom hunger and fostering social equity. [22]

Universal and nutritious mid-day meals would be a significant step towards the realization of the right to food and food security. This is an important terrain of future engagement not just for the state, but also for social movements and indeed the public at large. The challenge is particularly relevant to anyone concerned with social equity.[23] The graph below highlights the amazing growth of the Akshaya Patra mid-day meal kitchen program in different locations.

This program is unique in magnitude, complexity, method of delivery and approach. It is a pioneering program in India’s social and developmental sector, which uses technology extensively for minimizing cost, time and labor. The organization aims to grow from strength to strength to cover the more an d more states in India.

Area of Operations as of November 2009

Findings and Conclusion

Both the organizations under study are implementing the community kitchen models; however they are different in the objectives served and purpose addressed. For Ashodaya Samiti the setting up of community kitchen is more of a need based phenomenon. The kitchen gives the sex workers a new identity that has made them more acceptable in the society. The kitchen for the sex workers is essence of their existence; they have grown with the process of the evolution of the community kitchen. The evolution from mere sex workers to successful entrepreneurs running a community kitchen is a complete journey in itself. It has been observed that there is deep sense of ownership among the sex workers community with reference to the community kitchen.

The settings in the Ashodaya organization and the community kitchen are informal. There is no evidence found of a hierarchical structure among the sex workers in the organization. The scale of operations of the kitchen is limited to the city of Mysore, it may also be noted that the kitchen in terms of its operations is in a nascent stage; however the organization plans to expand the scale of operations in the coming years. The community kitchen for the members of the organization is important for the sex workers not only in terms of social security that they derive but also the financial stability that the community kitchen begins to Ashodaya Samiti. This sustainability factor brings along with it accountability which was observed among all sex workers towards the community kitchen.

The community kitchen of Ashodaya Samiti is also to be seen in light of the fact that the kitchen for the sex workers is not an end in itself. The community kitchen is for them a means to achieve a much higher objective, that of being socially and financially more secure to fight stigmas associated with lives of sex workers. The evolution of the Ashodaya community kitchen has been a challenging process, as it sets out to challenge social stigmas, which undoubtedly is a much difficult thing to do than doing something socially acceptable like serving school children food in case of Akshaya Patra.

In the case of Akshay Patra the community kitchen is undoubtedly entrepreneurial yet it is philanthropic. In the case of Akshaya Patra, unlike Ashodaya Samiti, the community being benefitted is not directly involved in the cooking, operations or management of the kitchen. Akshay Patra is addressing a social problem (illiteracy and hunger), and provides food to the primary level school going children which is a socially acceptable work to do. Hence we do not see any major struggle in their growth from the year 2000 till date. In this light we can also say that because the operations of Akshay Patra are not set to break any social structures, and are socially acceptable, they have received immense support from the government (center as well the state) and the society at large.

The Akshay Patra case reinforces the study of The Global School Feeding Report of the United Nations World Food Program which states that: “School feeding programs often double enrollment within a year and can produce a 40 percent improvement in academic performance in just two years. Children who take part in such programs stay in school longer.” A study by the A.C Nielson has also found out that since 2006 in schools supported by Akshay Patra in Bangalore the enrollment rate of students has gone up by 26%, in Hubli by 31% and in Jaipur by 28%. The study also reveals that since 2006 the dropout rate in the schools in Bangalore has come down by 18%. There is evidence to prove the rise of attendance in schools where the mid-day meal scheme operates.

The present research supports the prior research which states that mid day meals have successful served as an incentive for students to attend schools. There is an impact upon the children’s overall performance, physical growth, mental development and learning ability due to the secure meal that the scheme provides. Akshay Patra as an organization is working on a very large scale, today extending to eight states all over India. There is a hierarchy seen in the organization as there are the school children who are receivers of the food (beneficiaries) and the organization is the giver. This receiver-giver relationship has an element of dependency of the school children on the organization.

Interestingly the decentralized kitchen of Akshay Patra is in Baran district of Rajasthan is closer to the Ashodaya model of community kitchen. In Baran it’s seen that the community which is benefitted is directly involved in the operations and management of the kitchen. Decentralised kitchen has more impact on the concept of food security. The entire focus is on the local level, each actor in the geographical area, where every member of the local community plays a unique and important role in supporting the cause of community food security. Such combined efforts are seen in the decentralised model where there is direct community participation in all levels from operations to management to distribution.

However, both the models are a solution to the problem of food insecurity. In Ashodaya the community kitchen provides not just food security, but also social and economical security to the sex workers. In the case of Akshay Patra the kitchen has brought food security to the lives of million students in India who now spend time on learning rather than fighting hunger.

Community kitchens in both the cases have increased community’s assets and financial security. On the other hand, community kitchens build capacities by developing people’s abilities to use and maintain their infrastructure, use their new tools, actually put in practice their new knowledge, and conduct income-generating activities in an autonomous fashion with high potential for sustainability.


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