Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Food fascism: The vegetarian hypocrisy in India

By Murali Shanmugavelan

  • Monday, 30 April 2012 at 4:00 am

Diced beef 2 Food fascism: The vegetarian hypocrisy in IndiaThis month a group of Dalit (or Untouchables, as they were formerly labelled) students organised a Beef Festival in Osmania University of Hyderabad. It was the festival to assert their culinary rights in public and make a political statement of dietary habits of Dalits and Muslims – by cooking and eating beef Biryani on campus.

About 2000 students participated and although it started out well, the festival was disrupted and students were attacked by right-wing Hindu fascists. The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) released a statement describing how Meena Kandasamy, a writer and poet who participated in the festival, was singled out and threatened with gang rape and acid attacks.
This festival is very significant as some Dalit students have organised themselves to fight against food-fascism, campaigning against the very centre of Brahmanical Hinduism that connects caste with food. Culinary politics and contact with animals play a huge role in establishing purity-pollution rules to discriminate people in the caste system.
Have Brahmans always been beef-hating vegetarians? The answer is a resounding no.
Cow was neither sacred nor unconsumable by Brahmans according to D.N.Jha who has studied Rigveda in detail. This vedic scripture – written roughly between 1100 and 1700 BC – has frequent references to the cooking of ox meat for every day consumption and offering to gods. Jha’s The myth of the holy cow, offers detailed evidence that ox, bull and cow were both killed in public sacrifices and domestically slaughtered to be consumed in every-day life.
Later, Buddhism and Jainism became critical of ritual and public sacrifices of animals and introduced ahimsa (non-violence). According to Ambedkar – Dalit leader, architect of Indian constitution and a strong critique of Gandhi’s ideals – ‘the clue to the worship of the cow is to be found in the struggle between Buddhism and Brahmanism’, a strategy to establish its Brahmanical supremacy over Buddhism.This explains why Ambedkar advocated Dalits toconvert to Buddhism.
The historian D.D. Kosambi pointed out in his work The culture and civilisation of Ancient Indian (1964), “A modern orthodox Hindu would place beef-eating on the same level as cannibalism, whereas Vedic Brahmins had fattened upon a steady diet of sacrificed beef.”
During the colonial period, the cow became a tool of mass political mobilisation to unite Hindus by upper-caste led freedom movement. Gandhi said, “my religion teaches me that the conviction of cow-killing is a sin and that, therefore, it ought to be abandoned” and then declared, “I worship it and I shall defend its worship against the whole world.”
In today’s independent India, the beef-hating Brahmanical vegetarianism made cow slaughtering and beef-eating not only a taboo, but also illegal in many states of India. It has even secured a supportive-protection in the Indian constitution: Article 48 of the Indian constitution directs the State to take necessary steps for prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves.
Many Indian states have banned cow-slaughtering and selling beef is not permitted in public. Beef sellers and buyers in those states have to conduct their trade like drug-dealers. In Delhi, the cow protection enforcement team visits supermarkets to ensure beef is off the shelves.
Common sense dictates that all these forceful bans go to prove that India has a significant beef-eating population. In fact, that consumption of beef and buffalo meat together top the list of highest meat consumption in India. Annually, India produces an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of buffalo meat, of which only 24% is exported.
To deny the right to eat their traditional diet is the denial of the right to live with dignity and without fear. The ban of cow-slaughtering and the violence of the cow-protection movement – where a ‘legal’ ban exists – are nothing short of state-sponsored caste based discrimination.
The ‘holy cow’ construct is plain food-fascism, and this culinary politics by Brahmanical Hindutva forces is an attempt to wipe-out cultural identities of Dalits and Muslims and discriminate their basic rights.
The construction of today’s India as a vegetarian-loving and cow-praying country is an outright lie and a false cultural-propaganda by right-wing upper caste forces to oppress Dalits, lower-castes and Muslims.
This vegetarian image is also now part of India Inc. and exported to the world. The brand-transformation of India’s colonial image from a country full of snake-charmers to IT savvy Brahmans who are mostly vegetarians, is a false-representation of millions of people’s every day politics and food practices.
Jairam Ramesh, an Iyengar Brahmin and former Minister for Environment, came up with a Brahmanical solution to world’s climate change problem: stop eating beef.  He added, “(T)he best thing for us, India, is we are not a beef-eating nation.”  He has conveniently forgotten that Indians annually consume 1.14 million tonnes of buffalo meat.
This year India will also overtake the United States as the world’s third largest beef exporter. The vegetarian hypocrisy in India has no limits: the beef-hating project is carefully engineered to advance Brahmanical Hinduism.
More worryingly, the food-fascism cuts across political parties and beef-eating remains an uncomfortable issue to most upper-caste vegetarian intellectuals and non-beef liberals. Asserting culinary rights in public domain is an important expression of cultural politics in the caste system.
When I was a small boy, I used to eat pork (not beef) with my father and brothers as if it was stolen from someone’s shop. We ate it secretly by hiding it from our neighbours. I used to lie about what I ate on that day, if my friends had asked me.
If our neighbours accidentally dropped by to chat – a common practice where I come from – I used to run to the kitchen to hide the meat.
After finishing my meal, my mother used to make sure I had washed my hands four or five items and applied talcum powder to ensure my hand was free from any ‘smell’. Personally, I hated it because I preferred the whiff of lingering aroma from my hand as I knew it would be sometime before I would enjoy the taste of meat again.
That is why celebrating a beef festival is significant as a mass political protest.
Next time you hear about Indian vegetarianism, you’ll know it is just a load of bull.


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