The recent hullabaloo surrounding beef-consumption in India propelled students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) School of Media and Cultural Studies to release a film they had made on the subject of caste and meat consumption; however, the ministry of information and broadcasting has refused to grant them clearance. Made before the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 2015 that banned the slaughter of bulls and bullocks, ‘Caste on the Menu Card’ documents the culture of milch meat consumption and the politics of food and caste in India through the words of academicians, caterers and consumers of beef.
Interspersed with quotes from Hindu religious texts, Hindu poets and thinkers, that are evidence that meat consumption was traditionally never considered sinful in Hinduism, the film delves into the subject of how consumption of meat in India is closely related to caste. “If we (lower caste) eat it, it’s a sin and we are ostracized. But they (upper caste) secretly have it and that is not an issue” says Vijay Chindaliya. While cows are considered sacred in Hinduism, Dr. Avatthi Ramaiah, professor at TISS, says that historically, cow meat consumption is not uncommon in India. “The norms about vegetarianism were made by the elite for the elite” says Dr. Abhijit Dandekar, Deccan College.
Moving beyond academics, the film takes a look at how caterers and restaurateurs are managing with the beef ban, and how it affects business, be it the food business or the leather (footwear and bags) business. Student debates at TISS on this subject are also shown, with the viewpoints of students ranging from how dining halls shouldn’t allow beef to the element of beef as ‘culture shock’.
The film reflects the attitudes that people have regarding meat consumption in India, which points to a much deeper problem regarding caste. The film ends with a clear message that the beef ban is not just about a food choice but is closely related to issues of livelihood, social inclusion and human rights. The film has won two awards, the Jeevika Freedom Award and the best documentary award at the Jeevika Asia Livelihood Film Festival 2015.
Here’s the 20 minute documentary: