Food Censorship –II (Contd)

Why North East Dhaba, JNU is not allowed to sell beef and pork?

Anybody remotely interested in foodscape of canteens in India will be aware of the legendary Dhabas at JNU. One such Dhaba that looked promising in JNU was North East Dhaba.  Well if you thought you could skip the stalls at Delhi Haat and will try out dishes from  the states across NE India in this Dhaba you might be disappointed as it is not allowed to serve any pork or beef dishes. Why? The pamphlet  titled “ Why North- East Dhaba is not allowed to sell beef and pork? Democratic Practices and Eating Habits in JNU” by Naga Study Forum, JNU argues “… Though North East Dhaba was primarily established to cater the dishes of the indigenous cuisine of the cultural communities from the region, till date the administration of JNU has not permitted the food joint to sell any main dishes of the region which comprises of pork and beef. Any right thinking person will question why the North East food joint in JNU serves Chinese dishes mostly? When we say we are not Indian by culture and its food habit, it doesn’t mean we are Chinese”. This kind of food censorship in one of the premier educational institutions of the country which has numerous students from North East India and foreign countries is astonishing.

 In a recently concluded Public Meeting on “The Politics of Food Culture: The Holy Cow and the Unholy Swine” organised by The New Materialists at Koyna Mess, JNU on 20 March 2012 Prof Nivedita Menon in her talk pointed out that “ In a democracy you have no option but to live with difference”.  She also argued that food  habits is at the same time an intimate activity but shaped by specific socio-cultural formations as coded and practices through food taboos. She explored the category of “difference” to argue how food practices and global ethical voices of food habits and embedded in a certain politics of food and the inter-linkages between food movements, religious pedagogies and finally how politics of food also produces hierarchies within communities and also gender.  Prof. Kanchah Illiah in his remarks took us back to the debate on politics of beef eating in Osmania Campus and showed us how a campus which celebrated religious syncretism through three separate sets of kitchen in Nizam’s times has become intolerant towards beef consumption which is part and parcel of Dalit food culture. Prof. Bhagat Oinam in his speech illustrated how power relations operate though food practices and congratulated the students for initiating a debate on food politics.

Three sets of issues emerged from the public meeting:

While eating food is an intimate activity, the social codes that govern food are embedded in caste politics and its impact is felt in the way food is regulated in public spaces and campuses are no different.

Secondly, the need to recognise difference is an integral part of democracy.

Thirdly, the “sociality” governing food makes it an interesting site around which food taboos, eating behaviours and even industrial codes on food censorships are regulated and manifested.

Itiriti urges its readers to think about the ongoing campus practices relating food and support the call for serving of pork and beef in North East Dhaba in JNU. 


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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