The National Museum in Delhi has lived an important and boring life. No longer.
First, its decision to host Historical Gastronomica, an Indus Valley dining experience, set the resident kings in the dusty paintings searching for fork and knife among the prehistoric tools on exhibit.
Then, just hours before tables were laid out, came the disappointment.
A report in The Indian Express on Thursday said the non-vegetarian dishes had been withdrawn last moment. Subsequent reports said it clashed with unwritten museum traditions and religious idols present on the shelves would have got angry. Two MPs definitely did and complained.
So, the fish in turmeric stew, quail/fowl/country chicken roasted in saal leaf, offal’s pot, bati with dry fish, meat fat soup, lamb liver with chick-pea, dried fish and mahua oil chutney were either binned or the kitchen staff got lucky.
Whatever the case, the excuse that our gods and tradition would take umbrage to the non-vegetarian spread just doesn’t wash.
Right from the earliest Indians, this land has had a strikingly vibrant and diverse tradition of meat-eating. Game hunting was rampant.
“Specimens of wheat and barley found in the ruins that they were not of the wild species and were regularly cultivated. Rice was probably also grown, and the date-palm cultivation is proved by the stones found. In addition to these, the general diet consisted of other fruits, vegetables, milk, fish, and flesh of various animals, including beef, mutton, pork and poultry,” writes historian RC Majumdar on the Harappan diet in his book Ancient India.
Majumdar is not a Wendy Doniger or a DN Jha, historians loathed by Hindutva proponents for their inferences on beef- or meat-eating in India. He is one of those rare historians considered a stalwart by the Right and revered even by the eminent on the Left like Irfan Habib.
Contrary to how India advertises itself globally, Indians love their meat. The sample registration system (SRS) baseline survey of 2014 released by the Registrar General of India says 71 percent of Indians over the age of 15 are non-vegetarian.
And the sheer diversity of meat-eating practices in India will leave a seemingly carnivorous Germany or France or the US dizzy, and probably even surpass China.
Arunachal’s Adi tribe loves roasted porcupine. The Ao community of Nagaland loves wild bear and the priest has the first right on the headpiece. Nagas love dogs…not in their lap but on their plate. Musahars of Bihar gorge on the fat field rats. Frogs, snakes, rabbits, yaks, turtles, barking deer, camels, worms, quails and snails, ducks, pigeons, doves, mud-snappers, mallards and peacocks are all fair game, although killing some of these carry a jail term now.
And it is not Muslims or Christians, but Hindus who are the biggest consumers of meat in this country. No Hindu text makes it mandatory to shun having meat or fish as food. Vegetarianism is only prescriptive, mainly for a calmer self.
Strong vegetarian influences arrived only with Emperor Ashoka’s repentant version of Buddhist practice (which no Buddhist-majority nation follows), and the advent of Vaishnavism and Jainism.
The final moral straw on the camel roasts’ back was Mahatma Karamchand Gandhi. He took the brand-building of non-violence to a level which contaminated our Constitution and found a firm place in its Directive Principles.
The Congress, which screams hoarse every time the BJP cracks down on beef today, has single-handedly introduced and implemented bans on cow slaughter in state after state except for a handful. Most parties are happy to go with that flow.
The Hindutva dispensation in power makes a serious mistake in playing the meat-eating, violent, Islamic ‘outsider’ versus peace-loving, vegetarian Hindu ‘insider’ trope. To criticise Islam, one doesn’t need the prop of a headless chicken in a drum. To glorify Hinduness, one doesn’t need to take off the table of history the rather tasty Harappan fish in turmeric stew.
This is disingenuous. This amounts to distorting history, one of the worst crimes the Right accuses the Left of.
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Updated Date: Feb 21, 2020 08:59:28 IST