Although 52 percent of children in Madhya Pradesh are malnourished, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan saw it fit to shoot down a proposal to include either egg curry or boiled eggs in Anganwadi meals on a pilot basis in three tribal districts. It has been alleged that the powerful Jain community mounted pressure on the State government to implement such a diktat. In response to the outright criticism meted out by on-the-ground activists and civil society members, the State government’s principal secretary said that it is a “sentimental issue” dear to the chief minister and that “other more nutritious options” are available.
However, unless and until these tribal communities have raised their objection to serving eggs in their meals, the State government has no business in determining what they should consume. The inability to acknowledge this very fact is what ails most of our anti-poverty/malnutrition programmes in India. To aid such communities, one cannot take unilateral decisions, bereft of their consent and requirements. According to social activists on the ground, most of these tribal populations in Madhya Pradesh have been long-standing consumers of meat and eggs. What’s worse, many social groups who are opposed to eggs in nutrition schemes are not the people who would ever need to avail of these schemes.
The sentiments of another community, who have absolutely no stake in the programme, cannot become the basis for government policy, especially in such critical domains.
Reports have stated that many States across the country provide eggs to under-nourished children under various government-based nutrition schemes. For example, under the Integrated Child development Services, a government-run programme, which is designed to improve nutrition of pregnant women, lactating women and children up to three years of age, eggs are provided at Anganwadis in at least eight States. In addition to its use by government programmes, no other source of protein supports your body’s needs better than eggs. Studies have also shown that eggs are also known to be easily digestible. In fact not so long ago, the Government of India had backed the National Egg Coordination Committee, which coined the famous phrase, “Sunday ho ya Monday <g data-gr-id="28">roz</g> <g data-gr-id="29">khao</g> ande”, and spread its message across television sets in India.
Certain political commentators have attributed Chouhan’s move to the strict vegetarianism espoused by the culinary politics of upper caste Hindutva forces. Even such a rationale does not hold primarily because upper-caste Hindus have not always been <g data-gr-id="22">meat-hating</g> vegetarians. According to noted historian DN Jha, who has conducted an in-depth study of the Rigveda, there are constant references to the consumption of ox meat and animal sacrifices by members of the upper caste. Chouhan’s policy move, it may seem, makes no sense either from a policy point of view or in terms of history.