Meena Kandasamy and Food Fascism

The Beef Festival didn’t make news waves. Conducted at Hyderabad’s Osmania University (OU) by Dalit students in protest of banning beef at university hostel, this event was in turn opposed by the upper caste Hindus. In the ensuing clashes, a student was stabbed, a few bones broken and police jeeps torched. This is not the first event of clashes between caste Hindu and Dalit students. But perhaps this is the first such clash that continued on the cyberspace.

Meena Kandasamy, writer, poet, feminist and a proud Dalit, someone who never misses a chance to rub it on your face, participated in the festival. In one of the earlier interviews, she had mentioned that she was not into activism, but perhaps felt compelled to break her routine. I reckon it is impossible for someone to be an outspoken Dalit writer and not be an activist, because the temptations are too high and too frequent.

Barely after she had finished chewing a few pieces of meat had the flood-gates opened on the Web. Caste Hindus spewed venom on Meena for her endorsement of eating beef. She was derided for ‘insulting the Indian culture’, whilst some even narrowed it to ‘Tamil culture’. Eating beef is alien to Indian culture they cried. As a punishment for attempting to destroy our fragile and beautiful culture, one wanted to gang-rape her and arrange for a live-telecast of the event; this comment was chided by another that ‘choosing’ Meena exposed the commenter’s poor taste, and he should go looking for a better looking girl. We are not sure if this girl should be a Dalit.

Another promised to throw concentrated carbolic acid on her face. One called her Shurpanaka of modern times and helpfully elaborated saying Dalit are equivalent to Asuras of Lanka – who will, as a consequence, be destroyed by Lord Rama.

Interestingly, one tweeter complained that she has insulted Tamil culture by participating in the Beef Fest and she must be a ‘prostitute’ to do so. He has used a special ‘stinging’ street term for this word.

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Meena Kandasamy may be a rabble-rouser. She may be using her Dalit status as a title to advance her writing career. Her writing is mere polemic masquerading as poetry. I had watched her defend the three death-row convicts of Rajiv Gandhi assassination and it was petulant at its best. Her attendance in the Beef Fest was widely promoted by herself. It was not clear whether she was promoting the event to spread awareness on the issue or for enhancing her self-image was not very clear. If she was aiming to becoming a Dalit man’s Arundhati Roy, this event must have made her climb a few steps towards that goal.

Nevertheless, she wouldn’t have managed this feat without the help of the protectors of the Hindu culture. It was evident the way Meena re-tweeted many of these abuses to her followers which paid doubly, first to garner sympathy as a plight of a Dalit woman, second to demonstrate the arrogance of the caste Hindus.

Yet, none of this would have happened without the active assistance from the Hindu student association ABVP and those Hindus who wanted to employ rape and acid-throwing as instruments of upholding Hindu culture. Now for those uninitiated, ABVP is a student body of RSS. Some media houses wrongly mentioned that they were the student body of BJP. Not entirely their fault because these organisations have porous borders between them which keep expanding and contracting depending on the need thereby making it very convenient for them to manage public opinion. Some in BJP even claimed that there was no evidence that the violence was initiated by ABVP and it was a ‘spontaneous’ reaction of some ‘disgruntled caste Hindu students’.

Now, we don’t know what the previous food policy in OU was. One professor claimed that university constituted 70% of students whose staple food is beef. We don’t know if this is true either. Nevertheless, what happened at the OU has not exposed the atavistic nature of the Dalit. Instead, it has only exposed the obtuse, boorish and fissiparous nature of the caste Hindu. Also, without exception, all these tweets were written in embarrassingly poor English. Whilst I don’t think lack of English grammar would make someone illiterate, especially in India, it was curious that not one person, who could write decent English, could be available to defend their side, albeit feebly.

It would have been feeble, because there are ample evidences for the presence of beef eating in ancient India. It may have changed after the emergence of Buddhism and later when, during the Hindu renaissance, the Brahmin gained dominance. Even today, Muslims, who constitute 20% of the population, and Dalits and Adivasis include beef in their diet. In states such as Kerala, even caste Hindus eat beef. So it is inappropriate and historically and culturally inaccurate to portray India as the largely cow-worshipping nation.

Those protesting against the ban, and the subsequent onslaught against Dalits, term the event as food fascism. I think that term is woefully inadequate and ambiguous. The correct term must be Hindu fundamentalism and fanaticism.