Working Paper

IDS Working Paper;475

Civil Society Innovation and Resilience in the Struggle for the Right to Food in India

Published on 11 August 2016

India’s national network of social justice activists and civil society organisations helped achieve legal recognition for the Right to Food in the early 2000’s and are engaged in an ongoing struggle to implement the right to food in practice. The legal strategy of the Right to Food Campaign, and the shortcomings of India’s primary right to food vehicle, the Public Distribution System (PDS) are well documented.

There is relatively little on the Campaign’s contribution to innovation and improvement in the PDS, and its role in blocking a rollback of both the Right to Food and the PDS. After a decade, following the trajectory of the RTF campaign and the activism to implement PDS effectively, we believe that the composition of the national activist network and, related, its multi-scalar strategy, have been vital to its ability to shape national political debate and government policy in a first period (2001–08), and subsequently to defend advances in reform of the Right to Food from rollback in a subsequent openly hostile political environment (2009–2015).

Based on new research carried out in 2015 we explain what happens to a network when one of its members enters electoral politics, and the campaign’s resilience in a hostile political environment. In this paper we combine social network analysis, informant interviews, participant observation, and archival research to identify the formation of ties between individuals that connect diverse activist networks, and how, in different political environments these networks first helped generate new ideas and practices for the Right to Food, and then defended those from reversal.


Peter P. Houtzager

Research Fellow

Publication details

published by
Institute of Development Studies
Pande, S. and Houtzager, P.
IDS Working Paper, issue 475
978 1 78118 332 8


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