ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Mid-day Meals and Food Politics

Government-sponsored nutritional schemes cannot be subjected to caste and religious norms.

After the beef ban in Maharashtra, the “politics of food” has now gone one step further. The Madhya Pradesh (MP) Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has refused to “allow” eggs in the state’s anganwadis under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme. No reasons were furnished as to why the decision was taken despite the fact that his own government’s Women and Child Development Department proposed a breakfast including boiled eggs for children in the three–six years’ age group in the tribal districts of Mandla, Alirajpur and Hoshangabad. These districts are among the tribal-dominated areas in a state that overall faces a very high incidence of child malnutrition, especially in the tribal areas. The main objective of the ICDS programme is to improve nutrition among pregnant women, lactating mothers and preschool children. As of now, nine states provide eggs in their anganwadis.

Should personal preferences decide state policy? Chouhan’s principal secretary was quoted as saying that vegetarianism is a “sentimental” issue with the Chief Minister. The Digambar Jain Mahasamiti in the state told the media that it had met Chouhan to block the inclusion of eggs in the meal because, it claimed, the “sensitivity of children dies” when they eat non-vegetarian food. MP is also among the states (mostly in Northern India) that do not serve eggs in the mid-day meal provided under the national programme for children in all government-run and aided schools (from standards I to VIII) including madrasas and maqtabs that are supported by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. In fact, the Right to Food Campaign has pointed out that the upper-caste groups who oppose eggs in nutrition schemes are not the ones who would ever avail of these schemes but nonetheless continue to influence government policies based on their own beliefs. More importantly, while schemes like the mid-day meal are meant to be community-oriented in nature, the “beneficiaries” are not part of the decisions ostensibly made on their behalf.

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