Indian state ends egg ban for school meals

Catholic leaders welcome Chhattisgarh move after eggs were withdrawn to avoid upsetting Hindu, Jain vegetarians
Indian state ends egg ban for school meals

A schoolboy in India's Madhya Pradesh state is served a midday meal of wheatbread and curried lentils in July 2018. Eggs are not on the menu for students in many states for fear of offending the religious sentiments of vegetarians. (Photo by IANS)

Eggs are back on the menu for school students in India's Chhattisgarh state, 13 years after they were banned for fear of hurting the religious sentiments of upper-caste Hindu and Jain vegetarians.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government withdrew eggs from students' midday meals in 2005, two years after it came to power.

But Indian National Congress, which won control of the state in December, reintroduced eggs with an order on Jan. 15.

The federal government-funded midday meal aims to serve lunch to about 120 million malnourished children across India. The government introduced chicken eggs as a cheap and easy source of protein.

However, only 11 of India's 29 states, including Chhattisgarh, are reported to have eggs on the menu.

None of the states with BJP-run governments offer eggs in midday meals. The BJP now controls governments in 16 states, directly or with the help of alliances.

Some states led by Congress, such as Karnataka, have not included eggs, reportedly to appease Hindu sentiments.

The reintroduction of eggs "will help thousands of impoverished children, especially in the tribal areas" of Chhattisgarh, said Father Sebastian Poomattam, vicar-general of Raipur Archdiocese.

He said malnutrition is "rampant" in the state, which is considered one of the poorest regions of a country that, according to international agencies, has more than a third of the world's malnourished children.

A Chhattisgarh state government spokesman told media that the latest decision was based on the results of a 2017 random survey conducted in 19 of the state's 27 districts.

The survey showed big deficiencies in protein intake and recommended providing eggs, milk or similar nutritional food at least two days a week.

Father Poomattam said withdrawing eggs because of upper-caste sentiments was against the interests of most of the state's 25 million people.

"More than 80 percent of the state's people eat non-vegetarian food and there is no harm in providing eggs," he said.

Jain people who strictly avoid eggs comprise less than one percent of the population, while most Hindus eat eggs, he said. Jains and higher-caste Hindu groups that do not consume eggs cannot be more than 20 percent of the population, the priest added.

Archbishop Victor Henry Thakur of Raipur told that most people, especially indigenous people who constitute some 15 percent of the population, are "communities that love to eat eggs."

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The government should do more to improve the quality of education in government schools. Nutrition-rich midday meals are good to promote children's health as well as to attract them to schools, the archbishop said.

However, state BJP leader Sachidananda Upasne told media that many people such as upper-caste Brahmins "do not want to be near them [eggs]. If giving eggs is such a priority, the government should deliver them to homes, not in public spaces. This, in a way, is disturbing traditions."

Chhattisgarh's School Education Department said eggs will not be forced on any student and those who do not want them will be given milk or other nutritional food.

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