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Non-vegetarians get a raw deal in Mumbai?

January 3, 2008

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.

Acting Veg
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.

Only Mumbai
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. 😈

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114 Comments leave one →
  1. April 23, 2008 1:57 am

    Perhaps karma-free in vitro meats are on the horizon. Any chance vegetarians reading this might donate to the reward. It would be wonderful if one of the new Indian mega-billionaires would augment the prize with a few million dollars. Thanks from the USA, Zebulon

    PS I have not read all the comments. I’d love to hear from some Jains.

    • January 7, 2011 12:51 am


      I am Jain and currently living in Phoenix, United States.

  2. shounak permalink
    May 26, 2008 12:00 pm

    nice article, Nita. Yes its true veg hindus are easily offended by non-veg in their midst and as bengalis living in ahmedabad in the 80’s we realised how anti-bengali (read – f-i-s-h) the community in the west is. my dad went from pillar to post begging for a place to rent. we lived like thieves in our own country. when we returned to calcutta i came across large veg enclaves in bhawanipur and other parts of the city exclusively gujarati or marwari. even here we were sneered down upon 🙂 (ha ha woe the tolerant bong) . On a hindu moral point veggies have been scoring giving the booming ecos. in guj & north, west and south. what is befuddling that given our food habits, mobility which is to an extent the key to good economics, is hindered by a new morality conscious new India cleaved between sinful meat-eaters and holier than thou veggies. i dont think its the smell. its the new wave. what is worst is that the very same divide exists among NRIs abroad. We find it difficult to make friends among fellow Indians. question number one – where are you from? (feeler) question number two – where do you live?(shop talk). real question number three – you eat fish ???(wham!). see you later.

  3. Ravi permalink
    May 26, 2008 2:16 pm

    Like you said tradiationally indians eat meat barring some communities. But I never knew that non-vegetarians were not given a place to rent. Thats sad and unfortunate to see people create differences over petty things. I m glad that I m a hindu and I eat meat. I never had to starve myself in the midst of a crowded place in sanfrancisco. I can get into any restaurant whenever I feel like in any country and order any thing that doesnt have bacon and beef. I dont like bacon cause its too salty and beef is too filling. I have no religious regions to avoid eatin them though. NRIs who are vegetarians always have a tough time in spending time with pals in fancy restaurants. Nobody wants to pay $50 for a salad with a couple of dressings. Vegetarians cannot go to applebees, chillis, ruby tuesday, red lobster and olive garden. Yummy…. I m having good time when it comes to food cause im a non-vegetarian.

  4. vivek mittal permalink
    May 26, 2008 2:47 pm

    Once i read a survey on india’s food habits, it revealed that in southern states more than 90% people are non vegetarians, it’s same in west bengal ………probably people in costal areas eat more non veg

    But in north about 60% people are vegetarians, and in Rajasthan the figure goes up to 70%.

    Though i’m not getting into debate what is better……and personally am vegetarian.. but revealing few statistics

  5. Kumar permalink
    November 19, 2008 6:48 pm

    Its a nice article.Well being a vegetarian is nothing to do with religion/caste/race,its by choice one becomes vegetarian.Just by tasting a non vegetarian food a vegetarian cannot become non vegetarian or vice versa.Its purely a choice of an individual to become a vegetarian or a non vegetarian just like a smoker and non smoker or a drinker or tee totaller.Though some people like to eat non-vegetarian they like vegetarian people for the reasons they know best.Similarly a smoker always likes to be a non-smoker same for drinker. When we can find matrimonial advertisements regarding the habits,financial strength,salary, color,caste and all, we can choose our neighbourhood also as per the taste of habits just like a club membership.

    We can’t complain that i was not allowed to a ball dance party when i tried to enter a posh locality in south Mumbai as i am from a middle class family. I don’t have eligibility due to some set of points..We can’t complain i was not allowed to visit a Jain community meeting just because as i doesn’t belong to that community.As India is democratic country people are free to have their beliefs.

    Its purely a personal decision of a person to choose a neighbourhood as per his tastes.We got different neighbourhoods in Indian per the tastes people get to meet and choose neighbourhoods.We can’t complain if some neighbourhood is having only vegetarians and non vegetarians are not allowed to stay or rent.Similarly in a non vegetarian locality a vegetarian cannot say not to eat non vegetarian due to smell or any reason.

    We can’t generalise all brahmins are vegetarians or Hindus as vegetarians..In My experience i found when compared to other religions, vegetarians are more across all castes in Hindus.Being non vegetarian is not inferior or superior.Lord Rama is a kshatriya and was from non-vegetarian family.Again it is debatable as most of the kshatriyas eat non-vegetarian only during battle and in normal time they keep themseleves away from non vegetarian food.Similarly for other castes & communities.

    We can find vegetarians in europe and west also.But now a days people are moving more towards satwik food and being satwik.That is the reason vegetarian food became a brand.We can find in bollywood movies also ..a hero or a heroine saying when asked what to eat they say “Anthing Veg”.

  6. Seeker permalink
    February 11, 2009 11:23 pm

    An interesting discussion…People always have a tendency to consider their own beliefs and practices the best and have a hard time not imposing them on the people around them.

    Vegetarianism in present-day India stems mainly from habit and inherited food preferences. Most Indian vegetarians I know didn’t personally make the choice not to eat meat. Even if they are not opposed to the IDEA of eating meat, habits ingrained in childhood are so strong, handling, cooking and the texture of meat is so unfamiliar that they remain vegetarian all their lives. Some vegetarian people I know won’t eat an egg by itself, but they don’t mind it in cakes and baked goods. They also don’t have a problem with buying leather and fur. Most of my family is strictly vegetarian, but my mother always fed us eggs when we were growing up, so while I am nauseated even by the smell of cooking meat, I love eggs and include them often in my diet.

