Mumbai- In November of the preceding year, the education department in Maharashtra disclosed its intention to augment the nutritional content of midday meals in government schools. The initiative proposed the inclusion of bananas (or locally available fruits) for vegetarian students and eggs for their non-vegetarian counterparts.
To facilitate the smooth distribution of these additional items under the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti scheme, the state recommended a distinctive identification system. According to a recent circular issued for the systematic execution of this plan, students' identity cards are to bear either a visible green dot, indicating a vegetarian preference, or a red dot, signifying a non-vegetarian inclination.
However, this decision has ignited criticism within the education sector, with educators deeming it an "unnecessary classification." The circular directs school management committees to undertake the necessary measures for implementing this identification system. The rationale behind the color-coded dots is to streamline the distribution process of eggs or bananas in accordance with the dietary preferences of students.
Critics argue that such categorization is unwarranted, considering the diverse cultural backgrounds prevalent in society.
They question whether students with a red dot, indicating consent for egg consumption, might be compelled to adhere to it even on days they abstain from non-vegetarian food. Teachers assert that the required information could be maintained in the school's register without the need for individual student identification.
Spokesperson for Maharashtra School Principals Association, Mahendra Ganapule, said, “In order to make adequate and effective arrangements, there are ways to make such information available in the school’s register. There is no need for children to wear it on their identity cards.”
Moreover, concerns have been raised about the potential societal implications of creating distinctions among young children based on their dietary choices. Some educators argue that the classification could lead to the formation of new groups, potentially fostering division among students.
In addition to the identification system, the circular clarified certain points related to the introduction of extra items in midday meals. Notably, schools where 40% of students express a preference for bananas will not be served eggs.
Critics question the definition of "majority" in this context, emphasizing that forcing all children to have bananas if 40% vote for it is an arbitrary measure. The Indian Express report quotes educationist Kishor Darak, who said, “This is an absurd definition of majority. The circular forces all children to have bananas if 40 per cent vote for it. But it doesn’t given any choice to schools receiving midday meals from organisations known to spread vegetarianism through meals that don’t have onions and garlic.”
The circular also outlines the selection of organizations like the ISKCON-run Annamrut Foundation and Akshayapatra to provide bananas in urban schools, while self-help groups in semi-urban and rural areas will cater to additional items in meals. Overall, the directive has sparked debates and concerns regarding its practicality and potential social implications.