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The Wire does it again: Twists PM Modi’s statement on nutrition programs to claim he said bhajans reduce the burden of malnutrition

The report authored by Pankaj Kumar Mishra, asserted that the way PM Modi talked about a community program in Madhya Pradesh where people gather, collect grains and distribute cooked food was not the right way

On August 30, The Wire published a report titled ‘Dear PM Modi: Good Food Will Reduce the Burden of Malnutrition, Not Bhajans’ where the media house criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi for saying that “Bhajans can play role in controlling the problem of malnutrition”.

The Wire opened its report with “In the 92nd episode of his ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio programme on August 28, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of the ‘Mera Bachha’ campaign and about celebrating ‘Poshan Maah’ – the cause of good nutrition – in September. He also said that conducting bhajans and singing devotional songs can help reduce the burden of malnutrition.”

Excerpt from The Wire report.

The report further reads, “Many scholars and scientists have often criticized Prime Minister Modi for his irrational claims on many occasions. Reminiscent of his “taali, thali and Diwali” campaign as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining strength, Modi’s comment on bhajans only distracts from the dire importance of effective public health measures – even as the rate of improvement of some important indicators have slid in his time at the helm.”

Excerpt from The Wire report.

The report authored by Pankaj Kumar Mishra, asserted that the way PM Modi talked about a community program in Madhya Pradesh where people gather, collect grains and distribute cooked food was not the right way, as he mentioned “Bhajan-Kirtan” and diverted the attention from the matter. “This is counterproductive,” the author suggested.

Complete distortion of PM Modi’s statement on malnutrition

First of all, neither Taali, Thaali, and Diwali campaigns were to gain strength, nor Bhajan-Kirtan have to do anything with managing malnutrition. The covid campaign was to encourage and appreciate the frontline health workers, and it also gave a sense of unity among the people of India that the author completely missed for some reason.

Now coming to the Bhajan-Kirtan portion of the monologue, it appears that the author either did not listen to PM Modi’s speech, or he just decided to interpret what he meant without actually understanding the culture, traditions, and rituals that revolve around different communities in India.

What did PM Modi say?

At around 12 minutes into his Mann Ki Baat monologue, PM Modi talks about steps taken by the Bongaigaon administration in Assam under Project Sampoorna in a unique way. Under this program, one woman, who is a mother of a well-nourished child, meets the mother of a child who is malnourished and explains the importance of nutrition as a friend. With this program, over 90% of children are out of malnutrition.

PM Modi then moves on to Datia village in Madhya Pradesh. PM Modi said that under the “Mera Bachha Abhiyaan”, bhajan-kirtans (Hindu gatherings where devotional songs for Hindu gods and goddesses) were held in the districts. In such bhajan-kirtans, teachers were called in as nutrition gurus. Under the ‘Matka’ program, women would bring a handful of grains to the Anganwadi centre, and with all these grains, a ‘Balbhoj’ is organized on Saturdays. This not only increased the attendance of children in Anganwadis but also showed a dip in malnutrition.

Similarly, a unique campaign is underway in Giridih in Jharkhand, where children are taught about good and bad habits of nutrition via a game of snakes and ladders.

Does he say Bhajan-Kirtan reduces the burden of malnutrition? No. He very clearly did not. It is very easy to listen to his Mann Ki Baat episode as it is widely available on YouTube even if you miss its broadcast. If the person is not well-versed in Hindi, the English version was published on the same day by the Press Bureau of India (PIB) as it always does.

Excerpt from English render of Mann Ki Baat episode 92. Source: PIB

He said, “Can you imagine whether song and music and bhajans can also be used to remove malnutrition? It was successfully used in the “Mera Bachha Campaign” in the Datia district of Madhya Pradesh. Under this, bhajan-kirtans were organized in the district, in which teachers as nutrition gurus were called. A Matka program was also held, in which women bring a handful of grains to the Anganwadi centre, and with this grain, a ‘Balbhoj’ is organized on Saturdays. Besides this increase in the attendance of children in Anganwadi centres, malnutrition has also shown a dip. A unique campaign is also going on in Jharkhand to increase awareness about malnutrition. A snake-ladder game has been prepared in Giridih, Jharkhand. Through play, children learn about good and bad habits.”

Upon carefully reading and listening to what he said, it is clear that PM Modi mentioned that the program organized in Datia district not only brought people together and helped them in learning about malnutrition, but the attendance of children in Anganwadi centres also increased, that showed a dip in malnutrition. Bhajan-Kirtan was only a way to bring people together.

If we go by The Wire’s author’s logic, the food distribution drives and charity concerts organized by prominent personalities to tackle different world problems will also be “diverting the attention from the real problem”. There are a lot of traditions, cultures, and rituals followed by different communities in India that have a deeper meaning. Food distribution among the needy is one of the most auspicious ways of ‘daan’ in Sanatan Dharma. Doing Bhajan-Kirtan followed by food distribution has been happening for centuries in India, and if it can help in drawing children towards Anganwadi centres where they get a diet as per experts’ recommendations, what is the harm?

Just because Bhajan-Kirtan is a “Hindu” thing, is it being attacked? Will the author say the same for Langar that Sikh communities organize after religious ceremonies? Or would he suggest the same for food distribution programs organized by churches after the Sunday Mass? The questions, in our opinion, will remain unanswered.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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