meat matters

Why vegetarian states love the BJP but non-vegetarian states prefer their own parties

Vegetarianism is a trait usually shared by the upper castes, who are the traditional vote banks of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The stereotype of India as a vegetarian land is deep. Government-funded universities often don’t allow meat and eggs in their messes, there are whole towns that are vegetarian by law and even ads for the Incredible India! campaign sell India with an ironic joke predicated on the assumption that most Indians are vegetarian.

Actually, nearly three out of four human Indians share the meat-eating habits of the Royal Bengal Tiger.
Actually, nearly three out of four human Indians share the meat-eating habits of the Royal Bengal Tiger.

However, recent census data released by the government has pricked the bubble of India as a vegetarian nation. In the real world, only 30% of Indians above the age of 15 are vegetarian. Seventy per cent are – to use that unique Indian-English word – non-vegetarians: a classification that includes people who eat any combination of fish, meat and eggs. That so much of Indian public life is still dominated by a small minority of vegetarians is a good example of the power of caste in India, given that vegetarianism in India is usually an upper caste trait.

Meat map: Only 5 out of 29 states in the Indian Union are majority vegetarian.
Meat map: Only 5 out of 29 states in the Indian Union are majority vegetarian.

Of course, the numbers have always shown India as a non-vegetarian nation – even as the stereotype persists. As the data was released, though, some users of social media decided to take a different angle: how do eating habits influence India's political choices?

The Bharatiya Janata Party has made food habits a part of its politics, with a slew of bans on the consumption of beef recently. It has also extended this to meat in general, banning meat for the Jain festival of Paryushan across five states. More damagingly, its religious puritanism on the matter means that BJP governments are even willing to ban eggs from the mid-day meal programme, denying India's malnourished children crucial protein. Of course, this puritanism means that it is fitting that vegetarian states in India should lean towards the BJP. But do they?

Scroll.in took a lead from the chatter on social media and ran through the numbers on vegetarianism and BJP governments. India has five states that could be considered vegetarian (defined as having at least half their population as vegetarian). These states are Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. Remarkably, four out of these five have BJP chief ministers and the fifth, Punjab, has the BJP ruling the state as a junior partner in coalition with the Akali Dal.

The converse holds as well: India has eight states which are almost completely non-vegetarian, that is with less than 10% vegetarians – Telangana, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar. Of these, only one currently has a BJP government: Jharkhand. In South India, the only state where the BJP has a significant presence is also, coincidentally, the only state where vegetarians have a significant presence: Karnataka with 21% vegetarians.

Correlation and causation

In fact, if we run the numbers over the past 20 years, vegetarianism and the BJP have a rather high correlation. Since 1996, the correlation coefficient of the proportion of vegetarians in a state and the number of BJP governments it has elected is a rather high 0.61*.

The correlation coefficient measures how well two variables move together and ranges from +1 (perfect positive correlation) and -1 (perfect negative correlation).

To put the 0.61 in perspective, the correlation coefficient between city population and the Barack Obama vote in 2012 was 0.34. The fact that big cities vote Democrat (the party Obama represents) is almost a truism in American politics; so the correlation coefficient of 0.61 for vegetarianism and BJP state governments is quite high.

Of course, correlation is not causation. To assume that palak paneers or aloo gobhis somehow engender in people the urge to vote for the BJP would be a somewhat weedy hypothesis. Vegetarianism, in this case, is a mask for caste as well as geography. Unlike the West, vegetarianism is rarely an individual choice in India, being dictated by identity. North and West India are far more inclined towards their veggies than the East or the South. Of course, high caste Hindus are far more likely to abstain from meat than Dalits, Muslims or Christians. Thus, as it happens, vegetarian populations are the traditional vote banks of the BJP – which rather prosaically explains the high correlation.

The Congress also, in fact, displays a small correlation of 0.11 with vegetarianism. However, the true mirror image of the BJP are state parties that have a significant correlation of 0.53 with non-vegetarianism. This, of course, is because state parties dominate in the South and the East. In South India, only one state, Karnataka is ruled by a national party, the Congress, and in eastern India, Assam is the only major state to not be ruled by a state party.

*Note: In case of coalitions, election wins are credited to a party only if it is the senior member. Only the major states have been included in the analysis, with the exception of three new states Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarkahand, due to lack of 20-year election data.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.