What meals can do to the society at large ? let’s see….
“Education lays the foundation for the development of a society and hunger becomes an impediment to learning”.
We will have to delve into the past history which have become archaic and dusty for some time now. In the year 1920, two years after Sri. Rangaswami Aiyangar had begun a lunch programme for students of the Hindu Theological School, where the then Justice Party’s Sri Sundar Rao Naidu introduced the free breakfast to pupils in a Corporation Preparatory School in Thousand Lights, Madras. Extended to four other schools by 1925, the paucity of funds saw an end to the avant-garde meal scheme which led to consequential drop-outs in school enrolment.
Later on 17th July 1956, the then Chief Minister Sri Kamaraj introduced the Midday Meal Programme in Ettayapuram, Thirunelveli District. The scheme was gradually expanded where by between 1962-63 27,256schools were benefitted out of the state’s total no. of 28,005 aided or government-run schools.Sri. Kamaraj strived to eradicate illiteracy by introducing free and compulsory education up to the eleventh standard. He introduced the Midday Meal Scheme to provide at least one meal per day to the large number of poor school children.
Later the yesteryear people’s popular leader Sri. Marudur Gopalan Ramachandran (MGR), who in his long political career, as narrated by P Kannan about MGR’s biography traces his life from his poverty-ridden years, where he was a class III drop out, who later rose as a matinee idol before becoming a politician of immense repute. This scheme was an outcome of his experience of extreme starvation at an age where he knew only to cry when he was hungry as reminisced by him. Had it not been for the most magnanimous neighbour who offered them a bowl of rice gruel where his mother, siblings, were already starving for three days together, this rice gruel only that kept them alive from the cruel hand of death.
Hailing from such a downtrodden background, On 1st of July, 1982, MGR joined the children of Pappakurichi village in Trichy District, for lunch, to inaugurate the now celebrated Midday Nutritious Meal Scheme. Then the meal programme initially covered 56.9 lakh rural school children, providing them a meal of about 400 calories a day. The main objective of the programme was to emphasize on education along with nutrition. Under this programme free hot cooked nutritious meals are being provided to children in Government, Government aided, Special Training Centres, Madrasas, Maktabs (means of mass education in Islamic world) supported under Sarva Shiksha Abiyan and also in special schools functioning under National Child Labour programme.
This programme was extended to the urban areas from September 1982, covering in all over 52000 centres, including 31000 schools, it took the number of beneficiaries up to 65.7 lakh children. It’s because of this scheme employment was provided to 1,80,119 persons out of which 1,58,387 were destitute women. The cost of this programme was estimated at Rs.133 crore per annum. Not only this, attendance at primary schools were expected to go up to 96.2% among the age group between 6-11 and 66.03% in the age group 11-14 years. To this day the scheme continues with eggs and milk added to the school children.
This being said on one side, the “PIDI ARISI THITTAM”, On March 10th, 1966, Sri. Kanchi Periyava Sri. Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi Swamigal started this thittam or scheme, where every household sets apart just a handful of rice every day and this will be collected by a Central Agency once a week, cooked in temples, offered as neivedyam to the deity and then distributed to the poor and needy. This was predominantly consumed by the really starving downtrodden people who don’t even get to see one square meal a day.
In the real scenario, where the Government schools were losing out on the numbers of students getting enrolled every year, byjoining private schools at an exorbitant fees structure, owing to lack of amenities and facilities available. Now the Government schools have been given a total makeover by having air-conditioned class rooms, better water, toilet facilities, spotless kitchens with healthy food, good play area, to make more students come back to Government schools and this year in particular has seen a sea-change migration of over one lakh students from private schools.
This has been recorded, in 2018-2019class I 3.93 lakh 2019-2020 class II 4.16 lakh 23,032 students came from private schools, for class III the increase this year was by 30,774, in class IV increase was by 27,868 and class V the increase was by 23,859. The increase in total has been deduced the strength in these classes rose by more than one lakh over last year. It is said in the year 2018-2019, more than two lakhs students migrated from government schools to private schools. This sudden change is owing to the exorbitant fees charged by the private schools and the parents of those children are engaged in menial jobs and are not able to afford the cost of education. Now this would mean more students would have mid-day meals which in turn can employ more people.
When such meals at provided at schools and in the society, there would be more students coming to schools who cannot even have a meal a day and can get educated at the same time. Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.Education is the only means that can eradicate poverty, create employment, change the lives of the downtrodden people. This makes the children go to school at least they can get a meal a day and they are not able to afford the private school fees, for this reason the Mid-Day Meals scheme is most relevant.
The past schemes were narrated so that we get to know the initiatives taken by political and religious leaders who hadprophesied that,unless and until the hunger pangs of the people be it children at school levels, youngsters, elders be addressed to, crime in the society would go up. At school going age if the child is not sent to school, then he would be sent to do menial work, for lack of education. Because of the stringent rules towards child labour, with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which represents the consequential legislation envisaged under Article 21-A, means that every child has a right to full time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality in a formal school which satisfies certain essential norms and standards.
Article 21-A and the RTE Act came into effect on 1 April 2010. The title of the RTE Act incorporates the words ‘free and compulsory’. ‘Free education’ means that no child, other than a child who has been admitted by his or her parents to a school which is not supported by the appropriate Government, shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education. ‘Compulsory education’ casts an obligation on the appropriate Government and local authorities to provide and ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children in the 6-14 age group. With this, India has moved forward to a rights based framework that casts a legal obligation on the Central and State Governments to implement this fundamental child right as enshrined in the Article 21A of the Constitution, in accordance with the provisions of the RTE Act. The child will not be pushed to work at a tender age.
This in turn, can be viewed that soothsayers predictions have turned out to be true because, when the hunger pangs are addressed to, the crime in the society will come down. With the mid-day meals being given, education being imparted at lesser cost, all that it needs is, with the improvisation in Government Schools would certainly enhance the strength of students every academic year. The children would look forward to coming to school as they get to eat a meal a day, study, have a better future. The day to day functioning of this scheme also depends on the quality of the food given, the hygienic way it is being prepared, the reach of these food on time from a centralised place of cooking and distribution of food to the nearby schools, the mobility of the same have to be considered too.
Foreseeing that the crime would increase if the education and meals are not given at the right age and time our religious gurus, political leaders have time and again re-introduced this MID-DAY MEALS scheme. This not only applies to children who would have been forced into child labour, but also youngsters and elders who would resort to crime for lack of education, no means of earning, the easiest way out for making money would be to resort to illegal, immoral and criminal activities. EDUCATION is the only solution to bring the change in the society for betterment of people who are poor and downtrodden and who wants to come out of the state they live in.
POVERTY IS THE PARENT OF REVOLUTION AND CRIME, FOR WHICH FREE EDUCATION SHOULD BE IMPARTED TO ONE AND ALL WHO CANNOT AFFORD IT AND WHERE NUTRITIOUS MEALS ARE ALSO PROVIDED FOR THEIR SUSTENANCE !
VIJAYASHREE RAMESH, ADVOCATE & SOCIAL ACTIVIST