| Thank god Modi was a good boy and drank milk
New Delhi, Aug. 30: In Narendra Modi’s world, malnutrition is not so much a curse afflicting babies of the rural poor but a lifestyle choice exercised by young middle-class women starving to look good.
The Gujarat government was today forced to issue clarifications after its chief minister linked the high prevalence of malnutrition in his state with its vegetarian culture and its young women’s obsession with size zero.
An official release claimed the state had taken a “range of measures” to tackle malnutrition, such as hiking spending on rural health workers, modernising nutrition centres and monitoring the health of pregnant women.
In an interview to Wall Street Journal, Modi claimed Gujarat was the “first state” in India to “raise the issue of malnutrition”. He attributed the malady to the state’s largely vegan population and a middle class “more beauty conscious than health conscious”.
“If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they will have a fight. She will tell her mother, ‘I won’t drink milk, I’ll get fat’. They have money but she’s beauty-conscious, not health-conscious,” Modi said.
Among the main reasons for malnutrition in India are poverty, an inadequate food distribution programme, lack of health care facilities and poor breast-feeding practices, experts say. The worst affected are children under five, from rural areas and poor families, rather than teenaged urban middle-class girls. Malnutrition is more prevalent among girls and women mainly because of their low status in society.
But Modi reasoned: “These things are such that you see a sudden change in a child after the age of 13-14. They grow up so fast — from zero to 13, you don’t come to know how they got so big.”
He boasted that Gujarat would emerge as a “model” for nutrition management. Uncharacteristically, he added: “I can’t make any big claims because I don’t have a survey in front of me yet.”
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said Modi’s remarks reflected “ignorance and arrogance” and Union minister Ambika Soni dubbed them “childish and immature”. Soni said: “The women of Gujarat sacrifice everything and work hard to raise their families. Yet he says the women are not eating because they are beauty-conscious.”
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar pooh-poohed the criticism.