Casteism On The Plate: A Sneak Peek Into How Caste Stratum Has Influenced India's Culinary Heritage
Updated : August 23, 2021 12:08 IST
Inequality is found in every corner of India. But have you ever thought that it is evident in the food practices too?
India has witnessed years of historical oppression based on caste differences. From entering temples to economic opportunities, caste difference is seen in almost every sphere to date. But have you ever thought that these differences are highly instrumental in influencing the food practices and the culinary heritage of the country too? Yes, you heard it right. No matter how shocking it sounds, it is the ultimate truth and is quite evident. Even BR Ambedkar wrote about the food hierarchy of India stating “Even a superficial view of the food taboos of the Hindus will show that there are two taboos regarding food which serve as dividing line. There is one taboo against meat-eating. It divides Hindus into vegetarians and flesh-eaters. Another taboo is against beef-eating. It divides Hindus into those who eat cow’s flesh and those who do not.” Do you see the patterns of some of the existing food practices and stigmas now? Well, there is more to it.
History is proof that Hindus have been practicing casteism in food for ages. From not eating certain foods to inquiring about who cooked them, casteism has been prevalent in Indian society through many such culinary practices. We have read instances in our school books in numerous stories and excerpts showcasing a staunch Brahmin throwing a palter of food stating that someone from the lower caste must have “polluted it”. Do you wonder where these practices have come from? The Hindu scripture Manusmriti claims that a Hindu brahmin must not accept cooked food from a Shudra who doesn’t perform Shraddha; however, no such law is applicable when it comes to raw food. Such practices are still prevalent in the rural areas of India where a Brahmin will not accept food and water from a lower caste person even if he is on the verge of dying. Even people are named based on what they eat. From the Mahars or Mrutaharis of Maharashtra to the Musaharis of Bihars, these communities are named after the foods they eat and still exist in these parts of the country and face discrimination from the upper castes.
Do you think these practices are prevalent only in the rural parts of the country? We are here to prove you wrong. You must have come across restaurants such as Vaishno Bhojanalaya or Kshatriya’s Rasoi at least once in your life. These restaurants are proof of the prevailing food casteism in India to date. How do you think untouchability came into practice? It is believed that untouchability was a tactic to keep Indians from eating beef. The cruel discrimination against the Dalits made essential food articles unavailable to them which is why they had to depend on cow’s meat to meet their protein requirements. The same is the story behind the famous ‘ant chutney’ and the famous ‘Rakti’ of Maharashtra. It is quite evident that the food that the Brahmins consumed and enjoyed was the result of elitism whereas the opposite is the reason for the emergence of what Indians call ‘Dalit food’. The discrimination itself gave rise to the necessity of consuming items like ants, goat’s blood, and rats.
We apologize for the shock bolt in the previous three stanzas but this is the reality of the culinary practices of India. However, it is high time for us to stop labeling food as shuddh and ashuddh and start consuming it as it is.