The renewed BJP-led campaign of banning certain foods emanated with the humble egg. In July 2015, the Madhya Pradesh government banned the protein-rich egg in the state’s aanganwadi or pre-school centres that cater to children from poor families. It also banned it from the mid-day meal (MDM) scheme in government schools.
It was reported that MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan took the decision at the behest of the influential Jain leaders. Almost two years later, the debate over right to food of one’s choice has become a recurring and blood-smeared headline.
Mob-killings in the name of the holy cow, and its less holy cousin - the buffalo - are growing. As a result and in a completely irrational way, with this violence over what is essentially food for human beings, the chances of the egg making a comeback in MDM are dimming fast.
When you can get killed on suspicion of eating certain meats, or even legally transporting cows and buffaloes, then it looks improbable that many are going to stand up for the harmless spherical shell of protein and energy.
The egg didn’t always have it so bad. It was once a secular, national and cheap source of protein and calcium. “Sunday or Monday, roz khao andey" being the hymn of the nation.
But, with the communalisation of every place, animal, and thing, leave alone our own minds, what chance did the poor egg have? It is worth reminding ourselves that because of the Amul-like success of the media campaigns of the National Egg Coordination Committee, it had become so popular that the egg has spawned a new category of eaters - the ubiquitous eggetarian.
Chicken egg’s benefits transcend all sectarian and dietary biases. Its nutritional value is way too important to be ignored, at least in policy if not implementation. That’s why like the world over, Indian doctors too recommend it.
The ministry of health and family welfare itself recommends eggs for all age groups, including children. Moreover, the 7th joint review mission (JRM) of the HRD ministry found in 2015, just months before the MP government banned the egg, that its inclusion in the MDM helps in higher attendance, and better health of children.
The JRM concluded that “that there was a noticeable increase in school attendance when children are provided supplementary dietary inputs such as eggs, soya beans, fruits and non-vegetarian dishes. The JRM observed that a number of children are still coming to schools on empty stomach. Suggestions were made to make provision for early morning snacks to address this situation”.
The amount of funds that India spends on its poor children is pathetic. In Assam, the JRM found that “school managing committee members, teachers and parents in general expressed the need to increase current unit conversions cost of meals of state of Rs 3.59 per child in case of primary school and Rs 5.38 per child in case of upper primary schools due to rise in the prices of vegetables. The monthly honorarium of cook-cum helper of Rs 1,000 is reported to be too low”.
Spending Rs 4-6 per child per meal seems like a diabolical design to keep the poor children weak, both mentally and physically. And, if their parents could afford good nutritious food for them, they would also send them to a private school, like most middle-class Indians do.
Since 2015, the egg has also disappeared from the observations of the joint review commission which publishes two reports every year.
Eggs are still served in MDM in states like West Bengal, Telangana, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.
In June 2016, the women and child development minister of Maharashtra, Pankaja Munde, informed the state Assembly that nearly 1,000 children died in the state because of chronic undernourishment. Responding to the longstanding issue of malnutrition among the state’s children (majority of them tribals), she assured that eggs will be soon included in MDM.
Earlier, the commissioner of the animal husbandry department of the state had written letters to the WCD ministry asking for the inclusion of eggs in the state’s nutritional schemes. As evidence, he cited Maharashtra’s low eggs per person per year ratio of 43 as compared to the national average of 180.
It is only a handful of states that still serve this rich source of nutrition to India’s poorest children.
Munde’s open support for eggs in MDM was welcome if somewhat unusual. A year after Munde’s assurance, BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh banned it, and since then the egg has been discarded from the meals of millions of school children under the MDM.
It is only a handful of states that still serve this rich source of nutrition to India’s poorest children. And one wonders if children were to write an essay on the "Kamdhenu - the mythical wish-fulfilling", would they not want an "egg-laying cow", given the universal acceptance of milk produced by cows, buffaloes and goats!
The absence of cases of forced beef consumption or eggs being shoved down throats by mobs means it is an unprovoked attack on people who have different diets. Also, there is widespread support for eggs in MDM, but, it has become muted following bloody episodes of vigilante killings and, at least one barbaric protest killing of an ox over the government’s latest and ambiguous ban against sale of "cattle" for slaughter.
Many Indians still eat eggs and it is available in a range of snacks, curries and pulao preparations. We, as a nation, take eggs for granted, as a source of nutrition just the way we rely on our armed forces for defending India's sovereignty, and the Army, in turn, certainly, and as they ought to, rely on a good diet made up of eggs, milk, pulses, vegetables and legally permissible categories of meat.
What is good for the Army cannot possibly be bad for the child in a government-run school. In a free India, one should at least have the freedom to both eat and reject - be it beef, pig, eggs, pohe, or tofu… the list is long and delicious for most Indians.