IIT Bombay - Monash University Research Academy

Sociological Study of Child Malnutrition in India

In my PhD project, I present a sociological analysis of child malnutrition in rural West Bengal. This thesis is an ethnographic study of the life of caregivers (of children aged three months to 59 months) residing in Bhangar-1 in West Bengal. The focus is on the socio-cultural factors that influence the childcare practices performed by the caregivers. The theoretical framework that guides this research is social practice theory. One of the objectives of my research is: What is the gendered dimension of child malnutrition in rural West Bengal? How do the local narratives of child malnutrition linked with the gender structure?

To address the gendered dimension of child malnutrition I have dedicated an entire chapter in my thesis. In this chapter, the focus is on how the performance of important childcare practices are influenced by three different gender structures: power relations (decision making and bargaining power where mostly females occupy inferior position), production relations (the gender division of labour and its consequence) and cultural relations (values and norms that restricts the performance of certain activities to one gender). Gender is perceived as a situated social practice, that is realized through everyday interactions and communications. The narratives of the participants are used to explain how different factors, for example, gender, power, social relations, economic exchange, caregiver’s autonomy and control over resources influence the performance of childcare practices by the caregiver and therefore, the nutritional well being. The focus is not limited to the gender of the child but also, of other caregivers and decision-makers within the household. The analysis is not limited to whether female children are more malnourished than their male counterparts. Rather a holistic and broader perspective which includes the intersection of various socio-cultural factors to understand the workings of gender and its impact on the nutritional health of the child is done.

To address this issue rigorous fieldwork was conducted for eight months in a village in Bhangar 1 (West Bengal, South 24 Parganas District). Ethnographic techniques involving thick fieldwork, participant observation, narrative interviews and focussed group discussion was used for data collection. The participants were selected with the help of criterion and snowball sampling from two Anganwadi centres in Bhangar 1 ( West Bengal, Baruipur town, South 24 Parganas district). The literature review for this research started in January 2017 and the fieldwork was conducted from March 2018. The role of the participant as an observer was adopted in the field. Formal and informal in-depth interviews were conducted from May 2018. Total 35 participants were interviewed. A pilot study was conducted from March to April 2018. Total four districts were covered in the pilot study: North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Cooch Behar, Purba Bardhaman. The final selection of the field was based on the accessibility to the Anganwadi Centre and the availability of caregivers of malnourished and non-malnourished children in the same village.

The findings in this chapter suggest that the unequal distribution of household responsibilities (including caregiving activities) and also decision making roles are discussed. This is one of the crucial distribution within the household that affects the nutritional well being of the child. The unequal distribution affects the access to resources (material, time allocation) by the caregiver that is important to perform childcare activities. Decision making roles affects the bargaining power in the household. Specifically, I have found strong support/evidence for the positive relation between mothers’ participation in decision-making and the nutritional well-being of the child.

Strong bargaining power within the family can influence the intra-family distribution of resources, goods, services and tasks, the treatment meted out by family members, and the control exercised over resources. Lack of participation in decision-making weakens the bargaining power and, therefore, control over resources. The lack of women’s participation in decision-making is the outcome of various gendered norms within a culture. The gendered practices or subordinate position of women within the household is often encouraged by these norms. How gendered norms affect the decision-making power related to childcare practices and their impact on the nutritional health of the child is covered.

An article regarding my research can also be found on the IIT Bombay website.

Presidency University

  • Investigated the effects of social life on our dreams, critically focusing on the social mechanisms behind the causality and remembrance of dreams.

  • Created a documentary titled “Rhythm Speaks” exploring the idea of body, gender and identities.

  • Authored white paper analyzing practical and official kinship from the perspective of a child.

  • Critically examined the works of Michael T. Taussig and David Graeber from a sociological aspect and authored a white paper on it.

Presidency College

  • Investigated the cause and effects of marital separation on families and societies in India.

  • Analyzed works of various researchers in the field of divorce and family problems.

  • Investigated gender dimensions through interviews with different sample characteristics.

  • Prepared & presented dissertation listing out the causes, effect and possible solutions of this social situation