ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Fact-Finding on Mega Dams in North-East

Fact-Finding on Mega Dams in North-East

LETTERS

Issn 0012-9976

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Resisting Culinary Fascism

A
t the end of March some students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi under the banner of a recently formed group called the New Materialists (NM) organised a public meeting to debate the issue of (dis)allowing certain kinds of food – beef and pork in particular – on the campus. The group, as one of its members Suraj Beri said, intended to petition the university administration to allow the sale of beef and pork in the canteen(s), and fight for inclusion of the same in the hostels’ menus. It was a struggle, as the NM declared, against the brahmanical dietary impositions on dalits and other minority community students of JNU.

A fortnight later – on 14-15 April – violent clashes broke out at Osmania University (OU), Hyderabad over a beef-eating festival organised by dalit and left leaning student activists on the campus to protest against brahmanical food restrictions.

Beef-eating as a carefully constructed divisive symbol has been historically on the agenda of the Sangh parivar in particular, and used essentially to target the Indian Muslims and Christians.

While it is true that a campaign against eating beef has been the defi ning feature of the ideology of culinary fascism in India, that is certainly not where the story ends. For instance, the addition of pork, incidentally a prohibited meat for Muslims, on the agenda of NM is a pointer towards that. Given the complexity surrounding the dietary habits of Indians, a beef-centric view of culinary fascism would therefore offer only a non-nuanced understanding of that ideology. The Indian variety of culinary fascism is premised (and practised) upon a divide between the Hindus and Others (including non-vegetarian Hindus) which, in turn, feeds into the pure, vegetarian and impure (dangerous) nonvegetarian food divide. Obviously, we need to recognise that culinary (food) fascism in India is marked by an acute everydayness and extends far beyond the issue of beef consumption alone to include all kinds of non-vegetarian food. Other varieties of non-vegetarian food if not being able to stir such “heightened, passionate” feelings as with beef surely do no less.

may 12, 2012

I would argue that an approach to counter culinary fascism in India necessitates an understanding of how the vegetarian and non-vegetarian divide resting upon a selective and hence, biased study of Hindu (and Jain) myths, texts, and so forth operates at the micro level on an everyday basis. And it is just not about beef eating but also pork, chicken, fish, egg, and so on. And it is also not about dalits, Muslims and Christians alone but numerous non-vegetarian upper a nd middle caste (Bengali, Kashmiri, Maithili, and Assamese) Hindus. We need to remember that no community, dalits in particular, has a monolithic culinary culture just as not all Hindu brahmins are vegetarians or Muslims/Christians meat-eaters. The fascist ideology propagated by a section of “devout Hindus” – even if not all are officially part of the Sangh parivar – obviously operates on the constructed “Indian (vegetarian) culinary culture” which forbids inclusion of all kinds of non-vegetarian food and consequently excludes, hates and targets not only the Muslims/Christians (presuming all are non-vegetarians) but also the lesser non-vegetarian Hindus (including dalits). Interestingly, even Hindu deities are often ranked along ambrosial lines. As the EPW editorial “Beef Festival at Osmania”, 28 April 2012 pertinently points out: It is the north Indian, Hindu, uppercaste male who has had a free run for more than a century and a half in defining Indian food and culture” (p 8).

It is perhaps not incorrect that culinary fascism grows and thrives in northern (and parts of western) India, in the Gangetic plains to be precise, yet southern India is not far behind. My personal experience of being a Hindu, Bengali, nonvegetarian, upper caste woman living in north India (in Delhi, where my intolerant western Uttar Pradesh born neighbour routinely humiliates me by saying that I eat “meat, fish and what not” kind of food) and teaching in a south Indian managementrun college (non-vegetarian food is forbidden in the college premises) affi liated to the University of Delhi suggests that.

While I certainly stand in solidarity with the agenda of NM and the students of OU I would reiterate the need to extend the

vol xlviI no 19

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

LETTERS

dalit-Muslim, beef-centric understanding of culinary fascism to interrogate the larger vegetarian versus non-vegetarian cultural and political – pertaining to the nature of individual rights and choices in a “secular, democratic” state – framework within which the ideology is located. We urgently need to debate and resist culinary fascism in order to be able to eat, live and grow in a tolerant India.

