Understanding the layers of “hate” in Gujarat’s non-veg ban

Vendors question how traffic and religious tolerance will be solved by hindering local business

Non-Veg Ban
Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in

In fresh developments in the controversy surrounding the sale of non-vegetarian food in Gujarat, National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) Gujarat Coordinator Gurunath Sawant has informed SabrangIndia that cities like Ahmedabad have now declared that vendors within 100 metres of schools cannot sell non-veg food. The news comes shortly after Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel assured hawkers there would be no discriminatory action against non-veg food.

For days, non-veg food sellers in Vadodara, Bhavnagar, Rajkot and most recently Ahmedabad, feared losing their well-established spots along city roads after relevant municipal bodies declared that non-veg food should not be sold out in the open. Officials like Revenue Minister Rajendra Trivedi even endorsed the move by likening such vendors to “land grabbers” and citing interests of pedestrians.

Meanwhile, CM Patel assured that only stationary stalls will be removed to resolve traffic, following heavy criticism for the move. However, the promise served little respite to vendors.

“Many hawkers sell non-veg food. As per the Street Vendors Act 2014, we are allowed to sell any food item barring alcohol. So why this ban? The government may be back-tracking in areas like Surat but people are still scared,” said Sawant.

Ban as discrimination against vendors

Reacting to Patel’s claims about traffic jams, NASVI National Coordinator Arbindh Singh questioned the rationale in targeting non-veg stalls alone in the food ban. Further, he asked why the ban did not apply to hotels and residential houses if it was a question of morality or religion.

“Why not stop non-veg food everywhere? Why target poor people? If you’re going to cite moral health reasons, then remove it everywhere. But until the 2014 Act remains, every person has the right to sell whatever food they want. India does not work on whims and fancies,” said Singh.

Stating that dietary habits are individual decisions, he said that the decision showed officials’ lack of understanding of India’s laws, human diet and non-veg food. Singh condemned the ruling regime’s talks about equality before the law, and demanded that the state government address the issue of vending certificates first. Sawant further explained that the non-veg ban was the least of vendors’ worries. After the Covid-lockdown, vendors in cities increased because more people lost their jobs. Meanwhile, he alleged, police harassment of hawkers continued. For years, they have waited for the government to start the vending certificate survey which will determine legal vendors in the state.

“The focus should be on issuance of certificates, creation of Town Vending Committees and grievance cells as per the provisions of the law. Instead, they make announcements like these,” said Sawant. He mentioned how other states like Maharashtra encouraged egg consumption that helped vendors. Yet in Gujarat, hawkers continue to face discrimination.

Food discrimination in other states

Still many states have discriminated against non-veg consumption in the past. In September 2020, Madhya Pradesh opposed inclusion of eggs in mid-day meals, despite being one of the most malnourished states in India.

In May 2017, the central government tried to ban the slaughter of cattle i.e cows, buffaloes, bullocks, calves and camels. Fortunately, the attempt was stayed by the Supreme Court declaring it as a hindrance to the livelihood of people involved in leather, tanning and meat production.

These restrictions were purportedly introduced in the interest of protecting “religious sentiments” – similar to the reasons given by Gujarat officials. However, they largely discriminate against oppressed and socio-economically backward communities like Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) who consume the subsidised or easily available food. State-instituted vegetarianism largely benefits upper-caste Hindus, who can afford alternative sources of nutrition.

As such, food bans like these serve as micro-aggressions in a pyramid of hate decried by organisations like Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). According to Secretary Teesta Setalvad, “Biased attitudes of stereotyping, insensitive remarks, fear of differences, non-inclusive language, micro aggressions justifying biases by seeking out like-minded people, that takes shape in the form of hate,” lays the foundation for institutionalised hate. The same can be seen in recent events as well.

Institutional discrimination against food

On November 14, the Indian Railways announced that passengers travelling to religious sites will only get vegetarian food in the train. The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) talked about working with the Sattvik Council of India to ensure this provision for Katra Vande Bharat Express, the Ramayan Express and similar trains used by pilgrims.

Then in October, Hindutva group Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti demanded a few days before Navratri that meat shops in Gurgaon, because the meat visible in open shops “hurts the sentiments of devotees and people who are fasting.”

In February 2018, the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay momentarily banned non-veg food from its famous Civil Café to ensure fresh food after receiving complaints from “some people.” The ban was revoked when students heavily criticised the move arguing that vegetarian food can easily go stale as well.

Further back in 2017 government carrier Air India also announced that economy-class passengers flying in a less-than-90 minutes flight will not get non-veg food. Interestingly, the business class passengers were allowed a non-veg menu, effectively not censoring the food-items but cashing in on people’s hunger.

In all these instances, the benefits of such laws are reaped by the rich and the upper-class Hindus whereas in reality, such bans are at odds with the meat-consuming population of India.

According to the Sample Registration System (SRS) 2014 report, 71.6 percent males and 70.7 percent females in India above 15 years of age are non-vegetarian. Of these, 77.9 percent males and 76.1 percent females are from the SC category, and 76 percent males and 75.9 percent females are from the ST category. Almost every state in India has a special non-vegetarian dish using chicken, beef, mutton, fish or eggs. North-eastern states also have various dishes with pork.

Similar estimates were reported by the Pew Research Centre on June 29, 2021. Around 61 percent of Indians said they are not vegetarian. Yet, respondents also said that they would not eat food in non-vegetarian settings.

Around 36 percent of Hindu vegetarians were willing to eat food in a restaurant that serves both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food or in the home of a friend. Eight percent Jains said they would eat at a restaurant that serves non-vegetarian food. In contrast, about three-in-ten Sikh vegetarians said they were willing to eat in a similar environment. Roughly three-in-four vegetarian Christians said they would eat at the home of a friend or neighbour who is non-vegetarian. Thus, those most intolerant of such food surroundings were upper-caste Hindus.

Gujarat vendors’ persevering battle

Back in Gujarat – with a large population of Jains – 39.9 percent males and 38.2 percent females are non-vegetarians, as per the SRS report. Cities like Ahmedabad and Vadodara claim residents complain about the smell of food – not about the traffic caused by the stall.

However to Singh, “One person may not like the smell. But to others it is an aroma. The smell increases the quality of the food. That is how vendors get their orders.”

Unsure of how the ruling regime will make its next moves, non-veg food hawkers in Gujarat’s cities remain wary of the next municipal decision. Sellers are waiting for municipal corporations to begin the survey process like they did in Delhi where details of the vendors items are noted in the certificate.


Gujarat Minister likens non-veg food vendors to land grabbers
Meat politics and related jurisprudence in India
In Madhya Pradesh, eggs blur the line between religion and nutrition
A pyramid of hate being built to score a poll win in UP?



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