School education: Bengal

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Tiffin boxes

Vegetarian-versus-non-vegetarian tiffin boxes, 2018

Prithvijit Mitra & Somdatta Basu, As tiffin boxes feed veg-non-veg divide, schools issue diktat, December 17, 2018: The Times of India

A scrap amongst Class VI boys of a prominent central Kolkata school, which went viral for a few days on parents’ WhatsApp groups and forced the school to intervene, has brought to the fore the vegetarian-versus-non-vegetarian divide brewing in tiffin boxes and classrooms.

The row was sparked by a student sharing a chicken sandwich with some of his classmates, who were vegetarian, during the tiffin break. Others in the class roughed up this student, who claimed he did not know that his classmates were vegetarians. After the parents got involved, the school authorities had to issue a notice asking students not to share nonvegetarian food in class.

Although this school may have somehow managed to resolve the incident peacefully, school authorities across the city acknowledge that they have a problem on their hand. The debate on the contents of the tiffin box may have followed the wider vegetariannon-vegetarian social and political debate, say leading schools, forcing many of them to frame guidelines on food.

Some schools have explicitly asked students to avoid bringing non-vegetarian food to class, while others have avoided passing a stricture, choosing instead to prohibit consumption of meat, fish and eggs only within classrooms. The most reasonable appears to be the directive by some schools asking students to declare the contents of their tiffin box before sharing it with classmates.

A leading English-medium girls’ school near Park Circus, for example, has given out a list of suggested food items that students of junior classes can bring to campus. The list does not carry any non-vegetarian item, though the school insists that it is not forcing anything on students but merely suggesting something.

Students and parents, however, say carrying nonvegetarian food to school often evokes snide remarks and even bullying. That this problem has not had a resolution is clear from the school’s decision to stay off record while it tries to find a solution.

Don Bosco (Park Circus), too, does not allow non-vegetarian food till Class II. “Students of other classes are told to not share their food if it is not vegetarian. Students from Class VI onwards can buy food from the canteen,” Father Bikash Mondal, school principal, said. Food packets distributed by the school, during school events or celebrations, are strictly vegetarian, which is the practice followed by an overwhelming majority of other city schools. Ram Mohan Mission School, too, does not bar non-vegetarian stuff but sticks to vegetarian food for school programmes, says the school principal.

One of the city’s oldest Catholic girls’ schools in central Kolkata encourages students to have non-vegetarian food at the canteen rather than bring it from home. Another new-age school off E M Bypass-Rashbehari Connector has asked students to disclose the nature of the food they share with classmates. A parent says it has worked out well. Another school of the same group has asked parents to put stickers on tiffin boxes if they contain nonvegetarian food; it has also asked students bringing nonvegetarian food to move away from vegetarians before opening their lunch boxes.

Modern High School for Girls director Devi Kar believes supervision is necessary to prevent such controversies. Meanwhile, there are some, like The Heritage School, which forbid non-vegetarian food on campus but not because of any recent controversy. “We are a vegetarian school. We have a dietician and it is mandatory for students to have food from canteen,” Seema Sapru, school principal, said.

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