Newsclick organised an interview between the filmmaker Nakul Singh and the makers of "Caste on the Menu Card"who are also students from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. The film was denied permission for screening at the '12th Jeevika Asia Livelihood Documentary Film Festival' after a dictate from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. .The film makers said, there was no proper official communication on why the film was not permitted to screen at the festival. The synopsis of the film had been given; therefore it is not appropriate to say there is no enough information given about the film, a day before the scheduled screening. The students said that they selected the subject of the film as per the theme given to them according to their curriculum. The film had been made before all the controversies of beef came-up. It asks why a certain community is having a particular food culture like the consumption of beef and other meat; how their livelihood work is connected to their caste; and the relation of cultures of food with caste. The students criticised the I&B Ministry as they claimed that the film is denied permission only because it is not favor to the dominant ideology in the country under the rule of the BJP.
Nakul Singh Sawhney - Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Today we have with us Ananyaa, Atul and Anurup; three of the five film makers of what is now become a controversial film 'Caste on the Menu Card'. It is pleasure to have all three of you here.
Your film Caste on the Menu Card, which is suppose to be screened at the Jeevika Film Festival but it seems that, it didn't get any exemption certificate from the ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Could you tell us a little about this particular incident and why your film wasn't screened finally at the festival, even though it was in official selection?
Film Makers - What we have been told from the organisers is that, they didn't get any exemption certificate because and what their version is, we need more informations, which sounds like an excuse because they were given then synopsis and all information much before, and synopsis has enough information you have to find out. And we were told about this just a day before the screening that, not able to screen, we are not getting exemption. We were told a just day before. So we didn't have even time to plan or schedule anything otherwise. That too even in an oral telephonic conversation, nothing has given in a written format. So whatever we have been conveyed, it is by Jeevika, not by Ministry of I&B.
NS - Thats the official reason that the Information and Broadcasting ministry is giving which is that, the official reason they are giving is that, it is not been selected because like you were saying, lack of information but does Jeevika have other version? Have they told you something else? because thats what we were reading in the newspapers that, there are sort of conflicting versions of both sides.
FM - What Jeevika organisers have told us that, you know even media that, they have noticed mention of beef word in the synopsis and then they verbally communicated to the organisers saying that, the present situations, you should not be screening this film, it is a sensitive issue.
NS - That is interesting because that is really the aspects one needs to look at more carefully because I have seen your film, I had the privilege of watching your film. It is interesting because I think the film was made and shot before this entire beef controversy and it was made while you guys were students at the Tata institute of Social Sciences. And it is interesting because the film then looks at beef not just in the context of the right to choose what you want to eat but also in the context of culinary choices made according to caste?
FM - Universities across India in fact. In the third semester, we had given a theme and the theme given to us this time was 'Cosmopolitan looking at caste and urban centres'. And there was scrubs one choose looking at language and caste, education and caste. And we thought that might as well talk of food preferences in our own campus, the controversies just began of; a student asking beef not to be served on campus in the canteen. So from there, our ideas are also; we started interviewing people on campus, getting different views from campus and then we went and tried to engage with academically and read papers on. So this Cosmopolitan Mumbai series have films dealing caste and work caste and marriage caste and our film like co-incidentally this happened in our university, where people started in this controversy began on inclusion of beef and pork in college menu. So then we decided to have make this film. But this film is not only about campus politics of beef per se, it goes beyond that. We have gone to Mumbai, places and how it is linked with livelihood and other issues of human rights.
NS - Absolutely. I mean you are also talking about in terms of livelihood, so many Dalit community, not just say people who running slaughter houses, that is one aspect of livelihood but so many Dalit communities like, the Jats in North India, who have been traditionally working with leather and how it is suddenly sort of, and you look at that in the film as well. You guys look at that in the film at Maharashtra's context.
FM - Actually, there is an interview in our film of Professor Ramaiah. He has told that, the film is underlining, actually who is producing and who is processing the leather industry. They belong to a particular community. And who is getting benefited out it, this is also a community. So concept of untouchability deals with these people who are producing and processing it and the benefits and enjoyment are dealing with the community who are mostly upper class, upper caste people in this country. So the concept of livelihood and caste, it also has interlinks. So we will have to understand our social structure. Mostly in Hindu religion, there is a hierarchy and if you go through our history, a particular community has to take care of particular task. So this is how it works and it is inter-related and mostly the work which is unhygienic or when it is become very difficult to deal with, then it goes to lower caste people. So this is how it is inter-complicated and inter-related. So we have highlighted the theme, how a privileged session enjoying this thing and who actually suffering because of the livelihood issues. This is the aspect of the film. And how it becomes pure and impure. That idea also we tell.
