Millennium Post

Eat, pray and shove the debate

The Hindutva attack on the Beef Festival in Osmania University on 15 April generated a national and international debate on the very cultural character of the nation. Earlier International scholars were struggling to understand as to how human untouchability operates. What are the modern means by which, the Hindutva militant Brahminism could construct and sustain its hegemony? The secular Hindu nationalist scholars and political forces did not see the relationship between the food culture and its mechanisms for political empowerment of Hindutva forces. They did not see how the dalit-bahujans are marginalised defining their food culture in purity and pollution terms. Even the western academia went by the concepts deployed by the nationalist Hindu Brahmin scholars as ethically valid and universally acceptable. The notions like holy and unholy, pure and pollution were never examined in relation to caste cultural differences.

India is a country of tribals, dalits, other backward classes (OBCs), sudras, muslims, christians, buddhists, brahmins, baniyas and so on. All these communities have their own cultures. These cultures vary in many different ways. Like all creatures human beings have to first live and survive then only other things follow. All these communities eat and drink varieties of foods and liquids. No single community can claim that its own food or drink culture is great, superior, pure, clean and so on. All those communities also have their own spiritual systems that are living around them for centuries. They have their own notions purity and pollution too.

What one ate, what one considered to be inferior food, or superior food in the past is not going to determine the existence of communities and castes of contemporary India. What one wore — a sanyasi’s lungi, naked upper body or an Ambedkarite suit — does not have bearing on the image of the nation. A nation is made of a whole lot of complex values. The self-cultural awareness among castes and communities that have productive existence are coming to challenge the hegemonic cultural existence of Hindu-Brahminic forces.

In this nation one caste’s taboo is another caste’s virtue. If for example, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS], Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bharatiya Janatha Party and the individuals who have similar ideas and habits think that adivasis, dalits and others eating beef makes the nation unholy, they can leave this country and go and live in any other holy land because it remained unholy land for centuries, as majority of Indians have been eating beef for millennia. Similarly if somebody thinks that pork is unholy food they need not eat but others cannot be forced to not to eat. There is powerful proverb in Telangana:
Nandini tinetodu nandini tintadu, pandini tinetodu pandini tintadu
[One who eats bull can eat it, one who eats pig can also eat it]. The questions of food, dress, make up do not operate on the principle of majority and minority also. The Indian society has passed through several cultural cross-mutations.

Its spiritual cultures, social habits —  what they call food and bed cultures —  have evolved in a multi-culturalist mode. It has become a nation of multi-religions and multi cultures. But that multi-religious, plural food cultures were sought to be transformed into Brahminic Hindu vegetarian culture by Brahma Samaj. The birds, reptiles, animals that became part of human food began to be scrutinised from the point of view of Arya Brahamins. This has been taken to another step further in hegemonising few people’s food, dress code, housing architecture (
) their relationship to water, forest, mountains and so on by the Arya Samaj.

But the real tragedy of the nation started with institutionalising an organisation called RSS. This organisation was born as enemy of aivasis, dalits, OBCs and minority religions. All these social groups have distinctive cultural practices without dictating terms to each other. When the RSS forces attacked the Beef Festival of Adivasis/Dalits/OBCs in Osmania University, it sought to attack the human values of this nation. This nation’s economic, political and cultural ethos is embedded in multi-culturalism. Once these multi-cultural castes and communities began to be defined as Hindus with vegetarian food as its pure nationalism; meat and beeferianism have been defined as unholy. The real clash of cultures began here and now they are unrolling on the university campuses.

The main grounds for cultural battles are universities. The SC/ST/OBCs, who are entering these universities are not just a threat to jobs of the Brahminic Hindus. They are a threat to their culture itself. They fight battles to change the syllabus and the menu on the hostel dining tables. If the universities are made to be centers of Saraswathi puja now they fight bitter battles to replace that culture with that of Buddha, Phule, Savitri Bai Phule and Ambedkar’s ideology and symbols. There were times when some intellectuals used Marx and Lenin to counter Hindutva. But they failed on two counts. They did not know how to handle caste because the main leaders of the communist organisations have the same caste roots that the Hindu-Brahminical forces came. Secondly, the writings of Marx and Lenin did not show what was the real culture of this nation.

While Osmania University, which has a history of mass struggles, took the lead national universities like The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) are likely to play a much more critical role.

A JNU group called New Materialists organised a massive late night meeting on 20 March. They printed a pamphlet that has shaken the secular credential of its authorities and faculty. The arguments in their pamphlet Politics of Food Culture: The Holy Cow and Unholy Swine challenged the ethical existence and also its knowledge system itself. The long term attempt of the JNU’s intellectual’s to negotiate between Marx and Gandhi were punctured with a profound knowledge of their own multi-cultural roots back in their villages. Most of them are first generation educated reservation rustics. They asked for beef and pork on their mess menu. At once the secular and nationalist members on the faculty also jumped on the bandwagon 'Why this issue on a sacred center like JNU?' The students put the argument upside down. If cow is sacred it is best for the food.

Back in their villages and tribal areas what is sacred is meant for eating too. They all raise one fundamental question. if we eat what we eat, if we worship what we worship, if the nation gets polluted with what we do, as we are the indigenous people of this nation, the solution lies in you leaving the nation. It is already unholy before your holy race reached here. If our food is pollution, our body is untouchable, this nation is already unholy even before the muslims, colonialists came here as we were already living in this nation in our food and drink culture. We are the history of this nation. Our forefathers and foremothers domesticated our sacred animals, buffalos, swines, dogs and donkeys. For us what is sacred is delicious as well. Let your sociology not confuse us and the world. Their determination is defined. Certainly these are defining movements of our ‘unholy nation’.
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