Vikram Doctor has a fascinating essay in today's Economic Times; it covers a few other things before settling down to discuss a key part of the politics of food: meat eating. Some excerpts from this part of Doctor's essay:
Dalit food issues also seem to be getting involved with the politics of meat eating in India. One example was when 10 Dalit students were rusticated from Hyderabad Central University in 2002. One of their grievances apparently was that they were treated differently in the college mess because they ate meat, which lead some activists to wonder if the push for vegetarianism had a less palatable aspect.
The Out-Caste blog noted that official determinants of dietary adequacy and the Public Distribution System that existed to ensure it was met only supplied “rice and wheat at cheap rates, but no meat, egg or nuts, or any non-vegetarian food at all. So in a country where vegetarians are a definite minority, we now plan our daily meals based on a notion of a Brahminical notion of an ‘easily available, balanced diet’, and the cultural production of modern India as vegetarian.”
The implication was that rich upper-castes could survive on such a diet since they could afford the different vegetables and milk supplements needed for proper nutrition, but the lower-castes would have to survived on just the cereals, denied the meat that could have been an easy source of nutrition for them.
What is clear though is that the Dalit identity today increasingly sees meat as an established, if not essential part of it. In his excellently provocative collection of essays Dalit Diary:1999-2003, Reflections on Apartheid in India, Chandra Bhan Prasad ends with a description of a ‘Dalit food festival’ he organises in his home.
The very idea, he admits, seemed bizarre at first, but as he started planning the menu, the better it seemed: “tender pork cooked only with water, salt and black pepper; chicken cooked only in beer; and mutton cooked only in rum... Vegetarian food was also to be cooked, but again in dalit style.” It was a highly subversive success, he says, and I only wish he had written some of the recipes too in his piece. Making food might be the best way to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti on Monday, the festival for a man who knew all too well what not having food meant.