Nabanipa Bhattacharjee

New Delhi

Consolidating Religio-Political Forces

W
ith reference to the editorial highlighting the beef festival at Osmania in EPW, while I feel culinary choices should remain personal, I also think, we must not lose sight of how it is being made a tool in the religio-political ground of conflict. One’s personal culinary choice notwithstanding, we must recognise the fact that such regimented and organised protests under the liberal or secular banner are actually more likely to consolidate this purely individual matter of culinary preference into a tool of religiopolitical expansion. Sourav Adhikary

Tamluk, West Bengal

Preserving Medical Records

T
he commentary by Shilpi Rajpal (“Experiencing the Indian Archives”, EPW, 21 April 2012) is indeed timely and highlights the appalling condition of the Indian archives that are managed by governments. Though in contemporary history writing use of archival materials has gone far beyond government documents, these still remain crucial to researchers exploring the public records to understand the genealogy of governance of specific kinds. The problems for historians of science, technology and medicine (STM) are more complicated as noted by the author.

I have been researching the history of psychiatry and psychology in India for more than a decade and think that the history of STM in India not only covers a huge, heterogeneous sample where various “modern” practices were introduced, it also explores the politics of knowledge and the complex modes of new governance. Besides the government archives, the medical institutions run by governments hardly care about archiving their documents. A few years ago I visited the library of the first medical college in India (1835) only to find out that most of the books and records had been destroyed. The School of Tropical Medicine library too was not quite dissimilar.

I guess this particular attitude to history in the Indian medical discipline has come from the absence of an awareness of humanities, which is otherwise intricately linked to the practice of the knowledge! Without a serious engagement with medical humanities we will not only destroy our own rich historical archives but also keep increasingly producing doctors who keep objectifying their patients in numbers, fi gures and images.

Amitranjan Basu

Shimla

Fact-Finding on Mega Dams in North-East

T
he Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation, comprising 20 civil and democratic rights organisations from across India, decided to undertake a factfinding of the impact of big/mega dam projects coming up in the north-eastern states on the life and livelihood of the people. It has been reported that more than 168 memoranda of understanding/ memoranda of agreement (MOA) have been signed by the Government of Arunachal Pradesh alone.

One team headed towards upper Assam and another towards the Tipaimukh dam site. The first team visited North Lakhimpur, Dhemaji in Assam and Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh covering the Lower Subansiri, Lower Siang and also the downstream area of Lohit and Dibang river projects in Tinsukia district. The second team visited Tipaimukh project which would affect people living in Manipur, Mizoram and Assam. An interim report has been prepared.

The fact of the matter is that nearly every river will have several dams each; Lohit basin will have 10, Subansiri basin 12, Dibang basin 12, Siang basin 39, Kaming basin 43….these figures can go up were all data to be made public by the Arunachal government. To build so many dams in an area which is earthquake-prone carries incalculable risk for all living beings.

Each MoA is accompanied by a monetary advance by the project developer to the Arunachal Pradesh government at the time of signing the deal. This implies that the project gets sanctioned even before any of the mandatory reports and clearances are given.

This makes the entire scheme of building projects which will destroy the Brahmaputra basin a colonial project that is meant to benefit rest of India at the expense of north-east. It is also of interest to note that the maximum number of projects have been awarded to private companies. In most of the projects, impact assessment studies have not been done. Indeed some developers who claim to have got this study done have confi ned them to between five and 10 km of the project. The Siang river project indeed claims that no agricultural land would be submerged, whereas nearly every household in 35 villages would lose their cultivable land! The misinformation by the authorities is accompanied by a deliberate attempt to hide the truth from the people by manipulating studies.

The fact-finding was conducted by following organisations, (1) Asansol Civil Rights Association (ACRA), West Bengal;

  • (2) Coordination for Human Rights (COHR), Manipur; (3) Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS); (4) Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR);
  • (5) Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR), Andhra Pradesh;
  • (6) People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi.
  • Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation

    Corrigendum “Why Did Mayawati Lose?”

    In the article, “Why Did Mayawati Lose” by A K Verma (5 May 2012), the sentence on page 18, “The decisive defeat of BSP with the loss of 80 seats since 2007...” should read as “The decisive defeat of BSP with the loss of 126 seats since 2007...”.

    The error is regretted.

    Economic & Political Weekly

    EPW
    may 12, 2012 vol xlviI no 19

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