Apni Rasoi

One of Vanangana’s earliest initiatives, now a self sustaining, autonomous organization, is an all women catering unit, with 13 members presently  based in Karwi, Chitrakoot but with a state –wide clientele.

Apni Rasoi was an enterprise initiated to generate some form of employment or livelihood for poor dalit and tribal women: an enterprise that was thought to be useful for supporting Vanangana’s other, less lucrative work it emerged as a travelling band cooks that provided catering services for a range of events and organization. At one level, it could be argued that there is nothing particularly feminist about getting poor women to cook, given the number of development programmes promoting women’s traditional skills of bottling pickles, snacks of food items. At best, it is a strategy of economic betterment, a way of bringing women’s domestic skills to the marketplace. Yet, in the context of a deeply entrenched caste structure with clear notions of ‛purity’ and ‛pollution’, it is considered taboo for ‛upper castes’ to eat cooked food that has been prepared by ‛lower castes’. And so, Apni Rasoi has raised fundamental questions about gender and caste norms that are played out in food practices. It asks who can do what work, for whom and in which space. When it was decided that dalit women would cook in the catering service, and later, that valmiki woman, lowest among the dalit sub-castes, would be part of the cooking team, hackles were raised both within the organization and outside. All these reasons and more, Apni Rasoi illustrates Vanangana’s attempts to shift the ground of Bundelkhand’s entrenched social structure. Over the past four years, decisions have been taken to provide pensions to older members, and to include valmiki and muslim women in the catering team-and if business suffered, so be it. Business didn’t suffer; in fact recent media coverage has brought Apni Rasoi back into the limelight after many years.

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