The Hidden Politics of Vegetarianism Caste and the Hindu Canteen
Food practices varies in Indian culture to its diverse traditions. Hindus, considered as vegetarians, as a common assumption though the fact remains some of them including Brahmins, eat meat. The Vedic texts strongly recommend non-violence against all life forms while it doesn’t explicitly prohibit eating meat. The idea of vegetarians being normal or pure while non-vegetarians being abnormal or impure is indeed been intercepted by the Indian society. Also there is pure-vegetarian, predominantly consisting of large class of upper-caste Indians who prefer only vegetarian joints or separate cutlery from non-vegetarians so that their purity does not get affected. The extend of vegetarians is much less compared to the non-vegetarians which contradicts the common claims and stereotypes related to Indian culture, concluded according to the large-scale survey data obtained. In this article, in south Asian context, food consumption is based on different ideologies which selects what food one can consume and about whose food one is allowed to eat vitalizing caste identities as essential parameter.
The caste based differences as well as hierarchical ideologies in the minds of people related to Indian culture serves as one of the most important parameters associated with food consumption. Dominant cultural codes such as liking of non-vegetarian or beef in particular, has been fostered to the lower caste groups like Dalit’s serving as politics of identity. The caste politics of food is a major concern in this era. This issue has been highlighted in the canteen of The Hindu, where complains about some colleagues consuming non-vegetarian food instead of fact read non-vegetarian food is not permitted in canteen premises simply due to discomfort to majority of vegetarians. The office being a private property and so owners of it are subject to right and can make rules according to their will. The notice read created much protest even though no restrictions were imposed on employs related to food consumption but only asked for some place to be free only to vegetarians so that it didn’t created discomfort to majority of them. This showing the fact that vegetarians are in caste terms suffering discomfort due to the non-vegetarian minority. This division of power of caste proving vegetarians to be dominant also may become the reason for their non-consumption of meat. A widespread assumption that in India, and Tamilnadu particularly, the upper castes are associated with vegetarian diet while the lower castes are associated with non-vegetarians. It has also been found that there is an immense relation between caste and commensality which states who takes food or who gives food and with whom it should be consumed. The belief of caste status and politics of social welfare were considered as essential parameters which lead to more complex and changing array of diet choices within various groups of people.
The caste background is found to be diverse within a population, but still the Brahmins form the largest category (around 40%) in the hierarchical pyramid on caste based divisions. Even some of the Brahmin households showed complex conflicts between vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet primarily due to nutritional needs, as in, one woman considering herself completely orthodox in many ways but still gave her children eggs, she also knew the fact of her husband consuming meat outside home with his non-Brahmin colleagues. The practice of non-vegetarian diet in some Brahmins was initialized when living abroad was also seen. While caste was found to be clearly significant, gender as in women were more likely to be vegetarians in non-Brahmin castes when compared to men, and also age played an important role, like children were allowed to have eggs or even non-vegetarian diet primarily due to their nutritional requirements. Commensality is found to be practiced in all households between vegetarian or non-vegetarian groups. The Brahmin women is allowed to cook non-vegetarian food for her family irrespective of the fact she consumes it or not. This formally also focuses on the point that vegetarians are predominantly asking non-vegetarians to impose their sense of taste and practices related to diet due to them being a majority power in The Hindu canteen. And this majority power mainly revolves around the hierarchical caste division.
Talking about Indian culture, then there is found to be an unbridgeable gap between caste in political sphere and caste in cultural sphere. The Dalits and other marginalized castes are found to be missing from most of the prominent sectors of the society and their rules are found to be governed by the upper castes. The upper caste over lower caste primarily doesn’t completely justify the term discrimination as the reservation rights and equality granted to the marginalized caste in reality are not responsible for their welfare due to the much more power and ideologies in the hands of the upper castes. The caste practices in the Indian culture and modes of discrimination renders certain practices and diets that are acceptable for the well-being of the human population as a whole. The Hindu office incident, which used the term discomfort also considered as a part of outrage ideally due to minority asked to follow according to the majority rather than providing separate premises for the vegetarians and the non-vegetarians. The equal rights given to the backward castes are not fully justified to their welfare and so a strong conflict within themselves is seen for the higher castes who govern the whole system according to their will. Thus the caste based division is actually responsible for the politics on food diet such as giving the tag of vegetarians as upper caste who are pure and don’t commit sins like animal killing while lower castes like Dalits are non-vegetarians, who are impure as they commit the sin of killing the animals for their diet or other purposes.
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