    Living in the US where vegetarianism is a fringe cultish sort of thing, I am often confronted by a prejudice opposite to what you’ve mentioned in your article. Often, confirmed meat-eaters try to engage me in discussions about why it’s okay for me to kill plants but not animals. Or make jokes about how tempted I must be by all the meat around me and that I probably would sneak some on the sly if nobody was watching. Also how I don’t get enough protein and how the human brain would not have grown in size if humans hadn’t started consuming meat (never mind that it doesn’t seem to have had the same evolutionary effect on carnivorous animals).

    Anyway, I think it’s been sufficiently established that a vegetarian diet need not be nutritionally deficient. Especially in India, the vegetarian diet has had plenty of time to evolve and if you look at traditional vegetarian meals in most parts of the country, they are wonderfully balanced. The point is that I don’t think that just the inclusion OR exclusion of meat from a diet makes it healthy. I am referring to what somebody said earlier about vegetarian parents feeding their kids too many carbohydrates and not enough protein. Many parents in the US often feed their kids extremely unhealthy meals (in the form of pizza, soda, burgers) even though they are heavy meat-eaters.

  7. February 13, 2009 7:44 pm

    I would not consider Malabar hills as the last word.Juhu and Bandra are equally snobbish.
    As for veg/non-veg is concrened, it should be a personal choice.I know of a lot of people who have switched to veg out of choice.
    This can not be seen as a legal issue.
    Yes ,as the apartments are getting smaller,one must take care to ensure that neighbours don’t have the problem of smell….non-veg does leave smell.

  8. Arjun permalink
    February 20, 2009 4:13 pm

    Hi Nita,

    I am a Bombayite who has been in Chennai for the last 2 years. Although I didnt have to face this problem when I moved here (family home is here), a lot of my friends were told point-blank by their landlords and land-ladies that they want only vegetarian tenants. Of course this varies from area to area and house to house. Here there aren’t too many co-op hsg Societies as there are in Bombay, and there aren’t too many “veggie areas” – like Walkeshwar and Juhu Scheme is predominantly Gujju. But these kind of rules do exist here too.

  9. Vinayak Pande permalink
    June 26, 2010 12:53 pm

    What is it about Mumbai and crazy intolerant people? First the Shiv Sena and now these nutters who act like its their divine right to exclude people based on what they eat.

  10. Nishnat Biswas permalink
    January 2, 2011 8:32 pm

    I , being a Bengali Brahman is a pure NON VEGETARIAN. I find vegetarian people to be very intolerant. They lack the basic courtesy. The funny thing is that vegetarians are minorities in India and they try to hi-jack the Indian culture which is very much non vegetarian in nature. One day a guy from UP got angry when I said Shree Ram was a non vegetarian. I had no other options but to say that Vegetarians are scoundrels and bxxxxxxx, Shree Ram was not a scoundrel and Bxxxxxx. So Shree Ram was a pure Non Vegetarian. If the vegetarians dont change their ways, there will be problems. These people can sleep with prostitutes, have extra mariatal sex, commit crimes of all sorts and pretend that they are good because they dont eat flesh… real low class mentality. Non vegetarians also have the same problems… they also womanize and commit crimes but at least they dont pretend they are good.

    • sumeet permalink
      January 7, 2011 12:35 am

      This is completely RIGHT.
      Students bring their meals to School.
      As a Vegetarian or Vegetarian parent i will prefer that there is no or very less consumption of meat in schools.

      This is same as having a Vegetarian Restaurant and Non-Vegetarian Restaurant.

      This is not a hidden truth that non-vegetarian friends or colleagues force vegetarians to eat meat.
      Will Muslim Institution allow Pork to be served in their canteens?
      Will Hindu Institution allow Beef to be served in their canteens?

      NO is the answer.
      Hence Vegetarians have every right to allow only vegetarian in their institution or houses or colonies.

      You guys making a big hue and cry of this news.
      I will just say GET A LIFE GUYS and not trouble the peaceful and progressive Vegetarian Community in India

      We Vegetarians DONT LIKE MEAT hence we will try our best to make our environment meat free..

      We are not asking for a vegetarian state or vegetarian country?
      We will do whatever in our private properties and colonies.

  11. Karuna. Bhandare permalink
    January 14, 2012 1:32 pm

    One of my friend (Maharashtrian and non-veg) was searching a house on rent in Mira Road, after the house was finalized and token amount was given, the owner denied to rent the flat..and gave the reason that they are Maharashtrians and eat non-veg…. ALL THE NON-MAHARASHTRIANS DONT FORGET THAT YOU PEOPLE ARE STAYING IN MAHARASHTRA- LAND OF MAHARASHTRIANS……!

    wat if we wud hv nt given them place to stay in maharashtra initially……few years bk I had given my house on rent to a gujju family .. jo- ghar ke corridor mein behtkar vegetable saaf karte the…kapde building ke bahaar trees pe sukhate the..etc….

  12. Goji permalink
    October 20, 2014 5:05 pm

    Calling someone “intolerant” because he is uncomfortable with murderers and doesn’t want to have anything to do with them is kind of a bit….well…self-deceiving.
    But go on living in your illusional bubble of ” I have the right to kill anything that moves because I am the crown of evolution”
    Seriously, mate, and all you stinking cadavre eaters: you are terminally sick.

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