The Techno-Politics of Food Security in New Delhi: The Re-Materialization of the Ration Card
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In the early 2000s, millions of households suffered from starvation as waves of drought repeatedly hit the northern states of India. Despite the famine, the Indian authorities remained shockingly unresponsive to the needs of starving populations. In the ensuing decade, a unique configuration of experts, activists, law-makers and lay-persons occupied key spaces and institutions to formulate a right to food law that establishes the biopolitical duties of the statethat is, improving peoples well-beingin the domain of food security. This legislation was enacted in 2013: the National Food Security Act (NFSA). Based on 17 months of fieldwork in Delhi, this dissertation ethnographically explores the productive tension between the ethico-political nature of the NFSA and its rather technical implementation in urban centres. I ask: How do biopolitical interventions, designed to make the state transparent and accountable in the delivery of food entitlements, reconfigure bureaucratic practices and subjectivities? Articulated at the intersection of the analytics of governmentality and an anthropological reading of science and technology studies literature, I scrutinize the re-materialized ration card deployed in the aftermath of the NFSA to render bureaucratic practices transparent. I examine how the ration card mediates governmental attempts of policing relations of patronage, monitoring practices of corruption, and shaping empowered bodies. I argue that while the NFSA was formulated to improve the lives of the Indian population, the distribution of re-materialized ration cards contributed to make the population into a collection of individual bodies empowered to combat chronic hunger on their own. This dissertation probes the gap between what ration cards seek to accomplish, what they do, and the unanticipated effects of these bureaucratic instruments on peoples lives. First, through a reading of Indias policy archive, I document the historic and political trajectory of food policies to contextualize the emergence of right to food discourses in India. Then, I scrutinize how and why notions of governmental accountability and transparency took a predominant place in the formulation of the food security legislation. Finally, I examine how key documents and devices used to implement the NFSA have mediated norms of accountability and transparency in different urban contexts.