[Article contributed by Arjun, APSC, IIT Madras]
India is a country with more than 80% of its population eating meat. But, there is an aversion to meat food, especially in elite spaces and institutions, because of the brahmanical culture prevailing in these institutes. Last week, IIT Madras administration separated the dining area of one of their North Indian mess hall for vegetarians and non-vegetarians which was also followed by separate entrance, wash area and utensils for them. Posters were put up at the mess entrance demarcating for vegetarians and non-vegetarians and thus ensuring that inter-dining doesn’t happen. These arrangements were made after the ‘pure’ vegetarian students raised their discomfort in dining with students who take non-vegetarian food. The segregations were latter removed following the protest from students.
This discomfort to eat food with the colleague is nothing but caste discrimination by other means. This is not a case peculiar to mess in IIT Madras but a pan-IIT effect. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian students are not allowed to dine together in IIT Kharagpur, IIT-BHU, IIT-Kanpur. Separate plates are earmarked for vegetarian and non-vegetarian students. Non-vegetarian food is never treated as mainstream diet and is served from different counters. IIT-Roorkee students are allowed to consume non-veg dishes only behind a wall which separate them with the rest. Segregation is the first principle of the caste system. Students of premiere institute of science and technology believes that there is some element in non-vegetarian food which lingers in the plates even after thorough cleansing using the most modern dish washer and manages to contaminate their vegetarian “purity”.
Be it mess or canteen in IITs, vegetarian ones find a special place. Despite Indian’s taste for chicken and meat, if vegetarianism is the normal then it raises questions on the socio-cultural composition of these institutes and its hegemonic character. In 2014, when Smriti Irani was the HRD minister, all IITs were served with an instruction for ‘pure’ veg mess in IITs following a complaint from an RSS worker S K Jain who worried that “children who eat non- vegetarian food have saddened their parents by their ‘tamasic’ behaviour. They are deviating from the Indian value system because food has direct correlation with their thoughts.” The value system Mr. Jain is referring to is nothing else but caste which is essentially based on the notion of purity and pollution. But they either wear the mask of religious sentiments or even the “minority” right.