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“We are expecting to cook food for nearly a 1000 people, a majority of which would go to migrant workers”, says a councillor who helped setup community kitchens in a Kerala Municipality.
What are Community Kitchens?
Call it a food security measure, community kitchens are voluntary initiatives to feed the masses. With the global COVID-19 pandemic literally defining the world demographics right now, community kitchens are the need of the hour. This is because with Nations going into total lockdown to tackle the virus, many people, especially those at the margins are struggling to scrap a meal for themselves. Most of these people are daily wage labourers who have now lost their livelihood. Like always, Kerala is already setting an example. The state’s 43 lakh strong women self-help network have come together to set up kitchens to feed the homeless, needy and poor during the 21 Day Lockdown.
This powerful network of women is called Kudumbashree, translated as “prosperity of family” in Malayalam. Formed in 1997 as a three-tier community network aimed at empowering women in each family, Kudumbashree targets the grassroots and are known to have challenged patriarchal hierarchies over time. Taking a notch further and following the needed dictate to Stay at Home & Self Quarantine, these women have arranged for the food to even be home-delivered by volunteers and community workers. Working odd hours, they are not without masks and have been following all safety norms of washing hands regularly and sanitizing.
“From driving taxis to running Metro ticket counters, operating paper mills to orphanages and day-care centres, they have done it all. And so when each government faces an arduous task such as the present one, they have happily relied upon Kudumbashree.” (says a source from Indian Express).
They are supported by the government of Kerala who has helped in setting up these kitchens not just in urban areas but also in the villages. This move by the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan came amidst complaints of the sudden lockdown announced by the Centre – lower-income sections lacked time and money to arrange for their daily needs. Thus, the State Government asked local self-government bodies to map the number of destitute, homeless and elderly in need of assistance. After that community kitchens were set-up immediately across the state to provide them food for free.
Kerala is the worst affected Indian state with 234 Confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far. About 1,263 cases have been recorded in the country as this article is being typed.
“Every minute the calls regarding the food deliveries have been increasing. it’s only then we realise that so many people were in need of these packets,” says another volunteer to NDTV.
The local bodies like municipalities and panchayats in Kerala are directly responsible for operating these kitchens along with the Kudumbashrees. They also have been providing daily needs to people in isolation and quarantine, if the need arises.
In October 2019, the Supreme Court of India gave the go-ahead to set up community kitchens to tackle the problem of hunger in the country. SC referred to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which states the Right to Food is inherent to a life with dignity.
Taking the cue, states like the Uttar Pradesh District Administration has also opened up community kitchens all over Lucknow in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
(All images are sourced from the Indian Express: photography by Vishnu Varma)