Week 7 Final Project

Imagine living in a country where you have to scrap for food almost everyday because you have limited access to food. Not only that, but the food that you are eating is not healthy and you’re not able to get the full nutrients that you need. Well, this happens to be the case in rural India. Malnutrition in rural India has been an arising problem for many years, among women, pregnant mothers, and people in general in rural India. Malnutrition is a deficiency, excess or imbalance in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients (World Health Organization). I will be examining the deficiency in nutrients that take place in rural india among women and families using the critical and medical anthropology theory which examines political and social power and economic factors that determine who suffers and who benefits the most (Lecture 1.4). 

First, let’s take a look at some critical points of India that have driven this world health issue. India is socially structured by a caste system, which is a social stratification that determines a person’s power, social class, occupation, level of income, and education (BBC News). The caste system plays a part in resources and how much access people have to those resources. For rural India, people are in the lower levels of the caste system which includes the untouchables which are people who are considered an outcast. They are the poorest of the poorest. The level above them is the sudra who are peasants, manual laborers, and servants (BBC News). In addition, India has about 32.7% of people in India are living below the international poverty line which means about 32% of people are making below $1.25 and living below that dollar rate (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund). Looking at urban India, they do not face the same disadvantages as rural India. Urban India has a high rate of education, level of income, sanitation around the area and access to more resources (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund). From this we can analyze the inequality gap between the people who are socially categorized higher in the caste system versus those who are categorized in the lower levels of the caste system.

There is a high number of women and families in these two low levels, roughly around 270,000,000 million that are undernourished and that are in poverty (World Bank). The poor environment that women and families are living in doesn’t have many resources to help them overcome malnutrition. The environment they live in doesn’t have clean water, clean or healthy food, good paying jobs or proper sanitation. As a result, the poor diet women and mothers have causes them to be diagnosed with anemia and other health issues. Anemia is having a lack of red blood cells which causes symptoms of weariness or fatigue (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute). Examining this from the critical and medical anthropology theory we can see that the lower levels in the caste system suffer from a lack of resources and income while urban India has the proper resources such education, higher level jobs, higher income, sanitation, developed technology and other things to combat this health issue. The critical and medical anthropology model is best to analyze this issue because it addresses the political power in India and how that plays a factor in malnutrition in rural India and how other parts of India don’t have this problem. Taking a look at urban India we can see urban India does not have this issue. Urban India has families with better occupation and higher income level so they are able to travel and purchase quality foods. In the journal, “A Companion to Medical Anthropology” they mention socio-cultural and political power is a factor that helps to explain illnesses in communities like rural India using the biocultural perspective (Singer and Erickson 2011). According to the journal, biocultural is to help see human biology as culturally and socially. With that being said, the caste system can be seen as a way of the government using its political power to keep the poor communities poor. This intergenerational cycle of poverty and malnutrition in the lower levels of the caste system will continue unless there’s a change in the caste system. The lower levels of the caste system will continue to experience health issues, a low mortality rate , economical and social disparities compared to urban India. 

Furthermore, in a study conducted by Suresh Jungari and Bal Govind Chauhan, out of 42,924 women who classified as poor, 42,400 of the poor women were diagnosed with a mild level of anemia (Jungari and Chauhan 2017). Why is that? One of the causes of anemia is having a low-iron diet which explains there is a prevalence of anemia amongst women in rural India (National Health Portal). Women in rural India often have poor diets that lack the necessary nutrients to have a healthy functioning body. A reason for this is because families in the lower level caste system don’t make enough money. The average income that families make in the lower caste level is around $1.25 a day (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund). From the critical and medical anthropology model, this entails that there needs to be more affordable health care centers for the women to help decrease this disease. The critical and medical anthropology model looks at all factors of a country such as social, economical and power to examine a health issue (Lecture 1.4) This happens to be one of the economical factors that addresses the anemia problem amongst women. With more affordable health care centers poor women will have access to other alternatives to help them improve their anemia. In the article “The Coming of Age of Critical Medical Anthropology” Merrill Singer says, “until we fully realize social process in the medical arena is not shaped by the unrestrained will and might of potent oppressors but by an ongoing clash between those best served and those least served by existing medical institutions, and between those most in control and those least in control of medical knowledge, procedures, and medical technology we will continue to misunderstand” (Singer 2004). From this we can learn that although there is an overall gap between the rural and urban India when it comes to social, economic status, and power we can conclude that there needs to be some acknowledgement that urban India is better taken care of than rural India, and that a change needs to be made to fill in this gap. We do not only see this in India but we also see this in the other places of the world as well like the United States. Although America uses biomedicine to diagnose health issues and provide treatment, there are still disparities between the rich and the poor. Poor women and families may be able to get the proper diagnosis of a health issue but sometimes they are not able to afford the treatment or medicine. This is similar to poor families in rural India who can’t even afford a visit to the doctors. While families in urban India have the money and access to get a proper diagnose and afford the treatment. This is the same for rich families in America, they have access to resources and money to afford doctor visits and medicine while poor families do not. It is not fair for women that are classified in the lower levels of the caste system that do not have enough money to afford health care and quality food to have to suffer from anemia. Women and mothers are not the only ones affected by this disease, their children are too. When expecting mothers have anemia and don’t have the access to healthier foods they often pass the disease down to their children as well (Swaminathan 2012). As a result this becomes an intergenerational disease if families aren’t able to change their diet (Swaminathan 2012). However, the way the caste system is set up there is not a high chance for social mobility, which is another reason why this causes generations after generations to still be in the same caste level. 

