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IIT Non-Veg Food Issue: Why The Demand For ‘Veg Only’ Spaces Is Dangerous

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By Abul Kalam Azad:

It was a sultry afternoon. Hunger snored in my stomach like an unwelcome guest. For some reason, beef was on my mind. While I was lamenting the lightness of my pockets restricting my access to tasty food, a slew of news articles with the buzz words which inspire an uncritical respect in any middle and above class Indians, IIT and IIM, appeared on the web. The last time they were in the limelight, as far as I can remember, is when this extremely problematic matrimonial website (iitiimshaadi.com) that boasted of its attempts to segregate students of elite colleges from the normal marital market and help render their marital transactions with much ease, was in news. This time around, it was for a different kind of segregation, one based on your choice of food. A letter was written to the HRD ministry by a group of concerned citizens, some associated with the RSS, expressing their dismay at the influence the students consuming non-vegetarian food, and thus, for some miraculous reason, promoting ‘western culture’, exert on these purer species of vegetarians, hence making them vulnerable to the attack of ‘tamasic’ (dark and unrighteous) characteristics. This was forwarded to all the concerned institutes requesting the heads of the institutes to apprise it with the action taken by them on the demand”.

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At this point, I would like to narrate a small anecdote from my life. My first crush, which happened when I was in 5th standard, was on a pretty girl from the 6th standard, belonging to an upper caste hindu family who were devout vegetarians (I can hear echoes of ‘love jihad’, but for the moment I will ignore them). And that was the time, in order to impress, I began hinduizing (to be more accurate, brahminizing) myself. I went to temples with her, and looked at the sky for any tremors when I courageously smeared red teeka on my forehead. I lied to her family that I hate non-vegetarian food. I still vividly remember the words of delight, laden with amusement, that they used to confer on my blushing being. Now, in retrospect, I just inverted their delight to ponder upon the disgust they must be feeling at a typical non-vegetarian muslim, and the kind of segregation they must have wished from such filthy ‘tamasic’ creatures, given the kind of religious devotion and significance they exhibit towards the food choices of people. Don’t ask me what happened with the affair. Besides the point.

The letter betrays the vicious intolerance that is insidiously creeping and intensifying its foundations all across the nation. The self-righteous claims of non-vegetarian food being a proponent of western culture is better discarded in the dump, without any sweat spent on refuting it. Not long ago, even brahmins, the purest proponents of ‘Indian culture’, used to savor beef, before they decided to become purer. The bigoted analysis linking non vegetarian food to the rise of crimes is nonsensical and has no rational basis for the claim. Attributing ‘tamasic’( dark and unrighteous) characteristics to non-vegetarian food, which a majority of Indians consume, is basically saying India is a country of unrighteous dangerous creatures. The notions of purity and pollution invoked is typical of the caste Hindu discourse that stigmatizes anything non-brahminical as dirty and dangerous, the proud posterity of their casteist ancestors.

For all their ‘tamasic’ rhetoric, one would expect these pure unpolluted vegetarian folks to be more tolerant and respectful (that is, more ‘Satvic’). But, evidently, they belong to one of the most intolerant communities in the country. Not surprising, though, given most of them are born into vegetarianism by way of caste. Vegetarianism in India, for the most part, is caste lines drawn out on our plates and food. What provokes this intolerance if not the castiest religious injunctions related to the consumption of such food? How many vegetarians, by choice and not by caste, take offence with such violent righteousness and oppressive cultural assertion at the sight of non-vegetarian food?

I see this effort in the larger context of intensified food fascism that is spreading tentacles tightly across the throats of the throttled ever since the new government came to power. The chauvinist gau-raksha dals propping up everywhere, with members who look like gym instructors out of jobs, who stigmatize and attack particularly beef-eating and selling muslims, are also pawns in this larger scheme of intolerance and bigotry.

However, the most disturbing thing is not the content of the letter per se, but the uncritical approval of the HRD ministry for this clearly deranged letter and their thinly veiled order to the institute authorities to take action. And we wonder, where do the bigots and cultural chauvinists like the aforementioned petitioners derive their strength and sanction from?

