A vegetarian thali | Commons
A vegetarian thali | Commons
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The Brahminical imposition of food practices that IIT Bombay recently witnessed isn’t new to India’s colleges and universities.

One of my favourite academics Arjun Appadurai once said: “Food is a highly condensed social fact.” Where we eat, how we eat, when we eat, and how we are allowed to eat is a reflection of our positioning in society. The food on your plate has a long history, and is deeply political.

Hostel 11 of IIT Bombay received a strange (and yet not so strange) mail recently where the mess coordinator wrote: “Please do not use the ‘main’ plates for non-vegetarian dishes.” The mail, rightly, has received criticism on social media.

However, this kind of Brahminical imposition isn’t new to India’s colleges and universities. Many colleges/universities sidestep the problem by not serving non-vegetarian food altogether. Institutions like Panjab University, Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology in Allahabad and the Baba Saheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar University mess in Lucknow serve only vegetarian food.

In our country, vegetarianism seems to be more about casteist notions of purity, superiority and ‘touch’, than about ethical reasons. In a secular country, we are still segregating and judging based on food choices.

As a Young India Fellow at Ashoka University, I wrote a paper on how what we were given to eat (and more importantly, not allowed to eat) was a direct reflection of the upper caste, upper class, majority Hindu student composition.

‘Contamination’ is a source of great fear apparently, which leads to ludicrous fatwas such as vegetarian and non-vegeterian food being served on separate plates, cooked in different utensils, and served in different areas. While I was studying in Ashoka, we had two separate floors for vegetarians and non-vegetarians because it was not just the food, but the sight and smell that also had to be segregated. That has since changed and both kinds of food are now being served on the same floor, but obviously in separate areas. The Mess Committee at the institute had confirmed to me that non-vegetarian food is being cooked in separate utensils.

Not only this, also look at when the occasional meat/chicken/fish is served in such places. Definitely not on Tuesdays, which most Hindus consider to be an auspicious day. And beef, sheep, or pork almost never makes an appearance. This vegetarian fascism of the ruling class/caste is apparent in the tiniest choices made for you.

In the current political atmosphere prevailing in the country, with Hindutva holding sway, is it really surprising that food is the medium and message of conflict? You are what you eat, after all.

Neera Majumdar is a journalist at ThePrint.

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67 Comments Share Your Views

67 COMMENTS

  1. Has it ever occurred to you that people may actually have severe food allergies, and that COULD very well be why mixing of different food categories is avoided? My sister is allergic to most proteins, including all animal proteins. She had separate utensils while staying in a hostel, so as to avoid contamination, even from so called “non-veg” food. And, she was born a Brahmin (though none of us believes in any caste labels), so a number of people called her a snob, and she was even accused of practising untouchability, by a hostelmate, who tried to hide her separate utensils. The problem with people is that they are quick to assume the worst of other people, particularly those different from themselves. Not even one student bothered to find out the story behind it all, or even ask the warden. In fact, a couple of nasty classmates sneaked something that was egg-derived into her food once, and she landed in the hospital with severe respiratory distress. So that’s where food-mixing got her. Before jumping to conclusions, please try to understand that there could be another, serious and more valid reason some people want to avoid mixing different food categories altogether.

  2. A filthy Indian person would totally write an article about “why it’s wrong to keep a kitchen clean.” This is probably why anytime I’ve ever been to India I’ve gotten sick even going to the best restaurants. You people are disgusting and your habits are worse. This is why the Ancients, who were way smarter than you modern Indians, had the rules that you claim are wrong.

    If someone pees on the road, or a group of people gang-raped someone, they should totally be considered an untouchable. The problem is…. 90% of the country is now untouchable. Like literally untouchable. Covered in shit, pouring filth in their rivers, and considers any type of order in there country to be “casteist”

    • Let’s not generalise. While I’m sorry that you’ve fallen ill each time you visited India, not ALL people are “filthy” and “disgusting”. There are incredibly hygienic people who live in pristine houses, and lead ecologically friendly lives without disposing of plastic into rivers. Had this comment been made by someone of another ethnicity, they may have been shouted at for racism. So let’s not generalise.

  3. “Brahminical imposition“ – what an idiotic notion.

    This uniquely illiterate and prejudiced article has NO clue.

    In the UK, schools and work places – with white people majorities have microwave ovens and utensils devoted for vegetarians.

    So are these white, yellow, black, brown and assorted folks “caste racists”.

    Only the deracinated presuming to be upper class Hindus of India like this writer can write such hateful and lie filled rubbish.

    Grow up and smell the coffee.

