Mid-Day Meal

Chapati and Salt

Bhaskar Majumder

This writer had the idea that Mid Day Meal (MDM) for children in primary schools across regions in India that is Bharat is an innocuous programme of food for education. Food fed may lead ultimately to children acquiring education to be capacitated to get food. Thus, it was food for education and education for food—hence no trade off between food and education. But what finally appeared was bizarre. It was not denial—it was arrogance—absolute! The study zone was one district in Uttar Pradesh that of late is coming in news, both print and electronic, often for reasons understood as wrong by the concerned citizens of India.

Some research institutes in social sciences continued to assess the impact of the MDM programme—it seems their findings failed to make the administrative authority upset. This is not unnatural for the innocuous nature of many of these reports which accumulate dusts only over time. The episode is not about any report on MDM by any such research institute. It was about a local Journalist in the district of Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh. What the Journalist as mentioned in the media did was a serious offence—he not only penned the processes of serving MDM in a primary school but also photographed it. He did not stop there—he took video graph of the whole process of children taking food in the school sitting on the floor and circulated it. Sitting on the floor was not questioned by anybody for it was in India's tradition since time immemorial. What perturbed the district administration was the news that spread like fire that the underprivileged   children were provided "only" chapatti and salt. The administration could have maintained silence or could have used two words: 'so what?". Rather than doing that, it filed an FIR in police thanaagainst the over enthusiastic Journalist.

So, what was the problem? The children were nowhere competent to exercise their right to food. In fact, the video showed the Children smiling while taking meal—it is not sure if it was for the food that they felt privileged to have received or the rare opportunity to be photographed.

So how could it be a prestige issue for the district administration in UP? Was it because what was taken non-institutionally was being distributed institutionally now? Or, was it because of technology (photograph-video)? There is no denial of the fact that the district administration has the right to be concerned as it is concerned for the protection of the citizens that come under its jurisdiction. It could have been that the administration was caught on the wrong foot for some nefarious elements that remained engaged in maligning the administration. No, it is not about the Journalist. It is all about the invisible rent-seekers who survive on non-labour income/assets. The problem with the administration might have been that such a dish was not acceptable to it for being served among children independent of their economic status; in fact, children have no economic status!
The MDM served was also in a non comparative frame: the underprivileged children did not see the privileged children taking chocolates-ice cream-fruits as supplement of main meal. If it was not a cross-sectional problem, then was it in inter-temporal problem like the underprivileged children started getting chapatti-salt now while they were served previously chocolates-ice cream fruits? Did the chapatti-children complain to the Media or to the administration? Did the children exercise their right to food? Or, did they exercise my clause in human rights? None of these happened. This meant the action of the Journalist was unwarranted—he conspired, or perceived so by the competent administration, against the state—so was the FIR.

The positive point in the administration was, it did not deny the fact that chapatti-salt was served to the children many of who probably do not get two square meals a day at home. Empty stomach does not get ready to get education, be it at home or be it in school. So the continuity of the MDM programme is also unquestionable that aims to provide two most important security for the children, one, food security and two, education security. Each of food and education is required each day to make it so serious in private and public life.

In many disadvantaged corners of the country children take only one chapatti (not even salt) on a broken thali with a pet dog waiting nearby. In case the public institution became a replica of that private place minus the pet dog for a day only what was the harm? After all the chapatti was not reported to be junk! And the children hopefully were not suffering from high blood pressure to be advised by the medical practitioners to avoid salt.

For one thing a pigmy journalist stands nowhere vis-à-vis the omnipotent district administration. This is no reason why an FIR was lodged against that pigmy alleging that he undermined the state. A state is not undermined by the photograph of chapatti-children as opposed to children abused in a shelter home in a neighbouring state as allegedly discovered by a premier social science research institute recently. But then it arrogance—it was not the time of denial—it was absolute power that had to be displayed.

The Journalist videoed the episode of MDM. He could have circulated it by mobile phone / WhatsApp / Facebock following globalisation of culture beyond national geographic boundary. He could not fix which method would work better for his professional elevation. He probably violated "Chalta Hai" in UP. After all, news is made when a man bites a dog and not when a dog bites a man. Also adventure of journalists includes aborted adventure and misadventure also just like order includes disorder. The district administration got adamant to go against the journalist to the extend of lodging FIR against him for such news. After all, the man did not bite the dog.

P. S.: The Press Council of India has expressed concern for the news!

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Vol. 52, No. 12, Sep 22 - 28, 2019