NEW DELHI – India’s government is advising pregnant women to avoid all meat, eggs and lustful thoughts.
Doctors say the advice is preposterous, and even dangerous, considering India’s already poor record with maternal health. Women are often the last to eat or receive healthcare in traditionally patriarchal Indian households.
The government booklet, titled Mother and Child Care, smacked of religious dogma and ignored widely accepted medical evidence that pregnant women benefit from eating protein-rich meats and can safely engage in sex, doctors said.
It says pregnant women should also shun “impure thoughts” and look at pictures of beautiful babies to benefit the foetus.
“Pregnant women should detach themselves from desire, anger, attachment, hatred and lust,” reads the booklet, released last week by the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy, a part of the government’s ministry that promotes traditional and alternative medicine.
“The booklet puts together relevant facts culled out from clinical practice in the fields of yoga and naturopathy,” Minister Shripad Naik said.
It is the latest push for vegetarianism by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government, which already advocates avoiding beef and strictly limits the transportation and slaughter of cows, which are considered sacred by Hindus.
But the latest homily to pregnant women has outraged the medical community.
“This is a national shame. If the calories of expectant mothers are further reduced by asking them to shun meat and eggs, this situation will only worsen,” Gadre said. “This is absurd advice to be giving to pregnant women in a country like India.”
About a third of India’s 1.3 billion people live on less than $2 a day. Many are lucky to eat more than one full meal a day, and women often give their portions up to their hungry children or husbands.
Malnourished women are more likely to give birth to underweight babies, who then are in danger of being “stunted” or not growing to their full height and weight. A full 48% of all Indian children under the age of five are considered stunted, according to a 2015 report by Unicef.
“Undernourished girls grow into undernourished women. Married by their families while still in their teens, these girls become pregnant by the time they are 17 or 18, when their bodies have not matured enough to safely deliver a child,” said Amit Sengupta, a physician and health care activist with the Delhi Science Forum, a public advocacy organisation.
He said the government’s advice to pregnant women betrayed “backward thinking” and hostility toward evidence-based science.
“This kind of advice is detrimental to women’s health,” he said.