23 August 2019 09:35 PM

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SHUBHDA CHAUDHARY | 1 AUGUST, 2019

The Politics of Food in India: The Zomato Controversy

The Politics of Food in India: The Zomato Controversy


As the Zomata controversy comes to a head, the advent of food politics in India within the context of ultra-nationalism exposes a worrying concern.

Founded in 2008, this Indian restaurant search and discovery service is now in the eye of a Twitter storm.

Amit Shukla from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh had recently requested Zomato to cancel an order being delivered to him by a ‘non-Hindu’ rider. He supported his stand in the context of the holy Saavan month and religious freedom endowed by the Indian constitution.

In response, Zomato replied ‘Food does not have a religion.’ While Zomato’s response was welcomed by many, with social media seeing an outpour of support, there was criticism as well.

The hashtags #IStandWithAmit and #BoycottZomato started trending. When Uber Eats, the American online food delivery app, supported Zomato, Twitter once again went berserk with the viral hashtag #BoycottUberEats.

Several Zomato customers uninstalled the app and tweeted about it. Zomato also received several one-star reviews on the Google play store.

Deepinder Goyal, the founder of Zomato, tweeted, ‘We are proud of the idea of India - and the diversity of our esteemed customers and partners. We aren’t sorry to lose any business that comes in the way of our values.’

If we take a step back and think, this entire social media storm reveals several caveats in the very idea of India.

Firstly, 2018 Global Hunger Index report stated that India ranks 103rd out of the 119 countries in terms of level of undernutrition and hunger. India is not on track to achieve the nine Nutritional goals set up WHO for 2025, the report also states. In fact, 195.9 million Indians were reported to be under-nourished for 2015-2017, as revealed by Food and Agricultural Organisation. In a country where food is still a privileged commodity, one can hear no hue and cry about it. Instead, the politics of food revolving around communal lines is a manufactured distraction.

Secondly, Zomato is a food aggregator app. It entails several restaurants that specifically add ‘halal meat’ information in their portfolio for customers to make informed choices. The very trend of ordering ‘jhatka meat’ is not prevalent. This policy framework is followed by several online food delivery apps. It has no communal agenda to aggravate Hindu-Muslim differentiation. In the same way, there are several restaurants at Zomato who customise food for Hindu religious festivals and fasting rituals. There has been no accusation against them in the past.

Thirdly, even the chutzpah of involving the controversial author Taslima Nasrin in this entire controversy is distasteful. Several Zomato users, who supported the app’s policy of diversity, went to twitter to abuse Amit Shukla. Shukla had commented on a photo of Taslima, dated April13, 2013. The photo showed Taslima mentioning that she was a research scholar at Kennedy School, Harvard University. Amit had tweeted to her, ‘well I will say you have grt (sic) boobs hope you like my comment.’ He was not only accused for his nasty comment, but also questioned on why he did it, as after all Taslima is ‘not a Hindu.’

The problem with the above context is the use of a controversial author as a scapegoat to further sharpen the abuse. It just reveals the patriarchal set-up of our society, misogynistic in several ways.

Fourthly, Zomato is also known for employing riders who are hearing impaired. Every rider’s small family history is mentioned, stating how many kids he has to endow a human touch. With the amount of hatred, differentiation and toxic culture of politics prevalent in today’s India, even this empowering step might be criticised, who knows?

So, are we using social media platforms like Twitter for cheap titillation in the context of food politics?

Are we witnessing the emergence of a Hindu Pakistan in the façade of India?

Have we forgotten to perceive each other as humans?

Zomato was also accused for following the ‘secularism of food’ in the context of this alleged hypocrisy. So, is the secularisation of food controversial a problematic idea?

To understand the politics of food in the context of India, vegetarianism signifies caste purity in Hinduism. It also marks the upper caste identity in the entire food hierarchy. When scrutinised in the context of ultra-nationalism, this vegetarianism has also unleashed its own kind of violence and hegemony, revealing the structural violence still prevalent in India, in the name of moral superiority.

In the same way as caste hierarchy, food politics reveals the Hindu hegemony, turning more and more nationalistic every day. The idea of India, the basic concept of its emergence and democratic functioning, perhaps is now a mere mirage. And as days go by, we will witness these pent-up acts of hatred and toxicity in various contexts, till it eventually destroys the entire idea.
 

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