This is not to say that it suddenly disturbs the blissfully tolerant atmosphere of these institutes. Such food censorship and cultural hegemony operate subtly in these elite institutes, run almost exclusively by upper caste authorities. There are some IITs which already have separate messes for vegetarian students. This repugnance towards people and cultures deviating from the brahminical norm is, by no means, a new phenomenon. It exists everywhere, in our schools, colleges, canteens, neighborhoods, offices, progressive newspapers, every single conceivable space in the sub-continent is infected with these casteist and communal notions. This whole hullabaloo is just an indication as to which direction the polity in this country is gleefully cruising towards. The fervor and ease with which all the subtler forms of hatred are becoming more blatant and pronounced is disturbing.

One could only hope that this blatant act of bigotry would wake us up from our convenient slumber of nurtured apathy and ponder over both the implicit and explicit ways in which these casteist and communal notions of purity, culture, and food choices are reinforced in our private and public spaces.

Maybe, at some distant point in the future, a 5th standard boy need not hide his food inclinations for impressing the family of his 6th standard crush.

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  1. irate_pirate

    I agree. The sentence ” i am a pure vegetarian” is said in India with a sense of superiority. In the rest of the world it is looked upon with the same sense of disdain as ” I am a hippie”. This results in rather comic situations when they go abroad. Imagine their horror when their “superior” habits are actually looked down upon. And the best is when they are asked, if you are a vegetarian, how come you drink milk? Isn’t that from an animal? ( In other parts of the world animal lovers are often vegan, and consume no animal derived food or products)

  2. Gaurav

    ramesh :: what does the writer want
    suresh :: he wants to eat non veg food
    ramesh :: if he wants to eat non veg food he should order some, what is with the article
    suresh :: he is feeling insecure because so many people are giving a thumbs up to veg food
    ramesh :: why is bringing religion into it
    suresh :: because the only way to win this argument is to make it communal
    ramesh :: oh! now i understand, muslims have a problem with veg food but instead of trying to adapt keeping mind the times that we live in, they are trying to show intolerance and are trying to communalise the situation
    suresh :: yes, now you understand the situation

  3. Gaurav

    there are different kind of people in the world, there are people who like veg food and there are people who like non veg food. food habits are part of the culture and way of life , india was primarily veggie country and the non veggie people are feeling the heat. by bringing caste and religion into this situation shows the communal mindset of the writer

    1. irate_pirate

      In india, vegetarians are vegetarian because of religion and caste, not choice! Our dietary habits like caste specific arranged marriages , our religion specific housing colonies, our religion specific womens clothing are a mark of our narrow minded bigoted “indian culture”. Of course, we don’t like western culture. Most Indians would have a hissy fit if we were to actually introduce the truly secular concepts of individual “liberty”, “equality ” and “fraternity” . Let us continue then, to inhabit a country where there is no real freedom for most, equality is only on paper, and a majority who think that non vegetarians should be grateful because they are being tolerated. Acche din indeed

    2. Gaurav

      so you are bent on seeing this issue as hindus versus muslims. well that is your choice

    3. Gaurav

      it was not due to religion that india became vegetarian. infact indian society was primarily vegetarian and religion only ratified the culture of the sub continent, your efforts to paint this issue in a twisted way shows your poor understanding of the issue.

    4. irate_pirate

      Actually.. I see this issue as higher caste hindus and jains looking down on kshatriyas, Dalits, muslims , christians and tribals from a purely dietary perspective. Colleges are a good place to mingle. Its where youth look and experience life beyond their upbringing and often make informed choices to change. All kinds of ideas and practices are picked up here, including gastronomic experimentation . Segregation of canteens/ messes magnifies differences and shouldn’t be the practice – ever.

    5. Gaurav

      your attempts to show all hindus as casteist shows your prejudice and animosities against all indians.

  4. Razin Karu

    Segregation,
    Apartheid,
    Alienation,
    Confrontation,
    Partition.

    Have we not learned from the painful past?!

    1. Manoj

      Partition? No that won’t happen anymore. Hope you got the message 🙂

  5. Gulshan

    How can you make remark about Brahmin’s eating beef. Well you must know not long ago every Muslim use to eat pork before your so called Prophet was born. And it must be the case if you love non veg so much you must eat a pig too. Think before you write. If you dont like my comment,I didn’t like yours!!

