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The campaign against Akshaya Patra: Fuelled more by morbid bigotry and vested interests than concerns for children welfare?

Are we going to risk the future of our children by scrapping an extremely successful service that benefits a great many children without any solid evidence merely because of some objections fueled by bigotry and vested interests?

The Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF) is under attack again from motivated activists for its mid-day meals. Recently, ‘Experts’ wrote an open letter to the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) demanding that they withdraw the compliance certificate that was awarded to the APF after their technical opinion on the matter was sought by the Karnataka government.

About three weeks after the open letter, a report was published on The Hindu by Archana Nathan where the argument was made that children are not eating the food provided by the APF because it was too bland. It also relied on a report by the Karnataka State Food Commission (KSFC) which claimed that children were not eating as much as they should because they did not find it tasty enough.

How the KSFC came to that conclusion is not said, nor is it said if the KSFC conducted or pitched the idea for any comparative study to ascertain the level of food consumption by children in mid-day meals across the country. Before the APF is dragged through the mud, due diligence ought to have been observed to produce some manner of evidence to suggest that schools, where mid-day meals were not provided by the APF, performed better in this regard.

No evidence appears to have been provided either to suggest that children in schools were APF provides food suffer disproportionately from malnutrition. It is not clear if they suffer from malnutrition at all. Therefore, under such circumstances, the stubborn insistence to serve food that goes against the ethics of APF seems rather mystifying and bewildering.

One person on which The Hindu relied on for its report is Dr. Sylvia Karpagam, an activist associated with the Right to Food campaign, which has numerous foreign funded NGOs working under its banner as well. “They don’t like the food,” she said. “You can bring bowlfuls of something I’ve never eaten in my life and tell me it is really healthy for me, but I’m not going to eat it. It is human behaviour. You need to like the smell, the taste, you need to want to eat it. What’s happening is that because they’re so hungry, the children are eating a bit, but definitely not to a full stomach. Isn’t the entire objective of the mid-day meal scheme then just lost?”

The only problem with Karpagam’s claims is that she makes vast generalizations that appear true on the surface but does not stand the test of scrutiny. She makes the claim that children are being forced to eat because they are hungry and they never eat to a full stomach as the food is bland but any parent can confirm, children would hardly ever finish their food if left to their own devices.

Perhaps, a greater responsibility ought to be placed on school authorities to ensure that children finish the content on their plate. In real life situations, multiple factors are at play, to singularly blame the lack of onions and garlic alone for children not finishing their food, and even that has not been conclusively proven yet, will take an extraordinary deal of evidence even the minutest portion of which hasn’t been produced thus far yet.

Karpagam, herself, got some deeply problematic opinions and it’s unclear the extent to which her opinions are being influenced by her thinly-veiled bigotry. Her tweets and the kind of tweets she retweets are enough evidence of her inherent bigotry.

In the past, Karpagam has also written an article where she claimed that Brahmins obstruct India’s development. In the article, she wrote, “Brahmin doctors mislead patients about nutrition, promoting vegetarianism in spite of all scientific knowledge and medical guidelines pointing to the contrary.”

Karpagam also states that Brahmins have created “havoc” in the field of nutrition. She says that Brahmin nutritionists drink cow urine. Apart from Brahmin doctors and nutritionists, Karpagam has problems with Brahmins in bureaucracy, education and academia, research, feminism, literature, media, judiciary, civil society, banking, economics, politics, industry, basically in every field under the sun. The entire article is a virulent spectacle of anti-Brahmin bigotry and resembles the kind of propaganda that was run against Jews in Nazi Germany.

That the opinions of such bigots are treated so respectably in mainstream media is a grave cause for concern. It appears quite obvious that Karpagam’s tirade against Akshaya Patra is motivated by a virulent hatred for the Brahmin community and a desire to uproot ‘Brahmin hegemony’. In her mind, APF is a Brahminical organization despite the fact that it is an arm of ISKCON which is a Vaishnavite sect. Therefore, the mid-day meals must be opposed at all costs.

The campaign she is associated with, too, appears to have vested interests. The campaign against APF has been engineered by the Right to Food Campaign which represents a very specific section of ‘civil society’. This section receives funding from Christian organizations abroad, from George Soros’ Open Society Institute which has a very controversial record and has intimate links to ‘Urban Naxals’ and separatists.

An organization in the steering group of RFC receives huge funds from the same organizations that donated huge sums of money to another organization that published a report demonizing the Amarnath Yatra. Under such circumstances. the attack on Akshaya Patra appears to be part of the nefarious agenda of these ‘civil society’ organizations.

The opinions of Umashankar S.R., principal secretary of education in Karnataka, comes as a breath of fresh air in the otherwise motivated The Hindu report. He is quoted as saying, “NIN has said that APF meets the nutrition standards, so why should we cancel the contract with APF? Except for this one small reason (the refusal to use onion and garlic), there are a lot of advantages for the government to continue its contract with ISKCON. They provide hygienic meals and cater to a large group of children in the state as well as in the country. We aren’t delving into philosophical and religious issues. And we cannot punish them unnecessarily for somebody’s objections.”

“Who is going to serve such a huge number of children if we cancel this contract?” he said. “There are logistical issues; overnight, we cannot build kitchens and hire cooks. The administration cannot function on the basis of philosophical arguments. I’ve told these activists directly — they have their heads in the clouds. I live on earth.”

On one hand, we have activists motivated by vested interests and quite blatant bigotry. On the other hand, we have an institution which runs a very efficient mid-day meal scheme serving lakhs of children. On one hand, we have logistical issues that are very efficiently handled by APF, on the other hand, we have objections which are quite ostensibly motivated by bigotry. The question at the heart of the matter is, are we going to risk the future of our children by scrapping an extremely successful service that benefits a great many children without any solid evidence merely because of some objections fueled by bigotry and vested interests?

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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