‘Bhartiya vegetarianism is a social illness’, writes IIT Bombay professor, weighing in on mess tables row

An IIT Bombay (IIT-B) faculty member named Suryakant Waghmore, Professor of Sociology, has posted on social media that “Bhartiya vegetarianism of purity and segregation is a social illness… it needs to be cured, not institutionalised”.

The IIT Bombay campus is now wracked by protests. Photo courtesy: Instagram/iit_bombay_campus

Waghmore and a few other teachers of IIT Bombay have weighed in on the ongoing mess tables row at the institution. An IIT-B mess decided to mark separate tables for vegetarian students; a student protested against this and was fined by the Mess Council for unruly behaviour; and now some of the professors have begun speaking out against the veg-only tables.

As per Indian custom, Hindus who are vegetarian for religious reasons prefer separate utensils for preparing the food and a separate space for eating the food, where it would not touch non-vegetarian items. This is no more demanding than the concept of halal for Muslims, where the entire supply chain should ideally be halal and not just how the food is made and served.

However, the marking of six ‘veg-only tables’ at the common mess for hostels 12, 13, and 14 has elicited an aggressive response. One student from hostel 12 was fined by the IIT-B Mess Council for creating a ruckus along with a few others and forcibly eating non-veg food on the veg-only tables on September 28. Thereafter, on October 1, a meeting of the Mess Council members decided to impose a fine of INR10,000 on the student who led this protest.

Commenting on these developments, Waghmore wrote his social media post yesterday, describing Indian vegetarianism as a “social illness”. Before that, the professor had written in a news portal column that “the idea of purity attached with vegetarian food tells us about the ideology of caste and its influence on food preferences in India”.

Representative photo of an Indian veg thali. Photo courtesy: Instagram/veg_thali_

Another IIT-B faculty member named Anupam Guha, Assistant Professor from the Ashank Desai Centre for Policy Studies, had written a post on September 28, saying: “Segregation of spaces based on food is irrational, ingrained in purity-pollution practices which are casteist.” Later, he criticised the Mess Council fine imposed on the protesting student.

The IIT Bombay administration has not issued any official comments on this issue. The IIT-B Mess Council said that the student was penalised for “unruly behaviour” and for “flouting the mess norms”. It said that the others accompanying the lead protester could also face action.

The Mess Council had informed all the students in an e-mail on September 27 — a day before the protest — that six mess tables were marked ‘veg-only’ to create a “more inclusive environment” for students.