SEATTLE, Washington — With a population of more than 1.3 billion people, India is in the midst of rapid economic growth. The country’s gross domestic product is dramatically increasing, and rice in India is a major food staple. However, due to the overwhelming number of people, there is insufficient food for those facing poverty. In fact, undernourishment affects 14.5 percent of the population (194.4 million people). More than half of the women between 15 and 49 years of age suffer from anemia. At least 37.9 percent of children are stunted and at high risk for various illnesses and death. Child stunting, child mortality and undernourishment place India at 103 out of 119 countries on the Global Hunger Index in 2018.
Indian Wedding Traditions
Rice in India is a crucial part of people’s everyday diet and symbolizes wealth, well-being and prosperity. Often, guests in Hindu weddings are asked to bless the newlyweds by gently throwing rice on them. This signifies the guests’ blessings and prayers for the couple’s future. Toward the end of the ceremony, the bride throws rice over her shoulder as she leaves with the groom.
This tradition is called “vidaai,” which translates to “goodbye.” This ritual represents that the bride will continue to pray for the spiritual and physical well-being of her parents. Unfortunately, at the end of these weddings, all of the rice ends up on the ground and is inedible. While people recognized the waste that was occurring, many failed to acknowledge it for quite some time because these traditions are of great importance to many Hindus in India.
India Dega Aashirvad Initiative
India Gate, a highly competitive rice brand in the U.S. and especially in India, realized how much of the distributed rice was eventually wasted in weddings across the country. Meanwhile, millions of Indians are suffering from hunger every day. India Gate started the India Dega Aashirvad initiative (IDA), in which they offer wedding parties an alternative to traditional rice grain for the wedding.
Couples are able to register with the IDA and purchase special IDA packs of rice in exchange for donating rice. The packs are then delivered to the venue and distributed to guests who are simply able to touch the packs without throwing the rice in order to give the couple their blessing. The rice in those packs remains sealed throughout the wedding procession and is then reused in other weddings. The Feeding India program gathers the rice donations from IDA and distributes the rice in India to feed the underprivileged. For every 100 packs ordered by the wedding party, 4.5 kilograms (9.92 lbs) of rice are donated to the India Dega Aashirvad initiative, feeding 22.5 people.
This creative project was started by a company in India to combat hunger and poverty. It allows for the participation of people across the country as couples are able to choose to give back to their community. Many people are willing to forego tradition to help others. As of September 2019, 10,161 people have already pledged to the initiative. As India Dega Aashirvad says, it is important to find a better purpose in life, “one that can feed thousands of people instead of blessing just two.”
– Haarika Gurivireddygari