Well-meaning simple-mindedness is a hallmark of many Indian politicians. Trouble begins when that reflects in official stances. In one such instance, the government-funded Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy (CCRYN) has a report on what pregnant women should and shouldn’t do that talks of, among other things, the need to detach your pregnant self from lust and desire. The booklet has some advice on the appropriate diet as well—non-vegetarian food proscribed—as well. Though this is against sound medical advice—doctors, in fact, recommend a protein-rich diet during pregnancy—it is the transition from dietary advice to subtle morality-minding that would make you take the recommendations with a pinch of salt. Highlighting what women should and shouldn’t eat is still acceptable, but CCRYN also suggests that women must keep thoughts strictly spiritual, read the life history of great personalities and detach themselves from anger and desire. Though some of it intuitively may make sense—for instance, anger does have a bearing on one’s health—most of the recommendations are scientifically unsubstantiated. The government has now issued a clarification, stating these are just suggestions and need to be taken in the right perspective.
More than the moral misgivings of the government, what is problematic is the view that women follow strict norms of what’s acceptable. While a lot of political parties are fighting for empowering women by according them reservation in decision-making—Punjab has just announced a 50% quota for women in civic bodies—there is a need for reforming the mindset as well. Quotas won’t help women as long as the thinking that leads to morality-minding of the CCRYN kind exists. As for the recommendations, hopefully, CCRYN brings out another set, for fathers-to-be, since their demeanour is likely to affect the pregnancy as well, by affecting the expecting mothers’.