The caste system is not the only political power that has caused women to undergo malnutrition, the patriarchy society plays a role too. A patriarchy is a form of social organization in which fathers or other males control the family, clan, tribe, or larger social unit, or a society organized in this way (Cambridge Dictionary). India’s society is organized by the men being in power and the head of the household. Women are expected to complete their daily household duties, take care of the children and at times do manual labor work, and tend to their husbands needs to keep them happy (Dahiya and Viswanathan 2015). All while doing this and having the lack of proper diet is another reason why are diagnosed with anemia and are undernourished. Women are overworking their bodies while being under a poor diet. This can lead to stress, fatigue, food and water deprivation. In the chapter, Critical Biocultural Approaches in Medical Anthropology, Leatherman and Goodman state “Many biocultural studies do not fully consider political–economic processes and relations of power and inequality (i.e., the critical side of critical biocultural). How- ever, most all acknowledge the importance of these processes in shaping human biology and health.” (Leatherman and Alan 2011). From this, we can see how the patriarchy adds to the political power and social imbalance, particularly rural India. This underlying issue shows how the critical and medical anthropology model can help with resolving the ongoing malnutrition issue. Being able to identify that India has another political power issue will help medical professionals understand why women are undergoing malnutrition and figure out other alternatives to help with the cultural beliefs and structure. 

In conclusion, after examining the malnutrition in women and families in rural India using the critical and medical anthropology model, 270,000,000 million people are undernourished in rural india due to the social stratification and patriarchy society in India. Because of this political power there is an economic and social inequality gap between the people who are in the higher levels of the caste system and the people who are in the lower levels of the caste system. The rich people in the higher caste system have access to resources that people in the lower caste do not have. The critical and medical anthropology model identifies and addresses these issues to help medical professionals understand this underlying problem and how it has caused people at the lower level to experience an intergenerational cause of malnutrition. I believe that India needs to provide more resources and access to the poor women and families in rural India. In the article, Social Determinants of Health the Solid Facts, World Health Organization mentions “Social and economic conditions result in a social gradient in diet quality that contributes to health inequalities. The main dietary difference between social classes is the source of nutrients” (Wilkinson 2003). This shows that social classes have different levels of access to resources and quality food that could improve or deteriorate their health. The inequality gap between the differences in social and economic status in India’s social structure has been going on for too long. More health care facilities, access to quality food, clean water, and sanitation are necessities that the women and families that are apart of the lower level in the caste system needs. These factors will be able to help women and families live a better life while decreasing the high rates of anemia. The critical and medical anthropology is a great model to go beyond the surface level of what others may see as an issue in a country. It plays a part in looking at many disparities to see what is the issue, why is there an inequality gap in political power, social and economic status, and how can this be fixed. It honestly doesn’t surprise me that there is a social inequality gap in India because this is a world-wide problem that many other countries suffer from such as the United States, Africa, China, just to name a few. However, it’s not an easy fix, it’s more complex than people think but I do still feel that there should be more resources to quality food, clean water, improve sanitation in poor communities and health care for the communities that suffer from poverty. 


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Leatherman, Tom, and Alan H. Goodman. “Critical Biocultural Approaches in Medical Anthropology.” A Companion to Medical Anthropology, 2011, pp. 29–48., doi:10.1002/9781444395303.ch2. 

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Swaminathan, Hema, and Arnab Mukherji. “Slums and malnourishment: evidence from women in India.” American journal of public health vol. 102,7 (2012): 1329-35. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2011.300424

“What Is India’s Caste System?” BBC News, BBC, 19 June 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35650616.

“What Is Malnutrition?” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 6 Feb. 2017, www.who.int/features/qa/malnutrition/en/.
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