  4. Really silly piece! The author is plainly stupid!
    Non-vegetarian food is more expensive than vegetarian food. In many college hostels the cost is shared amongst the students. Why should vegetarians have to pay for the meat that non-vegetarians eat? Also hostels make liberal and daily use of onions and garlic and the like, which many so called “upper caste” vegetarians eschew and cannot stomach. But not a single day goes by in hostels without onions or garlic! The point is that in many hostels in India food safety standards would be so easily compromised if meat and fish and like are cooked and served everyday. You ask any middle class or poor person in India ( not residing in a hostel) who is a not a vegetarian how frequently they consume mutton, chicken etc. Once a week or even more rarely!

  5. It is obvious that author has very little idea about running canteens & messes.
    The chances of spoilage of & food poisoning due Non-Vegetarian food are much higher in Indian climate for Non-Vegetarian food. That is one reason to serve Veg food.
    Secondly Non-Veg food is costlier. So if the canteen or mess is subsidized then pricing has to be separate which is an additional hassle.
    Most campuses of the type named in any case have several Non-Veg joints where one can have food of choice.

  6. What is Brahminical in this? Why a person should be forced to eat unpleasant food in an unpleasant plate and place. People will dislike the site of killing an animal. And there are regulations for abattoirs on this.

  7. Can there be a more senseless interpretation! If anything, this rule just shows that IITB respects the food choices of every individual and if someone has a problem eating in the same plate in which non veg was eaten, the institute is willing to go a step forward in accommodating him/her. I am a vegetarian having no qualms about eating in the same plate, but if another vegetarian has an issue, I will respect that rather than labeling him food casteist and force him to eat in the same plate. Tragedy of our times..one can go completely bizzare to attract eyeballs today.. this article is yet another example.

  8. I hope it’s not an organised effort to hurt religious feeling of Jains taking cover of time tested bashing of brahmins by jihadis/naxals funded from oil money??What makes communists in India think that it is for greater good of India to divide Hindus and create discord in any way possible,hurt religious sentiments of Indias true minorities .Divide Indians between North and South ,caste and class, even veg and non veg ,blame brahmins in any way possible although top leadership of left are all brahmins.Such article on halaal and non halaal and giving pork to Muslims would have undergone severe bashing from author who makes fun over sensitivities of vegetarians Jains and many Hindus.Is it vile hate or pure business.Not related to matter/author but I have seen in debates in Pakistan’s news channels their contempt of Hindus always start by calling them Hindus baniyas anyway Hindus are notorious for money mindedness willing to sell anyone and everyone for profit and producing jaichands who will sell their mother unlike Muslims who will stand for their ummah brothers even in Palestine or rohingyas rather than kashmiri Hindus or for Indian national interests.

  9. Rotis sabzis and dal are not bramhinical. They are standard Indian food across all castes and communities. A balanced non-veg meal contains all these items.
    Segregating the non-veg items is also a matter of courtesy. Non veg cooked and un-cooked food does have aromas that are distasteful to vegetarians. Infact tons of non-veg eaters do find the smell of dried fish annoying. Should they be forced to eat in plates smelling of it ? Most vegetarians also have a strong revulsion to having any connection with flesh. So enjoy your individual food habits without imposing them on each-other. Enjoy your meal don’t spend energy reading into it. There is nothing to read.
    Or maybe the veggies are bothering you. You never learnt to eat your carrot, beans, spinach and snake gourd. 😉

  10. I agree. Go serve Muslims pork and non halal and find out what reaction you get. I have lived in US 37 of my 60 years. They are as fanatical here as in Pakistan. Why do you need to torture an animal before the life ebbs? Based on a silly Stone Age text? Why can’t they anaesthetize the animal with a stun gun as secular abbatoirs do?

    Think about this before writing nonsense and defaming our premier engineering institute.

  11. What you people seem to be forgetting is that this is discrimination against those who choose to eat meat. Let’s reverse the roles and say that vegetarians were banned from eating in the IIT canteen. I bet that there would be a bigger hue and cry raised on this.

    • Nobody has banned anything!! Its just keeping separate plates. Even food joints like KFC does that. It’s done to accommodate everyone’s food choices, not discriminate!! By the way, when I was there, our hostel mess had a separate table for those vegetarians who were uncomfortable eating with non veg on the same table. And nobody raised a hue or cry!

  12. I don’t understand what is the problem with this? No one is stooping you for eating non veg food. I think by this non vegetarian have more food options.

  13. A motivated article aimed at creating discord & fault lines amongst Indians. Communists can write fake articles & parade around crying hoarse about losing their fos/for.
    The exact opposite actually in practice – printing bullshit & playing the victim card.

  14. Its more of ethics we should respect each other.its totally rubbish for discussion ,they want to spoil the harmony of institution creating chaos.simply THE PRINT people you think what should be printed.you guys are simply degrading level.

  15. So really from all the things that are happening in India or world, you got this topic to write upon… Searching for controversy where there exists none…

  16. Most ridiculous interpretation. This has nothing to Bramhinism.

    People in india are vegetarians not just for health benifits but for something far deeper.

