New Delhi: The chief guest of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) annual Vijayadashami function, Shiv Nadar, registered a small, yet defiant, protest against the Hindutva organisation’s belief systems, even as the RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s comments on “lynchings” at the event garnered the most attention.
The HCL Technologies founder-chairman, while pitching for greater involvement of private stakeholders in governance, said:
“My daughter is involved in this project (Shiksha). She did something that you won’t like. She forced them (children in schools) to eat chicken for their protein intake. Children in western parts of Uttar Pradesh are generally short. There is need for better nutrition. People in those parts generally don’t eat rice. They have rotis. However, you can only have it when it is fresh out of the fire. You can’t store it and have it cold.”
He was explaining why he thought that the government alone could not elevate the country to the next level and why such private initiatives in the social sector were equally important. He said that his team had found that 46% of children in Uttar Pradesh under the age of five were either stunted, both mentally and physically, because of extreme malnutrition.
Addressing the problem of rural distress and rising unemployment, which the union government has refused to acknowledge, Nadar said that his team found that the average income in an agriculture household was merely Rs 6,400 per month. “With a family size of five, that is less than Rs 1,300 per individual per month. Also, livelihood opportunities in rural India beyond agriculture are far and few,” he said in his speech at Nagpur.
His Dussehra speech ended with a moral message. “Dussehra celebrates the triumph of Lord Ram over Ravana, dharma over adharma… good over evil. The mythic win of good over evil is never absolute, never complete. It’s a continuous struggle to defeat the evil within and outside.”
Nadar’s advocacy of meat in meals and emphasis on the sorry state of affairs in rural India – which the Modi government hasn’t acknowledged to its full extent – is in stark contrast to the RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s speech at the same event. Bhagwat, who in the past has dropped hints about the Modi government’s alleged failures, unequivocally defended it on all fronts in his 2019 speech.
Sangh parivar and its ‘vegetarianism’ go a long way back
The Sangh parivar has traditionally been promoting vegetarianism – which many believe emerges from its strong Brahminical influence. Over the last decade, it has gained influence over governments, including some non-BJP ones, to serve exclusively vegetarian food in child welfare programmes.
In most states, inadequate funding for schools and programmes like the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) have prevented the state governments from providing decent, nutritious meals to children.
However, most BJP-ruled states, excluding those in Jharkhand and the north-east, have actively campaigned to demand that strictly vegetarian meals should be served to children at government-run welfare centres. Many of the centres have removed eggs from the meals on the pretext of not wanting to hurt religious or cultural sentiments.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation, an NGO which has been given a contract by the Karnataka government to serve mid-day meals, had landed in a controversy last year after it stopped serving eggs. The foundation has, however, said that it replaced eggs, and even onion and garlic, with equally nutritional food according to regional preferences.
Last year, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, too, had created a flutter when it tweeted an image that equated non-vegetarian cuisine with junk food, and indicated that a vegetarian diet is the only way to stay healthy. Fearing a backlash, the ministry deleted the tweet. The scientific evidence available with the ministry of women and children does not support the argument that a non-vegetarian meal is unhealthy.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) guidelines on mid-day meals allow state governments to tweak standard meals according to regional preferences. However, the switch to a vegetarian menu in public schools in many states has mostly been done because of the government’s religious inclination.