Revisiting food censorship in campus – I

Larke aur ande allowed nahin hain

( Men and eggs are not allowed)

We came across this comment many years back when we were frantically looking for houses in North Campus, Delhi. I am sure many of you may have encountered comments like these when you have gone house-hunting in Delhi. At the same time, we have found landlords/landladies who have been non-interfering about our food habits. For instance, I remember with fondness how my landlady used to religiously send me a dish of lotus stem on Tuesdays as I hated the tiffin food item of puri and chchole. Nevertheless, food practices are personal and the recent incident in Osmania University shows increasing intolerance and lack of respect towards people’s choices.

Yes, I am talking here about the “sacredness” of the ‘Cow’ and the way in which the ‘sacredness’ has been appropriated to ensure food censorship in recent acts of vandalism by ABVP in Osmania Campus. Food censorship based on religion, gender and caste has been the subject of criticism in public space for a long time but the increasing intolerance or lack of space for food that is considered “different” needs to be interrogated closely.

 I remember with fondness my first initiation into beef eating which dates back to college days and it was mainly to enjoy a red meat other than mutton. My cousin who refrains from eating beef had remarked,“ I was trying to make a point. My food habits had become secular”.  My cousin jokingly had exchanged notes with my mother( a practising Hindu) that I had started consuming beef. She had thought I would get into trouble. My mother made an interesting comment, “If you can’t eat, or wear something you can be tolerant towards people’s choices. It’s a matter of choice”.   

The recent acts of intolerance towards students who wanted to organise beef festival in Osmania as reported in Telegraph needs some introspection with the way food practices across campuses in India are steeped in majoritarian politics. The recent protests by ABVP on campus is nothing new. If they had a problem with “certain” kind of films, seminars and now it’s “food”. G.S. Radhakrishna in the article,“After Telengana, call for beef fest ingnites campus” draws our attention to how food practices in Osmania University is steeped in caste politics. According to this article, Dalit students were cooking beef as part of an event that coincided with the birth anniversary celebrations of Dalit icons, Jagjivan Ram (April 5) and Jyotibha Phule (April 11) and B.R. Ambedkar (April 14). The Dalit students also wanted beef to be served in campus canteens where the non-vegetarian fare includes, chicken, mutton and eggs.

What is interesting is how the politics of food goes beyond majoritarian choices. Of the 8000 students on the campus 4000 students belong to Other Backward Classes and 1000 are tribals. Upper and Foreign students make about 1000.

Despite such number games, the food politics or censorship rules seem to be steeped in caste hierarchy that too in an institution where there were three separate kitchens ( one for non-vegetarian food which included beef, the other without beef and one for vegetarians) when the institution came into existence ( as told by Prof. Kanchah Illiah in a talk in JNU on 20 March, 2012).  

Let us not fall into the trap of food censorship. Food is  a matter of choice and let’s respect it.

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