August 1 to 7 is observed as World Breastfeeding Week. One of the United Nation’s important bodies such as the United Nations’ Children Fund endorses the observation. It says the week is to highlight the vital role of breastfeeding that it plays in the lives of children and the critical importance of promoting the value of breastfeeding globally, nationally, and at the community level. This year’s theme is: ‘Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal – for Life. It is also linked with one of the eight Millennium Development Goals to be achieved. Though there has been criticism against the MGDs from various social commentators and planners, that there is lack of analysis and justification behind the chosen objectives. Criticism apart, the importance of breastfeeding needs to be acknowledged universally. As goes the popular Manipuri modern song ‘Khomlaang laman singngamloi nungi – minungshi chaobi – he ema’, its loose translation would be: ‘The debt for the milk you nourished us – will remain forever – Mother kindhearted’. The lyric of this song is from B Jayantakumar Sharma, written with patriotic fervor; it heightens one’s love for motherland. N Pahari by giving voice to the lyrics has immortalised the song. The denotation of mother’s milk in this song has its centrality with the bond that is shared between mother and child, or a patriot with his or her motherland. It reflects how entrenched is the impression of mother’s milk both in the personal and social psyche. When a child is born in the Leikai, a lactating mother would always volunteer to breastfeed the newborn, while the mother takes her time to regain strength after the delivery. This was a common social practice among the Meitei community not so long time ago. But now the practice has been replaced by bottled milk powder. Doctors normally advise to feed the baby with the milk powder until the mother’s recovery. At the same time they strictly advise young mothers to ensure feeding the baby with colostrum milk, which is invaluable to the newborn in warding off diseases.
As part of the global observation, the week is also being observed in Manipur. Having witnessed some of the observations that have been taking place this week, it would not be wrong to say that most of the observations have been predictably ceremonial. It usually goes with a formal function, with some speeches from the dignitaries seated on the dais. Followed by media coverage of the event on the following day, the speeches will be more or less highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding and the significance of the week-long observation etc. This has been the practice for other observations like the environment day, wet land day, population day or the fire service week for that matter. In place of the ceremonial one, what are badly needed are concrete policies and actions in respect to the issues in focus. The annual observation should be a day of assessment, of the related actions that were taken out during the 365 days. Breastfeeding week, particularly for the State would be to assess the working atmosphere of the lactating mothers. For instance, it is mandatory to have lactating rooms in all public buildings, whether cinema halls or auditoriums in other advanced countries. A study on the dietary habit of the State is also a must. Consumption of tobacco has phenomenally increased in the State. Tobacco (Zarda Pan) is being consumed widely by a large section of the population, which include pregnant and lactating women. Studies have shown that tobacco has adverse effect on the baby’s health. Women who are engaged in informal sectors are often vulnerable to inimical working atmosphere. We often witness lactating mothers street vending with their children. In fact, women are a major chunk of the informal work force in Manipur. These are some of the issues that are needed to be addressed, rather than rhetoricising the glory of Manipuri women and motherhood on a week-long observation of breastfeeding. Let us score the real winning goal.
Leader Writer: Senate Kh