In human rights literature, human dignity is the foundation of human rights. Thus, scholarly literature has focused on rights to further enhance dignity. In this article, we argue that rights alone provide only a minimum of dignity. We examine India’s right to food legislation and its implementation in school meal programs. Based on our observations, we argue that discretion and negotiation are complementary institutional spaces that can be developed for the meaningful enjoyment of rights and thus dignity. The negotiations that take place between school management committees and schoolteachers determine the dignity of the midday meal by improving meal quality and nutritional content, infrastructural facilities, and working arrangements for the cooking and delivery of meals. The findings are based on a study of four schools in the states of Kerala and West Bengal and on a review of studies on the midday meal programs in other Indian states.
Sony Pellissery is an Associate Professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at National Law School University in Bangalore, India. He focuses on the delivery of antipoverty measures in rural and urban India. He is a leading national scholar on poverty-related research and comparative perspectives in policy theory. He was awarded the Ram Reddy Memorial Social Scientist Award in 2015.
Sattwick Dey Biswas is a doctoral student at the TU Dortmund University, Germany. He holds a master’s degree in social work from Visva-Bharati University in India and Oslo and Akershus University College. He has worked as a social worker in Indonesia and as a research assistant at the Institute of Rural Management Anand and the National Law School of India University. His research interests include land policy, theories of justice, poverty, and inequity.
Biju Abraham is an assistant professor of economics at NMSM Government College Kalpetta. He received his education at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS) in Hyderabad, the Department of Economics at Pondicherry University, and Oslo and Akershus University College. His areas of interest include public policy, natural resource management, and environmental economics.