A position paper on health and well-being written by a panel of experts in Karnataka NEP task force suggest that serving eggs to school going children will lead to discrimination among students. The paper which is 42 pages long also suggests that meat consumption will result in lifestyle disorder.
On the contrary, the committee of experts headed by John Vijay Sagar, professor and head of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry in NIMHANS recommend children intake only ‘sattvik’ food. The paper further recommends teaching of Veda mantras, Bhagvad Gita, yoga, pranamayana, along with foundational mental and physical health courses.
Position Paper and Recommendations Unscientific and Casteist: Experts
The position paper on health and well-being by the Karnataka NEP committee recommends vegetarian dietary system and asserts it relevance to nutrition.
The paper says that inculcating stories about Hindu Gods Hanuman and Bheema, helping children link the right food to valour, courage, and success, and guiding them through Panchatantra and folk tales will help overall well-being. Experts, who spoke to The Quint, questioned the validity of such statements in the position paper.
"Tomorrow, instead of these male deities, why not take the example of Mari goddess? As per traditions, it is goats and chicken which are offered as sacrifices to this deity. A lot of out children are devotees of Kali and Mari. How are we going to decide which God’s dietary customs will help children? This is not the way a public policy should be made."Dr Prashanth NS, Public Expert and Medical Doctor
Speaking to The Quint, pubic health practitioner Dr Sylvia Karpagam remarked, "I don't think paper is subtle about its casteist stands. Both the committee and its paper is not inclusive at all and lacks diversity. The contents of the paper are not evidence based. I feel it is also contradictory in nature. On the one hand, the committee suggests that a child eat what the grandmother cooks. Well, a lot of grandmothers cook eggs, beef and other diverse food. Not all grandmothers practice vegetarianism."
The paper’s approach towards yoga is also under the scanner. It suggests that the Mantra and shloka chanting be included in the curriculum.
Basic mantra related to yoga and basic shlokas of Bagavad Gita are to be taught to age group three to eight years, while 11-year-olds will be taught mantras with meaning. The paper also says students should be told stories about Brahmacharya (student life and celibacy) and Niyamas (Yogic Observances).
“Mantras are acceptable. There is nothing wrong with it,” says educationalist D Shashi Kumar, but, “But, it cannot be compelled to children of all communities. This is because certain verses for chanting and rituals come from a particular community. One cannot forcefully ask students to indulge in it. Also, there is no scientific evidence to prove that chanting mantras can help learning outcomes. Recommendation is fine, but mandating it, will result in legal and socio-political debates.”
Raising concerns about malnutrition, the experts also highlighted how a complex social phenomenon such as malnutrition was being treated just as a medical issue.
Also, the paper repeatedly attributes Indians being leaner and smaller to vegetarianism. This has not been proved or agreed upon in any peer-reviewed journal yet.
Reacting to these claims, Dr Megha, a biochemist and scientist specialising in Ayurveda Biology and Holistic Nutrition said, "There is no scientific evidence that eating a "Sattvik" diet will bear any with different learning outcomes."
Legitimacy of NEP Committee on Health and Well-Being in Karnataka Questioned
The position paper begins by introducing, defining, and recommending suggestions to improve "mental and physical health in human life in general and student’s life in particular." The paper particularly makes recommendations in aspect of nutrition, mental health, and yoga, which are being contested as unscientific.
“A carefully planned meal with recommended energy, moderately low fat, and zero trans-fat food is needed to address the over-nutrition. Hence, while planning mid-day meals, cholesterol-free, additives-free, such as eggs, flavoured milk, biscuits , should be forbidden to prevent obesity and hormonal imbalance caused by excess calorie and fat.”Position Paper on Health and Well-Being, NEP Karnataka
Speaking to The Quint, Dr Prashanth NS, medical doctor and public health researcher said, “The committee which wrote the paper completely lacks expertise when it concerns nutrition. Having a diabetologist or a child and adolescent psychiatrist in the committee will bring in only specific understanding of an issue. Where as, public health is different. We need a comprehensive study to keep our population healthy. This requires a multidisciplinary approach towards health.”
The paper asserts that consumption of egg and meat leads to lifestyle disorders. It also suggests that animal based foods interfere with hormonal functions in humans resulting in primary infertility, menarche, and even diabetes.
Accusing the committee to be insensitive to social dynamics the, educationalist and general secretary of Associated Managements of Primary & Secondary Schools in Karnataka D Shashi Kumar told The Quint that food is a personal choice and the committee cannot force their suggestions on children. “The recommendations are completely unscientific, and serve only hidden purpose and is being done keeping in mind vegetarianism.”, he added.
The position paper also claims, changing diets of schoolchildren will lead to discrimination, as a few are vegetarians and others are non-vegetarians. By making these claims, the committee is seen as trying to snub the mindsets of children with diverse eating habits.
‘Google, Quora and a Study by Manchester University’ Are Sources of NEP’s Position Papers
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Karnataka NEP task force courted controversy defending the position papers written by different committees under aegis of the task force.
Justifying the claims made by position paper on Knowledge of India, Madan Gopal, tells The Quint:
"There are documentary evidences to suggest that contributions from India have benefited humanity. There are also discussions which are on-going about how Newton and Pythagoras borrowed a few ideas from Indic literatures. There are several papers written and research done on it and it can be found on Google, Quora and even in a study made by Manchester University."
Earlier, in 2021 the Karnataka government which had stopped giving eggs in mid-day meals, restarted serving eggs, following an increasing demand by nutritionists.
Despite opposition by their own party members, the BJP government in Karnataka took a U-turn and decided that eggs would be part of the mid-day meal in seven districts including Yadgir, Raichur, Bidar, Ballari, Kalaburagi, Koppal, and Vijaypura.
As of now, 13 states and three union territories have eggs on their mid-day meal menu, and the cost of it is born by the state. However, in the case of Karnataka, the cost of this scheme is being split by the Centre and the state governments in 60:40 ratio. The total expenditure of the mid-day meal scheme in the state is estimated to be Rs 3,900 lakhs per year.
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