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

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of Vegetarianism Caste and The Hindu Canteen

The Hidden Politics

A notice issued to employees of The Hindu asking them to desist from bringing non-vegetarian food into the office canteen as it causes discomfort to a majority of the employees who are vegetarian has caused a fair amount of controversy. This article looks at how food and dietary customs mark out caste in "modern" India and suggests that public institutions, particularly those which have a commendable track record on matters of social justice, need to further introspect on the silent coding of caste into the institutional space.

Talking about food in the south Asian context, Arjun Appadurai notes how consumption practices signify the structures within the social order and act as “the semiotic instrument of Hindu ideas of rank and distance” (Appadurai 1980: 497). Whilst political events such as the “Osmania Beef Festival” in 2012 occasionally force the politics of food into the public arena in India, all too often food preferences and practices are hidden from view, confined to the domestic sphere and regarded as of little importance. This elision, we argue, is misplaced. Indeed, some 35 years ago Conlon argued that commensality (rules about “interdining”) was “the root of all caste distinction” (Conlon 1979: 157, cited in Iversen and ­Raghavendra 2006). Prescriptions about what food one can eat and proscriptions about whose food you are allowed to eat animate caste boundaries and identities. Food practices, thus, are inherently political whether they are politicised or not.

Marginalised Palettes

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