    1. Art

      I think that you’re wrkng in your claim of muslims eating pork before the prophet’s birth. Prophet Muhammad was the one to start Islam so there couldn’t be any Muslims before him. Logic.

  6. Gulshan

    @youth ki awaaz
    I clearly see a series of comments in this article which are communal in nature. It would be much better if you improve the quality of the articles you upload. Also, the authenticity of many points above is debatable like Brahmin eats beef. And vegetarians are more intolerant etc. Please make sure that this type of unwarranted comments don’t come from a swine born asshole.

  7. Gaurav

    the demand for veg only spaces is similar to demand for non smoking places. there is nothing wrong in that.

    indian way of life panned out over the centuries where veg food was the staple with some pockets taking non veg food.

    indian economy and society , both of them are dependent on milk, ghee, butter and other products which play crucial role in our diet and that is why our society and economy panned out differently over the centuries. cattle was seen as a source important source of other products instead of a source of meat. there is no reason to being religion into it… in every society religion only ratifies the local food habits and similarly the in india hinduism in its infancy ratified the food habits. the food habits are not a result of religious indoctrination rather whichever part of india you go to, you will see that local people have their own food habits which clearly shows that hindu religious leaders upheld the local food habits and did not force anyone. which is why you see different food habits everywhere.

    the key contention seems to be islamic food habits where cattle is seen differently altogether. due to incompatibility here

    1. Art

      The reason there is a demand for non smoking areas is that smoking not only affects the smoker but also the people around him. But me eating chicken doesn’t kill you.

  8. harry

    I am a vegetarian by choice and I would prefer to eat in a place where only vegetarian food is served. This is because I choose not to eat non vegetarian food on ethical grounds and I find it difficult to dine around people eating non vegetarian food. Some people cannot tolerate flesh of an animal on another person’s plate. So separate spaces for veg food is absolutely required. Eating flesh is not simply a matter of preference. You are making a choice which requires killing of an animal for your food. It is wrong. So if someone prefers not be around people who eat non vegetarian food then they must be given a separate space.

  9. Damien

    I guess meat was not widely eaten in India because conserving meat in such a heat would have been impossible in the very early ages of Indian society. Religion then codified it, gave it spiritual sense. Same goes for Muslim, conserving pork meat in Saudi Arabia must have been hard.

    Nowadays things have changed, people should also change. I am not asking people to eat non veg but don’t hate us. I don’t force people to eat non veg, they don’t force me to eat veg. A friend of mine said that she wanted to retry non-veg, I said sure and that I would gladly help her if she wants, she only said that she will never have beef due to her religion. Another said that she just doesn’t like the feel in her mouth. Not trying is just plain stupid.

    Segregating non veg from veg is bad. It is not the same as smoker and non smoker since me eating an omelet doesn’t impact on your health. If you do not like what is on my plate then don’t look, if you really can’t stand, then leave. I will not change my habit because of your extremism.
    Plus asking to do in it in a place of exchange, of learning, of experience is not a great signal.

    1. harry

      Not wanting to kill animals for food and not tolerating others eating it is no extremism. Killing animals for food and seeing it as normal is extremism. It is not about it affecting health. You may think eating non veg is normal but it is not and it is not necessary for our survival. So if I am a vegetarian I have the right to demand a separate space for dining where only vegetarian food is served.

  10. Voice of reason

    The author of this article has a very skewed point of view. First of all can we all educated people ( since you can read and write English, i presume you all are ) stop communalising the issue. The entire matter of having separate Veg and Non-Veg dinning halls, is very logical and rational. Forget about who has sent the petition and why the same was sent, some one wanted a shot at glory, his 5 minutes of popularity and hence he wrote a petition with non nonsensical arguments ( like tasmic food, parents being upset etc,). We as a country with all its diversity should know that the life styles of people in this country vary to a huge extent. Now to ensure that everyone is comfortable, we need to make appropriate arrangements for the same. I am a Bengali Brahman, I definitely consume Non- Veg, infact i think as a Hindu community , we are the largest consumers of Non Veg. I really don’t know what the ancient life styles were ( frankly i couldn’t care less), but West Bengal has always been famous for its delicacies with fresh water fishes ( Non Veg ). However having said that, whenever I am in a cosmopolitan campus, I have be sensitive to the life styles of others. I have a friend whom I had meet during my Engineering days , she was from Mangalore and a staunch vegetarian. She was visibly not comfortable having food in a table where Non Veg was being consumed. Now there is nothing communal in that, it just reflects her upbringing. She is not the only Vegetarian to have such habits, most of our habits depends on our upbringing, and hence to make every one feel comfortable , we need to have different Veg and Non Veg dinning halls. This does not have anything to do with religion etc, but is a necessity that arises from different lifestyles. Think about it, does having different wash rooms for Male and Females increase discrimination – obviously not, they are need based and not political or communal