    Need some sensitivity to understand this. It is not possible for those who just want to shame everything here.

  17. It is my humble request to all news media stop creating issues out of just anything.
    What is the problem in having different utensils for veg and non veg food ?
    Go talk about some really issues prevailing in our country today.
    Have a good day. ?

  18. What a mess in the mess…. Lot more good things are going on in our country and you are writing about this silly stuff in the name of casteism….

    If it’s brahminical, then it should be limited to India only . But vegan /non veg separation can be found throughout the world. And I should say it’s not separation it’s personal choice. You are making sociological thinking personal to yourself.

  19. This is a stupid article by a stupid journalist! If one is a vegetarian the notion of eating food in plates that may be used for serving non-vegetarian food is very troubling, as is the idea of shared facilities for these two diametrically opposite preferences and values. Since when has the choice of or preference for vegetarianism become a caste matter? On that basis let us also have smoking and non-smoking areas the same, let beef and pork be served in the same area and let there be no special provision for areas serving alcohol. What a load of cobblers? Why can’t non-vegetarians accept that those who are vegetarians cannot abide by the smell and sense of meat and fish being served or cooked in same utensils and served in same areas? Got nothing to do with caste!

  20. Why you are considering emotions of only non-vegetarian people. If someone is following Hindu ritues than you can’t force him to eat in same plates which are used with non-vegetarian food because India is secular. He is following his religion. You follow you religion. They are giving you non-vegetarian food if you want to eat, eat it. But why you forcing Hindu’s to eat in palates which are used with non-vegetarian. You are doing wrong and blaming other people.

  21. How is it an issue. It is more to do with convenience and cost that one choose to provide only veg food. Next why are you attaching this to caste. You are just making an issue deliberately. Veg non veg segregation is more hygienic reason. Food is habit. Taste is habit. Even the food manufacturing industry follows the same practice. If a production line is veg, no non veg products can be produced on that line. If a production line is a halal certified line you can’t use raw material which is not halal certified. You are a stupid if you are attaching a brahminical note this practice.

  22. 99 PERCENT OF INDIANS ARE NONVEGATARIANS
    BUT
    1PERCENT OF INDIANS ARE VEGETARIANS
    THIS ISSUE
    IS DIFFERENT
    NON veg dishes cause smell this is FACT
    So not mixing both is correct
    THERE IS NO SCOPE FOR ANYOTHER THOUGHT

  23. The author has all marxist views. Such people have habit of making a small issues in to big and pervert the minds of common man and spread hatred. Instead of discussing issues for development they discuss such meaningless. This speaks of their mindset.

  24. The is a clear example of caste hatred driving journalists to somehow put divisive (on divisive) grounds. “Brahminical” stood for “best practices” but is made to sound like “tyrannical”. and use caste and religion as the basis of hate.

  25. Is it really an issue ? Im a non vegetarian and my wife is a vegetarian. I respect her emotions. I even don’t eat non vegetarian in front of her. Non vegetarian food management needs more hygiene practices than veg. No one is blaming non vegetarians or no one is stopping people to eat, they just want separate plate. If that’s wrong then your ideology of freedom of food is totally wrong. Just because u like to eat not every one has same urge.

  26. Articles like this, not based on facts, understanding, and thorough analysis, grasp at straws to make a sensational case out of everything. IIT Bombay messes are student run so they decide what is best for themselves. Such articles only attempt to flame discord in society to make money, trying to divide family from family, and friends from friends.

  27. Not serving non-veg is purely a convenience (since non-vegetarians can eat veg food but not vice versa) and/or economic (since veg food is cheaper) reason in many colleges.

  28. Leaving the IIT Bombay example out, the problem vegetarianism is prevailing in many colleges. The objective of such an imposition was supposed to be respect towards the vegetarian people of certain Faith’s, but somehow in respecting them is was deemed necessary to deny people of other Faith’s a way of life; non-vegetarianism. ‘Secular India’ is now a myth.

  29. Some may even say that By having Western Comode and Indian Toilet in the same home its clear that it is toilet Castesim. Democracy is under threat.

    With folded hands, I say t Please stop now. One has to say enough is enough. Don’t be Obsessed with Caste and religion.

  30. Shouldn’t you just be happy that it creates lesser of a demand for meat? You poop the chicken out tomorrow morning, but its whole life goes in vain just for your thrill for 5 minutes!

