Food fundamentalism: The Tribune India
The clash between two groups of students in a hostel at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) over non-vegetarian food service on Sunday, the day of the Ram Navami celebration, is symptomatic of the growing communalization of eating habits in our country. It is alleged that members of a student body tried to prevent the hostel’s mess committee from preparing a chicken dish for dinner, even though JNU students are free to choose between non-vegetarian dishes and vegetarians on Sunday. Violence erupted when committee members allegedly rejected this unreasonable and intrusive request. The incident comes in the wake of restrictions imposed on the sale of meat in parts of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka during the just-concluded Navratras. Last week, East Delhi Mayor Shyam Sundar Agarwal not only ordered the closure of meat shops and slaughterhouses during the last three days of the nine-day festival, but also warned against revoking licenses meat sellers if they violated his order. Agarwal, who claims that “90% of the population does not consume non-vegetarian foods during Navratras”, also inspected the Ghazipur slaughterhouse on Friday to check for possible violations.
The fact that some right-wing organizations are campaigning against the display of halal certification on food products clearly shows that a specific community is being targeted on the pretext of what they eat. Surprisingly, the forced imposition of food choices from one community to others is tolerated or even legitimized by the powers that be. The reluctance of many political and religious leaders to speak out against such blatant authoritarianism makes othering normal.
This is a dangerous trend for our pluralistic society in which cultural diversity is inseparable from gastronomic variety. Authorities should not only avoid meddling in culinary matters, but also deter so-called guardians of moral and religious values from invading the kitchen. A nation where millions of people go to sleep hungry every night needs to rethink its priorities. The focus should be on fighting hunger and starvation, not on using bullying tactics to make a menu reign supreme.