The international definition of right to food means right to culturally accepted food for the people. It means that the government and authorities can not impose a particular kind of food habit alien to the culture of that particular state. The controversy around Akshay Patra Foundation’s mid day meal programme raises various question about the intention of the organisation which may well be to ‘help’ the needy but also ‘convert’ them into a particular religious practice.
Many people are upset as they feel that what is wrong in Akshay Patra’s giving hygienic food to children, after all they pay for it, and will give it only according to their convenience. While, we laud organisation’s efforts yet it must be made absolutely clear that Akshay Patra is not providing any free services to the ‘needy’. It bagged the contract from the government to feed the children. Ofcourse, it also raises funds from its own by seeking people’s support.
Akshay Patra is an organisation supported by ISKCON which has followers world over. The mid day meal that they provide the students only the ‘satvik’ meal. According to brahmanical school of thought a satvik meal is not merely vegetarian but it will not consist of onions and garlic. A report published in The Hindu says : “In November, the department issued a notice to the foundation to include onion and garlic in the meals. The State food commission had received complaints that many students were skipping the meals or eating smaller portions as they found the food unappetising without onion and garlic. The APF, though, has said that it can serve only “satvik” food.”
Now, there are two things in this story. First, whether this meal is liked by the children and second whether it is a healthy meal. The reports in the media suggested that the children found this meal as tasteless and at many schools they are skipping it. Probably, at many places they might be eating it under the pressure as there is no such choice of rejection which is sad. Now, the question is whether any meal consisting garlic and onion is ‘unhealthy’ ? I am sure medical fraternity has always suggested that both are useful for health. Actually, Akshay Patra is nothing but an Indian savarna vegetarian thought which is being imposed on people across the country in the name of meals. You can see this vegetarian violence being imposed in the name of culture all over the country. Not many years back, Mrs Menaka Gandhi, who was Women and Child Development Minister, opposed distribution of eggs to children in the mid day meal. In fact, Madhya Pradesh government closed it. Now, this was the height of hypocrisy that these leaders stop distribution of nutritious food for school children in the name of ‘culture’ and ‘health’. Menaka Gandhi has been a rabid anti non vegetarian person who give one thousand argument against it, all typical of the savarna mindset to deny the poor and marginalised, source of protein for health.
Tamilnadu was the first state to have introduced the mid day meal schemes long back and the food served there was absolutely as per the local cultural habits. The scheme became so popular that policy makers felt the need for an all India scheme to encourage children to come to school and also fight against malnutrition and hunger prevalent in our country.
There are risk of Akshaya Patra vision of culture. It attempt to homogenise the food habits. It imposes a vegetarian culture in the name of hygiene and ‘good health’ which need to be questioned. But the most important thing is for the government and authorities. Why they allow such institutions to dominate the discourse ? When the state is funding a large part then it must clearly indicate what it wishes but the politicians who prostrate to big babas and swamis cant really take this issue head on as the huge number of all these Babas and Swamis will never ever suggest non vegetarianism as a way of life.
Akshay Patra and its supporters thump their chest and claim that they are only doing ‘good’ work for the people. Right to food is not a charity. We can understand a huge number of ISKCON followers may be donating money but definitely they may be receiving donations from across the world for this. Hope, the donors dont impose their ‘will’ to provide a tasteless vegetarian food to children. Even if their individual and corporate donor donate to provide for vegetarian food, the government, which is the biggest donor in this case, does not provide food to be vegetarian alone san garlic and onion. Government of Karnataka must reject if there is any kind of precondition on the mid day meal being produced for the children. Suggesting that only vegetarian food is ‘tasty’ and ‘healthy’ is nothing but putting caste in the food plate. India need to grow, mature and respect the food and cultural diversity. Just because some one speak English or has huge international support, does not have right to impose its cultural practices on innocent children in the name of hygienic and healthy food. The move must be investigated thoroughly and rejected.