  31. ಆಹಾರ ಪದ್ದತಿಯ ಅಸಹಿಷ್ಣತೆ ಭಾರತದಂತಹ ದೇಶಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಹೆಚ್ಚಾಗುತ್ತಿದೆ .ಇಂದಿನ ದಿನಮಾನಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಈ ವಿಚಾರವೇ ಸಾಕಷ್ಟು ಮುನ್ನೆಲೆಗೆ ಬಂದು ಬಹು ಚರ್ಚಿತವಾಗುತ್ತಿರುವುದು ನಿಜಕ್ಕೂ ದುರಂತ.ಮನುಷ್ಯನ ಆಹಾರ ಪದ್ದತಿಯು ಕೇವಲ ವಯಕ್ತಿಕವೇ ಹೊರತು ಸಾಮಾಜಿಕವಾಗಿ ದೂಷಣೆಗೆ ಒಳಗಾಗುವುದು ಖಂಡಿತ ಉತ್ತಮ ನಡೆಯಲ್ಲ

  32. Just for your information, ma’am, if you are talking about objection to ‘pork’, this is not an objection from Hindus. Do, please, let facts govern your emotions, or what is scarier, your ideology.

  33. Great!! Make an issue out of an non issue. Keep an open mind and consider why vegetarians don’t want to eat along with. On vegetarian counterparts. Why force someone to put up with smells and sights of food they avoid eating. Grow up ms Neera

    • These people are fueling casteism .not only brahmins many people from every caste and creed are veggies.i think the writer is anti brahmins

  34. its not only iit-bombay. as you pointed out, many elite institutions and universities indulge in various forms of this food-apartheid…..more often than not, the nonveg eating people have to ‘show support’ for those who are rather un-supportive of others…..obviously, not all vegetarians indulge in such discrimination. but some are so ‘pure’ that they refuse to share the same dining hall with nonvegetarians, even if tables are distinctly demarcated!

  35. Idiotic article. Vegetarianism is not brahmin thing. In fact it is growing in uS to also. Also prints while country based on decision of one Mess. Author forgets while India has separate veg and non veg restaurants. Which idiot would continue reading the print after this.

  36. Hon. Neera Majumdar Ji – will you please start exhibiting your idea of food freedom by starting ‘Pork’ restaurants in ShriNagar or Majority Muslim areas ?

  37. IIT Bombay mess should be shut down, hope students take a cue from students of JNU and go on rampage. Author seems to be Jadhavpur/JNU grad, could give a few tips on how to bring IIT Bombay to a halt. Brahminical tyranny must not be tolerated and must be put down wherever found, as a prerequisite Brahmin students should not be admitted to IITs.

  38. What bullshit article is this? Do you people have any ethics ? Desperation at its worst? So what if ppl want seperate plates..they arent stopping others from eating nonveg. In this instance you dont want ppl to have a choice? If they dont wanna smell chicken on their plate , is it against any law? What bullshit you people try to propagate through your filthy articles.
    And you call yourselves journalists !

  39. Please at least leave the food out of casteism. Everything is Brahminism’s fault. When there are special provisions made for Halal meat no one creates a ruckus like this. If a student body had voted to serve let’s say beef then it was the victory of democracy but if a student body voted to serve vegetarian food or serve food in seperate plates, this is Brahminism. This kind of blind assertions take away the light from real issues of casteism in India.

  40. Why is suddenly being a vegetarian a problem in this country ? Things were done with mutual respect. Students decided to respect the values of a set of vegetarians colleagues. Ends of story. Surprised that a news agency failed to see simple point here.

  41. What’s wrong in having separate plates,I don’t understand ? The author is making a mountain out of a molehill.She has used her so called sociological knowledge to paint a section of the society as casteist,unjust as it is !

  42. Dear Neera, First of all you have not an iota of idea that how mess system functions in IIT Bombay and you published a story defaming whole IIT Bombay as a whole, there mess system wholly and completely run by students of particular hostel without an iota of interference by authority. This is not a first time that it happened, earlier also if some one have complain about it she/he have been using separate plate for them selves and in festival also we also did not serve chicken, eggs etc like during Ganesh Festival, so it is all decision based on consensus and referendum and we all respect each others faith and belief therefore we used to take such decisions ourselves only.
    With regards.

  43. Don’t worry. After four years, all the good ones will be sitting in US and eating the choicest meats – beef, pork, ham, sausages, velison, rabbits. In clean plates. IIT Bombay admin & Dean can keep worrying about monsoon flooding, bad traffic and revising syllabus to teach how Lord Indra invented aviation. Lovely lives four years down.

    • live in US for 30 years still vegetarian. In fact more and more people all over US becoming vegetarian and vegan….need to come out of your Congress/Commie mind set of the 1950s…Nehru is dead and Congress is fading away. Be original be proud of your legacy no need to get defined by faded concepts and failed philosophies…

      • i second Vdya Amirapu opinion, living in the US for 15 years still vegetarian maintaining good health.
        Breaking India Forces coming up new ideas to encourage imported food habits to students. Celebrity players in US are becoming vegans .

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