The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani and Homeopathy (Ayush) has some suggestions for pregnant women. Besides asking them to detach “themselves from desire, anger, attachment and lust, and hang beautiful pictures on the wall,” the ministry recommends that mothers-to-be shun non-vegetarian food.
These pious tips are part of Ayush’s booklet Mother and Child Care. Ayush minister, Shripad Yesso Naik, who released the booklet, claims that the booklet “puts together relevant facts culled out from clinical practice in the fields of yoga and naturopathy and contains wisdom accumulated over many centuries of yogic practice”. But Mother and Child Care’s sermons on abjuring non-vegetarian food betray a lack of seriousness about the nutritional requirements of mothers-to-be.
Report after report of the National Family Health Survey has pointed out that more than 50 per cent of expecting mothers in the country suffer from anaemia and around 50 per cent of such women suffer from malnutrition. Nutrition deprivation among pregnant women, it is now well-known, perpetuates an inter-generational cycle of such deprivation in children. There is also a vast body of literature on the dietary needs of pregnant women. The guidelines of the National Institute of Health and Nutrition, for example, recommend a diet rich in folic acid, calcium, iodine and protein. While nutritionists might differ on whether plant foods deliver these nutrients as effectively as meat, fish and eggs, the pertinence of non-vegetarian foods for mothers-to-be has never been in question. Mother and Child Care does not even make a pretense of joining this debate.
It slots non-vegetarian food in a list of avoidable eatables and beverages that include “refined flour, fried items, coffee, sugar and garam masala”, but says nothing about how these diet tips could help deal with nutritional deficiencies in pregnant women. The Ayush booklet’s omission stems from the government body taking a highly moralistic approach to what is essentially a health issue.
Ayush got a facelift under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Earlier, a department under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the independent ministry is now a lynchpin in the government’s plan to revive the country’s indigenous medicine systems. It was hoped that under Ayush, such systems of medicine would contribute to addressing some of the pressing medical issues in the country, including maternal malnutrition. But going by Ayush’s tips to pregnant women, it seems that the ministry is nowhere close to fulfilling that vision.