    I also appreciate the HRD ministry for simply forwarding the matter to the Heads of these institutes as they would know best about their institutes.

  11. Manoj

    My thoughts while reading this article,
    ….Reading….
    You didn’t need to portray the situation as one culture versus another culture. It is a political situation, I don’t get how you brought religion and culture thing into it.
    ….Reading….
    RSS? bwahaha now I get what your article was trying to achieve.

    I remember reading one another article of yours and all I can say is,
    Communal mindset indeed.

  12. king

    @abul kalam azad:

    First thing u should learn that if you wish to eat beef we will serve you pork.

    Saale, non-veg aur beef ko ek bataane ki galati mat kar. Aur itna hi “food of choice” chilla raha hai toh jaakar suar ka meat kha. Jinko non-veg khaana hota hai wo khaate hain, jinko nahi khana ho wo nahi khaate.

    We are vegeterian because we are following some believes in the same way you are not eating pork.

    And how dare you to relate beef to hindus , You asshole.

  13. arul

    Some of you who have a different opinion are trying to ask the author to eat pork. That’s not necessary.
    According to what he had demanded, it is enough if he doesn’t object pork being available in the same place.
    If non veg is available at some place, no one is forcing you to eat it.
    And you can’t compare it to smoking. With food, there is nothing similar to secondary smoking of its consequences. You are not likely to eat from a non vegetarian’s plate. Even if you did, it wouldn’t have consequences on your health.

  14. soutrik

    firstly let me make it clear that i am an non veg and i love non veg dishes though i know it is very bad to kill animals for fullfilling own pleasure when u have other means but its tradition and we are build up like that in bengal….we even cant dream of not eating fish and i even dont want others to interfere in my food habit…i will not like u to dictate me to leave my food habit nor will i dictate u to take non veg…u may advice me and even i can…surely the logic of smoking vs non veg is skewed because non veg food doesnt have any direct harm to u,and if u tell of indirect harm,then nobody can do anything because installation of a/c in my room will indirectly harm u…but yes u can compare it with alcohol vs non veg…yes u have u r choice to eat alcohol but yes i dont want to eat with u ,so if i demand a seperate place for eating ,whts wrong in it??i think it is the writer who is hell bent in proving that only non veg is good,veg is bad…if somebody dont want to have food with somebody due to genuine reasons it is not food fascism but those those who forces to have food together is actually fascist…i cant force a vegetarian to respect my food but yes i can expect respect for me and non interference for my choice…it is impossible for him to respect my food because he is a vegetarian and supports the non violence of animals,so u cant expect him to also support violence….and another thing is “nobody is veg by choice”…so what??tradition is not choice,ur relatives are not choice u are brought up in a particular cultre and tradition…whats wrong in it??and it is also true that u can change ur tradition too…but dont force somebody who doesnt want to change…respect every one,respect individuals right to choose ,though u may dont agree to the choice itself…the dicision according to me is very logical.

  15. ammumalar

    veggies are the best , it only controls our weight under control.

  16. Vikramaditya

    You have dragged religion into this for no reason. I am a strict vegetarian and in many restaurants, particularly outside India they use the same ladle, spoon, serving utensils for veg and non veg food. Often they use the same pan to fry my veggies and the meat. This to a vegetarian is unacceptable just like a Muslim might not like his beef cooked in a pan where bacon was just fried (sorry I had to bring religion to prove your point is off). It is about allowing people to eat in a comfortable zone. No one is saying there should not be non veg served. I do not make such demands and if the BJP does, they need to be chastized and put in their place. The BJP MPs themselves savor mutton biryani for a mere Rs 15 in the MP canteen. Hypocrities.

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