Akshaya Patra: What India Can Teach the World

Before completing a four-week study tour in India, I had barely considered India’s role as a global leader. India’s influence was not taught at school and hardly touched upon in my degree of Development Studies and Cultural Anthropology. My knowledge of Asia taught at school as the Vietnam War and Edmund Hillary being first to scale Mount Everest in Nepal.

With 1 in every 4 people in the world being Indian, why is India given little weight in the education, media and business sectors?

India has the fastest growing economy in the world and it is predicted to become the biggest economy by 2050. Not only that, it is one of the few countries in the world to have more than 50% of its population below the age of 25. An aging population is a challenge which many countries in the global north will face in the coming years. For example Japan’s average age is 48, compared to India’s who sits at 29 years.  A young population means opportunity. Whereas aging populations come with challenges such as decreasing numbers in the workforce. India will have the advantage of their population entering the workforce.

Nick, one of the leaders of Indogenius, was effective at drilling this fact into our heads: for every problem there is a solution in India. From rickshaw drivers to CEO’s of start-ups – so many Indian’s seem to possess a spirit which drives them to do better for them and their families. This creates an environment perfect for start-ups. Passionate people with an idea and the drive can bring their to life which may not be realistic in places such as New Zealand. We interacted with many people who had successfully turned their vision into multi-million-dollar companies, from Delhi to Pondicherry.

This is not only limited to the world of business in areas such as tech which India is gaining a worldwide reputation for. NGOs such as Jaipur Foot and Akshaya Patra are touching the lives of millions of people in an extremely practical and productive way.

Akshaya Patra Foundation is a non-profit organisation founded in 2000 which feeds 18 million children in schools daily. It is the largest school lunch programme in the world, which believes that “No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger.” We had the privilege of touring the kitchen. Their kitchen holds the title of biggest kitchen in the world which produces 1.4 million meals a day. One cooker could fit 2500 kilograms of dhal.

Making Dahl for 1.4 million people

Not only are meals an initiative for students but parents themselves as it takes the financial pressure off them to provide a meal. An article published by Education New Zealand (2019) says that between 150,000 and 250,000 New Zealand children are in poverty, depending on the measures used. Jacinda Ardern has announced that Year 1 to 8 students in thirty schools will be provided with a free school lunch, it is projected that 120 schools and 21,000 students will be provided with lunches by 2021. I think that the New Zealand government would benefit from looking at a system like Akshaya Patra has perfected. A child is fed a nutritious meal five times a week for a school year for only twenty dollars.

A simple but effective initiative that Akshaya Patra Foundation has introduced is including a sweet within the one of five days meals are served. They keep this day random as they have seen attendance increase to 100 per cent for the day including a sweet only. By switching this day weekly, attendance has increased throughout the week by five percent. When operating at such a scale this is an amazing accomplishment in attendance.

Akshaya Patra is only one example of what can be achieved in India. Good people are changing peoples lives domestically and international. With 1.4 billion brains India is a gold mine of potential that the rest of the world can learn from.

Annalise O’Sullivan-Moffat

Cultural Consciousness in India: What can New Zealand Learn?

India. An opener of eyes. A challenger of assumptions. India is every exception, and every rule. India is cruel. India is kind.

A week after my cohort and I left Delhi, my Facebook Feed was filled with footage of riots. Taken less than 20 minutes’ drive from our hotel, I saw protests on the steps of temples we had visited, buses burning on roads not far from those we had walked upon. The BJP Party’s new Citizenship Law sees religious persecution, tension, and restriction rampant within India. This is why the many steps toward cultural solidarity I encountered in India are all the more remarkable – and worthy of noting as an antithesis to how India has appeared in the media as of late.

Jaipur Foot is a hospital where amputees are guaranteed replacement limbs, free of charge, upon arrival. In the waiting room one will find Jesus, Shiva, and the Buddha framed and hung side by side to ensure no patient feels less entitled to Jaipur Foot’s services than another. As we were guided through the halls, I met a man who had lived without legs for an entire year before getting word of Jaipur foot. Before my very eyes, he took his first steps since his machinery accident in 2018.

Auroville is a community of three thousand which functions independently from the rest of India. A home to individuals from 124 different countries and all Indian states, Auroville works to deconstruct religious and cultural barriers by mandating the renunciation of all religious affiliation upon accepting membership. During my two days here, I was able to visit the Matrimandir, a golden dome which acts as a centre for worship. Devoid of candles, incense, or any artefacts connotative of religion, the only rule users of Matrimandir must abide by is silence – so that all may focus upon and explore their own spirituality independently. While this approach toward cultural identity involves deconstruction of religious identity, it is fascinating to see how this is utilised as a vehicle for solidarity within an independent community context.

What do Jaipur Foot and Auroville have in common? Both reject the narrative of cultural division that pervade India’s religious politics. Auroville does this by asking members to renounce all religious ties. Jaipur Foot does so by making sure to accommodate all individuals. While different, both approaches speak to a desire to realise a manner of human interaction which functions independently of religious identity. While I am unable to speculate which is more successful in combatting religious stereotyping, both experiences assured me that there is an Indian population active in shaping a narrative of tolerance. Looking forward, I see the projects of solidarity either entity tend to being essential refuges to the Indian population. Perhaps New Zealanders, too, can take note of how religious tolerance can be brought to the forefront of Indian migratory experiences in Aotearoa.

– Zak Devey