Last week Kashmir’s womenfolk were up in arms literally against the National Food Security Act (NFSA) that promises a subsidised monthly ration of 5 kg rice per person and 2 kg flour. The new arrangement meant a family of four will now get 20 kgs of rice against earlier fixed 35 kgs per family per month. Given the shift in Kashmir’s family setup, from joint to nuclear, the net loss per family enraged the housewives like never before. Being a rice eating state, on an average an adult needs 10 kgs of rice per month to meet the nutrition level required for steady growth of an individual.
The echo of dissenting voices, spearheaded by the otherwise docile housewives, could be heard across Kashmir. A rare picture emerged on Wednesday when women from faraway Uri and Srinagar’s downtown were on the same page.
According to new arrangement, NFSA encapsulates a limitation of 75 percent for rural populations and 50 percent limitation for rural population. However, the curtailed entitlement in J&K is below the national average and stands at 63.55 percent for rural population and 47.10 percent urban population.
The move is criticised by experts citing it comes with a grave risk of spreading nutritional deprivation and food insecurity in the already troubled Kashmir.
The problem with NFSA is that it has taken a holistic view rather than looking at Kashmir and its stable diet i.e. rice.
What could be sufficient in Jammu, where staple diet is Roti instead of rice, same cannot be said about Kashmir.
The act was implemented on February 15, 2016, when the state is under governor’s rule, leaving a void as well as room for everybody to jump in. The latest was former CM Omar Abdullah who trained his guns at his political rival PDP for leaving an anti-people legacy behind in their recent nine month long run at the helm of affairs.
Then there are separatists who termed the move as a way of punishing the people of Kashmir for harbouring a particular ideology.
Whatever the reason: political or otherwise, food is central to everybody. Any attempt to alter the already in place arrangements will have lasting consequences on the ground. The spill over of anger against the act on the streets of Kashmir is loud and clear sign that things have not gone down well with people.
But rice and politics have a long history of coexistence in politically sensitive Kashmir. Bakhshi, the erstwhile PM of Kashmir, used rice as a bargaining chip to negate his once mentor Sheikh’s influence on “self sustaining” Kashmiris.
Will rice once again become more than a staple diet, remains to be seen? But till then people are in no mood to let Babus sitting in Delhi decide who will eat how much in Kashmir. After all, nobody fiddles with ones belly. It can irritate more than just bowels, especially when the belly belongs to a Kashmiri.