Awareness Campaign in Delhi’s bastis: Malnutrition death of three sisters serves as call for action for 50 youth

Sukrita Baruah
The room in Mandawali where the three sisters died, allegedly due to starvation. (Express)

Shaken by the starvation deaths of three sisters in Mandawali last year, a group of 50 youth has been carrying out a campaign to raise awareness on malnutrition in the capital's bastis.

Working alongside social workers from various organisations, the youth have been visiting bastis in five districts since August, armed with a petition. The group is gathering signatures so the following demands can be submitted to the Chief Minister:

> A state food commission be set up to focus on child nutrition.

> A malnutrition law be framed at the state level.

> Mid-day meal programme be extended to students in classes IX-XII as well.

> Eggs, milk and bananas be provided in government schools and anganwadis.

> Social audits be carried out from time to time on food provided in government schools and anganwadis.

> Preparation of food for these institutions be decentralised, and meals be prepared in community kitchens to ensure quality control and monitoring.

The various volunteers are being coordinated by Matri Sudha, an NGO which works on education and nutrition, under the campaign 'Freedom from malnutrition.'

Akash Singh (17), a first-year political science student at the School of Open Learning, is among the campaigners in southeast Delhi, and has worked with friends in Sangam Vihar, Jaitpur, Nardan Basti and Prem Nagar. "This petition carries solutions we want the government to implement. Though we're collecting signatures, our first priority is to explain the issue to people. A lot of people we met don't know enough about malnutrition. We explain how to identify its signs, who is most vulnerable, and how children affected by it should go to anganwadi centres and monitor growth of children. There is no point in signing it if this basic awareness doesn't exist," he said.

"Sometimes, people say they won't sign our petition because they don't have children or their children study in private schools. Then we explain how hunger can affect anyone. I have seen many of my classmates go hungry, which affects their studies, and they could benefit from mid-day meals," said Amarjeet Singh (17), a class X student in a government school.
Arvind Singh, head of policy and advocacy at Matri Sudha, said the campaigners have collected over 30,000 signatures. "We are hoping to conduct a discussion afterwards, inviting members from the government to explain the idea of this campaign," he said.

On July 24, three sisters aged eight, six and two had died on the same night in Mandawali, widely believed to be a result of negligence and starvation. Two post-mortem reports had revealed that they died due to malnutrition and its complications, and had no fat on their bodies.