In his message for the World Day of Social Justice, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said: With exclusion and inequality on the rise, we must step up efforts to ensure that all people, without discrimination, are able to access opportunities to improve their lives and those of others.
As a concept, social justice stresses on equality in terms of wealth distribution, opportunities, and privileges in a society. While that may seem elementary, it’s something that our society needs to be reminded of, every now and then, and that’s why 20th of February every year is observed as the World Day of Social Justice.
On paper, it definitely comes across as something noble—the concept that is, and it’s highly unlikely that you will come across someone who doesn’t speak in its favor. However, when it comes to application, even the ardent supporters of the concept tend to falter; courtesy, inherent bias.
The divide between haves and have-nots is perhaps nowhere as stark as it is in schools in our country. Imagine, during the lunch break, some children are eating from their lunch boxes, while some have to settle with water, as they can’t afford food. It may come as a surprise, but that was exactly the case in several parts of the country until recently.
Then came the Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS), to implement which the Government of India got into a partnership with certain NGOs; The Akshaya Patra Foundation (TAPF) being one of them. It brought about a positive change in our society and took us a step closer towards a world where there would be no need to observe a day to remind us of the importance of social justice.
Having said that, it’s important to note that Akshaya Patra had set on this path long before the Mid-day Meal Scheme was initiated. It came into being in the year 2000 and 15 years down, has reached far and wide. The pan-India spread of Akshaya Patra, with 24 kitchens across ten states, serving over 1.5 million children in over 11,000 schools every day, means there is no scope to falter.
It’s doesn’t make sense to have a wide reach, if you are not able to adapt to the requirements of different regions. Therefore, regardless of whether it is Baran in Rajasthan or Chennai in Tamil Nadu, Akshaya Patra thrives to stay true to the local preferences, which is why the diet is wheat-based in North India and rice-based in the south.
It’s always important to walk the talk; all the more when it comes to social justice, and Akshaya Patra, with improving socialisation among castes as one of its objectives, does that and more. In fact, Akshaya Patra prides itself in being a secular organisation. In a country where caste has long been reinforced in the social fibre, it’s important to put in efforts to break the caste divide. What better way to do that, but to use meals to bring children together—staying true to the phrase, bonding over food.
We often hear about how Akshaya Patra thrives to address issues like hunger and malnutrition in the country by eliminating classroom hunger. While the focus is indeed on eliminating classroom hunger and at the same time, improving enrolment and attendance, it doesn’t mean its impact is restricted to the field of education and nutrition. There are other areas where the organisation is having an impact; promoting socialisation among castes is one of them; facilitating women empowerment by providing employment opportunities is another.