The Big Story: Meat politics

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s obsession with vegetarianism seems to know no bounds, despite the fact that it is not a lifestyle choice that a majority of the people make. Media reports on Thursday said the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, which is controlled by the BJP, has passed a resolution that has banned food stalls from displaying meat and meat-based food.

The resolution was proposed in the Health Committee meeting of the corporation by a councilor from Kakrola village in Najafgarh zone. The council then decided to vote and adopt the private member proposal, which has now been forwarded to the South Delhi corporation commissioner for processing.

The BJP has presented the hygiene argument to buttress the case for such an arbitrary ban. However, public heath experts are not convinced. It is true that some non-vegetarian food putrefy faster than vegetarian food. But the way to deal with it cannot be to ban display of such products. Rather, the corporation could have done what any responsible municipal body would do: provide guidelines for storage of meat and meat-based food. Linking such measures to license eligibility could have been the easiest way to deal with the hygiene problem.

Invoking public health arguments for such a move hardly hides the ideological basis of such policies. “It has been seen that non-vegetarian food items are displayed publicly by restaurant owners,” the proposal reportedly said. “By doing so, there is danger of contamination to non-vegetarian food items. It also hurts the sentiments of the vegetarian public.”

Who are these people the corporation is referring to? South Delhi is perhaps the richest part of the Capital, with a sizeable upper caste, upper class population. The council seems to have prioritised the “sentiment” of this group, the core constituency of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP. Earlier this year, the BJP government at the Centre brought in new rules to ban slaughter of bovine in markets, which led to a huge backlash from farmers and forced the government to withdraw them. Over the last two years, beef-related incidents of violence have dominated the discourse in the country and have turned highly divisive. The RSS’s preference for vegetarianism is hardly a secret, with its leaders time and again glorifying what is essentially a food habit as a virtue.

However, surveys have established consistently that India is a big meat-eating country. The sample registration system baseline survey of 2014 shows that over 60% of the population in Delhi are meat eaters.

Such policies also adversely affect small traders. Delhi is also known for its meat-based food and tourists look forward to relishing the Mughalai tradition when they visit the city. Such a ban would only affect livelihood of small eateries and take away a unique part of its culture that adds so much colour to the city.


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