'If you cannot feed the body of a child you cannot feed the brain': education and nutrition in late colonial Madras

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In 1925 the Madras Municipal Corporation introduced an innovative scheme to provide free midday meals for poor schoolchildren in the city. These meals were designed to both improve the physical health of the schoolchildren and contribute to their educational attainments. This paper examines the advice of nutritional experts at the Coonoor Centre for Nutritional Research and the new scientific emphasis on diet and malnutrition in South India. It then considers the debates among the corporation's elected councillors regarding the particular nutritional needs of the Indian schoolchild. These negotiations contributed to wider debates about nutrition and colonial science and reflected changing discourses surrounding the relationship between the state, experts and parents. Although the scheme was limited in funds and in scale, I suggest that the political commitment to feeding hungry children was a significant departure in the history of children and the Indian welfare state.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-151
Number of pages17
JournalSouth Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2021


  • history of children and childhood
  • colonial Science
  • South Asian history
  • history of nutrition

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