Another day, another ridiculous bit of advice from our officials. The booklet ‘Mother & Child Care Through Yoga and Naturopathy’ distributed by the Ministry of Ayush recommends that pregnant women avoid eating meat and eggs, stay away from bad company, hang ‘good and beautiful pictures’ on the wall, spend their time reading the ‘life history of great personalities’ and ‘be with good people in stable and peaceful condition’ and ‘detach themselves from desire, anger, attachment, hateredness (sic) and lust’.
For now let’s set aside the wisdom of anyone at all taking advice from a publication that contains the word ‘hateredness’ and let’s ask some serious questions about this advice.
How will these good and beautiful pictures have the desired ‘good effect’ on the foetus who can’t see anything beyond the amniotic sac?
Do we have a list of acceptable great personalities that whose biographies could prove to be edifying reading for pregnant women?
What’s a woman dealing with pregnancy hormones to do when she gets angry? Or tired? Or feels intense desire (be it for spoons full or pickle and other food craving, or for her husband)? How does she detach?
And, here’s the most important one: how dare anyone tell pregnant women to avoid meat and eggs just at the very time they need an increased intake of protein and iron? The best source for dietary protein and iron is meat, especially for people used to a non-vegetarian diet. Let’s not forget that India is a country where the majority are non-vegetarian (yes, you heard me right – more than 70% of Indians are meat eaters). Should we wonder why India has the third highest percentage of low birth weight newborns in the world at 28%, a figure that UNICEF cautions might even be higher due to poor reporting? Should we stop and consider that the direct causes of low birth weight is poor nutrition during pregnancy and dropping meat from the pregnant woman’s diet will only make the problem worse?
And what is hateredness?
You won’t hear me disputing the fact that Yoga, ayurveda and other traditional practices have much to offer us in our modern world. You won’t hear me advocating that everyone should be eating meat. You also won’t hear me telling the government to stay away from the business of giving advice. I do however have an issue when that advice is wrong, even harmful. And when the underlying tone is that sanskriti is superior to science.
I’m old enough to remember the international patent battle over neem. In 1995, soon after the European Patent Office granted a private American firm a patent to produce a fungicide from the neem plant, India woke up and began the serious task of protecting its ancient, indigenous knowledge. And rightly so. Traditional remedies go back centuries as does our knowledge of how to use them, argued India as we won the David vs Goliath battle in 2005 and the patent was revoked. The very fact that this patent was issued in the first place gave us a new respect for traditional knowledge and home remedies that were in danger of being supplanted by chemical pharmaceuticals.
And thus began the resurgence of naturopathy, and all the traditional fields that came under this umbrella: ayurveda, homepathy, unani, siddhi, yoga and more. India flung itself into a research and development in this field with a pride that bordered on chauvinism. 1995 saw the establishment of the Department of Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy, which, under the current administration, was elevated to a ministry – the Ministry of AYUSH. Now, with the seal of ministry approval, we have a situation where mansplaining meets babusplaining, and a new level of bizarre is born.
Onward and upward India. The new dark ages await.