Indian politician fears eggs turn children into cannibals

Catholic archbishop says silly opposition to a school meal scheme makes India a laughing stock before the world
Indian politician fears eggs turn children into cannibals

A student smears colored powder on the face of another as they celebrate the Holi festival at a school in Jabalpur in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh on March 21. A plan to use eggs in school meals in the state has caused a row. (AFP photo)

The claim of a pro-Hindu politician that children can become cannibals by eating chicken eggs violates democratic principles, says a church leader in central India.

Gopal Bhargava, a senior politician of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Madhya Pradesh, made the claim last week as he opposed a government plan to include eggs in school midday meals to fight malnutrition.

"If children are given non-vegetarian food, they may turn into cannibals," Bhargava reportedly said.

"They will serve eggs to children. Those who do not eat eggs will be forced to do so. If they are still malnourished, give them chicken and goat meat." 

The Hindu culture prohibits eating non-vegetarian food, said Bhargava, the leader of the opposition in the state legislature.

If children are fed eggs and other non-vegetarian food from childhood, "they will eat meat and may grow up to become narbhakshi (cannibals)," Bhargava added.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, based in the state capital, said such attitudes of politicians linking food with religion and culture "do not augur well for democracy."

"This is a sorry state when politicians give religious color to food," Archbishop Cornelio told ucanews.

The government proposed to include eggs in the meal scheme to fight malnutrition among children, according to Imarti Devi, minister of women and child development in Madhya Pradesh.

Government statistics show that some 44 percent of Indian children under the age of five are malnourished, and Madhya Pradesh has the highest level at 70 percent.

At least 56 percent of children in all age groups are also anemic, published records show.

However, the BJP, which ruled Madhya Pradesh for 15 years until Congress came to power last December, is determined to oppose the egg plan.

"We will oppose any such proposal. I think this is an attempt to interfere with the religious beliefs and faith of the people," said Kailash Vijayvargiya, a former minister.

But minister Devi told media that she and her government would proceed. "I don't care if the BJP is protesting," she said, adding that egg remains a simple and easy way to help children grow healthy.

Archbishop Cornelio said "thoughtless statements of responsible politicians make the entire country a laughing stock before the entire world." 

"Nobody forces anyone to eat an egg. The government has not made it mandatory. The government system will have options for children who don't like egg." 

Politicians should focus on the common good of the people rather than making disruptive statements for political gains, he said.

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In 2017, the federal government led by the BJP prepared a National Action Plan for Egg and Poultry 2022. It identified the poultry sector as playing a "pivotal role in achieving nutritional security of the country" with particular reference to village areas.

The report described eggs as "wholesome, nutritious food with high nutrient density."

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