Non-vegetarians get a raw deal in Mumbai?
Mumbai has developed a strong vegetarian culture with areas in the city (Malabar Hill for example) being predominantly vegetarian. There are reports of housing colonies which do not admit non-vegetarians and recently there was some fuss made when a non-vegetarian eatery selling kebabs wanted to set up shop in Chembur near a ‘vegetarian’ area. And this wasn’t even an outlet inside of the colony, but out on the street. It was contended that a non-veg eatery would ruin the atmosphere of the place as it would attract the wrong sort of people! In fact a group of residents in Chembur filed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) in the Bombay High Court to prevent the coming up of this non-vegetarian eatery. I tried to find out what had happened to this PIL, but am not sure whether it was admitted.
Winds of change
I am not a native of Mumbai, but of Pune, but am familiar with the city as I have been visiting Mumbai since childhood and have also spent several years working in Mumbai. To me the winds of vegetarianism are something new. While I can understand why MacDonalds was not initially welcomed (interests of hoteliers, politicians, and those against anything ‘foreign’), any area or colony not welcoming non-vegetarians was befuddling. Only a small section of Maharashtrians are traditionally vegetarian (mainly brahmins) so this phenomena (of shunning non-vegetarians) is unusual in Maharashtra. At least in my experience.
Eat Veg or else…!
I realised how strong the vegetarian culture had become when my kids were in school. While packing lunch for my kids they warned me not to pack eggs or chicken under any circumstances in their lunch boxes as everyone around them was mostly vegetarian and could get offended. They went to a prominent school in Santa Cruz and told me stories of girls being boycotted if they brought non-veg food. And one of my daughters is in Jai Hind College in Mumbai today has a friend who makes it quite clear that ordering non-vegetarian food offends her.
Things have got so bad that people pretend to be vegetarian. This is in the context of housing. Good housing in Mumbai is a perennial problem and some people pretend to be vegetarian so that they can get a place! This has been reported by the International Herald Tribune – this phenomena of undercover meat eaters! Here is what they recount:
Shailaja Hazare’s preparations are meticulous. She travels to a butcher a few kilometers from her home to avoid running into a neighbor and makes sure her purchases are disguised in layers of plastic bags and paper. She lights sandalwood, rose and jasmine incense on her doorstep to mask the smell of frying meat…If the doorbell rings while she is eating, she clears the surfaces, retreats to her bedroom with her food and lets her vegetarian daughter open the door.
I have not heard that such things happening in other metropolitan towns like Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore. We lived for a few years in all of the above cities, except Chennai. Of all these cities, one would expect the least non-veg phobia in Mumbai as it’s the most cosmopolitian of the lot, but that’s not the case. I personally find it disturbing to see a city like Mumbai, which is like a second home to me, becoming this intolerant. To my mind, it is an elitist culture that Mumbai has acquired.
Are the majority of Indians vegetarians?
The IHT article gives the impression that Indians are mostly vegetarians but this is not true. The majority of the very poor eat non-vegetarian food and a large majority of our population is very poor. Also, the majority of Maharashtrians are non-vegetarians and of late many brahmins have also started eating meat. I cannot speak for too many other communities, but I do know that Bengalis are non-vegetarians and those living in the coastal areas of Maharashtra and Kerala are inveterate meat eaters and we are not talking religion here! These are Hindus! To say that meat eating is a western concept or a non-Hindu is not true either, but that is what people have told reporters of this foreign newspaper, IHT.
Update 1: A reader (R.S.) has given a link to an article in The Hindu which talks about a survey conducted by the newspaper and CNN-OBN. This survey reveals that about 60 percent of Indians are non-vegetarians and another 9 percent eat eggs. However it would be interesting to see which socio-economic classes were interviewed. I doubt that the very poor were.
Update 2: wishtobeanon has give a link to another blog discussion on a similar subject. Sujak has written in detail about castes in India who reject non-vegetarianism.
The law allows discrimination against non-vegetarians
If housing societies decide to keep non-vegetarians out, the law can do nothing. It’s not against the law. Quoting from the same IHT article:
Denying someone the right to move into an apartment on the grounds of caste or religious affiliation is illegal in India, but vegetarian-only homes occupy a gray area under the law. Although the government does not record numbers, vegetarian leaders say thousands of such buildings are dotted around the city. No other city in India has such a concentration of vegetarian ghettoes.
Ghetto is the word. Frankly I wouldn’t like to live in one…but wait, I forgot. I wouldn’t be allowed in because I am a non-vegetarian! I think flesh-eater is the right word.