IIT-Madras is under fire, as a mess on the campus felt the need to have separate wash basins for vegetarian and non-vegetarian students. Not just this, according to some of the photographs posted on social media, the posters marked separate entries for students on those very grounds. The now viral photos have earned IIT Madras’s mess monitoring committee a lot of flak. According to DNA, the discriminatory posters have been taken down, but social media is not yet done outraging over the matter.

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • A mess inside the IIT Madras campus felt the need to have separate entrances and wash basins for vegetarian and non-vegetarian students. 
  • This segregation transcends caste and religion, and it divides us so deeply
  • It is not easy for people to overcome their inhibitions, but does this mean that we continue to live a segregated life?
  • Every person has the right to choose their lifestyle. What they don’t have is the right to demean others’.

This segregation transcends caste and religion, and it divides us so deeply, that I’ve seen people choose everything from acquaintances to life partners based on this.

In fact, ChintaBar, an independent student body recognised by IIT Madras, has condemned these posters, saying, “This separation has been organised based on a heinous principle of purity prevalent in the caste system and has no place in modern society.” But in a country where exclusive vegetarian cuisine is a USP for many restaurants, does this come across as a surprise? In India, this rift and issue of untouchability is not new among vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

I’ve also seen separate plates, separate dining mats and even rooms, when it comes to segregation on the basis of vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets in many Indian households, where different members have different choices and opinions on this matters. But to take this bias to an institute where we are teaching boys and girls to be world-class engineers, doesn’t make sense. Worldwide people are a lot more tolerant of dietary choices than in India. In many nations, it is considered impolite to scrunch your nose or show revulsion to someone’s food. How do we expect these children to adjust in that scenario, while we accustom them to using separate wash basins and entries to mess?

If nothing, living in hostel teaches you to accommodate.

Hostel life teaches you to respect diversity in upbringing and choices. One may not approve of these diverse lifestyles, but one has to learn to accommodate. So when it comes to dietary choices, it means that vegetarian students learn to live in harmony with non-vegetarian students and the other way round. I understand many vegetarians feel a strong revulsion to non-vegetarian food. Many can’t tolerate the smell or even sight of chicken or even eggs. So separate serving counters make sense on some level. But having separate wash basins is taking it too far.

During my hostel life, we used to live on scanty resources, in terms of the number of utensils, access to good food, etc. Even getting to eat good non-vegetarian food was a luxury, and an expensive ordeal, since the mess was a vegetarian one. This meant that in our group of friends with varying dietary choices, resources and utensils were mostly shared, along with dining mats, eating space, etc. Our vegetarian friends would often share utensils with us, as long as we washed them well afterwards. But they would never degrade our choices or show revulsion. Some of these girls mind you, were from households where even uttering the word meat was forbidden. Some, on the other hand, were used to eating meat on every possible occasion. But over the time we all learned to adjust.

India is a country where dietary choices find their link to religion and caste. Hence, these choices hold a personal and sentimental value. When we step out of the cocooned life of our family homes, we feel “exposed” to choices we never had.

It is not easy for people to overcome their inhibitions. But does this mean that we continue to live a segregated life? That people refuse to adjust and respect another person’s dietary choices? And am asking this question to both the groups here. Why must we insist that our lifestyle choice are better than that of others?

If living together with other students from various backgrounds cannot teach a student to be inclusive and considerate, then I don’t know what will. Every person has the right to choose their lifestyle. What they don’t have is the right to demean others’. So, instead of encouraging such tendencies with separating entries and wash basins, why not teach them to respect each other’s choices, and learn to co-exist?

Also Read : Misogyny Keeping Women Away From Combat Roles In Indian Army

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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