NS - Yes, I think that is an important concept because, also in terms of livelihood and how this intersection of class and caste and religion when it comes to so called infamous beef ban today. Also I mean, one has to look at smallest slaughter houses and medium slaughter houses, they are essentially owned by Muslims and by Dalits. Whether the big meat industry, big meat industries are run by upper caste Hindus and the entire opposition is actually against the small and medium size slaughter houses, which is actually not killing as many animals compare to the big meat factories. There is no ban on beef export. So it is only domestic consumption is the problem so which actually affects the small and medium slaughter house not the big guy who is exporting outside. So I think what is very important about your film in today's time is, the whole discussion around the beef ban has somehow restricted itself to just right to choose one wants to eat. I think it is an important aspect as well. However I think, there has been an apprehension on the part of main stream media at least transcend that one aspect and also look at how its so intrinsically linked to, like you were saying caste and the large Brahmanical order; obviously this government is trying to uphold, RSS was trying to uphold many years now. What do you guys plan to do with film? because censorship is a huge issue. I have faced it. It is not even the state censorship I have faced. I faced a bunch of goons walking in, expect that to happen in one of your screening. But what do you plan to do from here?
FM - We are planing to have different screenings in different venues and we are getting nice responses. People are demanding to screen this kind of films. Tomorrow we are going to screen at JNU, Delhi University campus and St. Stephens college. We have been offered by 'Cinema of Resistance' and its already in online. We have put-up on you-tube, Center of Media and Cultural Centre, School of Media and Culture officially they have.
NS - So what one has to search on you-tube to see this?
FM - Cosmopolitan Mumbai series or Caste on Menu Card.
NS - I think this is very important for the audience as well because I think censorship is not only concern for the film makers but also the audience.
FM - I would like to correct you one thing. You were talking about the choices. Sometimes it is not the cases of choice. Sometimes it is imposed upon the community. Like we were discussing about Maha community. Their job is to take care of dead animals from the village and they have to consume it; may be it is because of cultural practices or they don't have any option at that time, so they have to consume it. So we have to critically analyse it whether it is choices or somewhere it is become compulsion. So there are two different angles.
NS - That is very important aspect you have brought-in because it is not always choice as well. It has been imposed, constitutional part.
FM - And that is how food became stigma over it. And it is got stigmatised, then it appears pure or impure and when we attach class, caste and religion kind of things, then again it become complex and critical issues.
NS - I think there is a lovely movement in your film, where there is a GBM in TISS, where students from North East gets up and says that "you know while eating Pork and Beef been a cultural shock to you but eating Paneer and Paratha was cultural shock to me".
FM - For them is a staple food. And what is the definition of staple food, we need to understand. For you it is different, for me it is different. And from there, the idea of inclusion, a university; what would for North-East and what would mean for different groups.
NS - Absolutely. I think it is clearly interesting, how through the concept of beef, we are looking at so many issues today, and also in your film. Now, since you guys have briefly worked on this issue, obviously all looking at deeply. The sense I got is that, somewhere the BJP or the larger Sangh Parivar has desperately been trying to pick up one or other issue to further the Hindutva agenda. Love Jihad lost traction. So now they seem to have switched to beef. Since you have worked on this issue, do you see them being able to carry this agenda much further for longer or do you think it will die-out?
FM - I think they will carry forward. It is very traditional thing that they are doing it so. I think it is ones to an entry birds. They are targeting Dalits and they are targeting Muslims. They have an agenda of polarisation of vote bank in current scenario. So what exactly the scene is, cow became sacred. It has a historical context. I will say the arrival of Buddhism and Jainism. Concept of non-violence became very much popular at that time, so to counter that in different way, in a strategised way, this cow has become sacred through mythological text and all so we have to understand this is 2000 old politics going on around the nation. So it is that much important in contemporary politics because it has become very easy to target a particular community. Dominant forces will always try to use this kind of non-important issue, I will say. So this is how it works. Dr. Ambedkar has said that, you have to understand how cow became sacred. You will have to understand conflict between advent of Buddhism in India and Brahmanism responded to that. So counter Buddhism, Brahmanism declared cow as a sacred. So that is how it happened. So that was the need of the time. Before Brahmins, they used to eat cow. Now this will not be an issue if it will not be relevant for RSS like Love Jihad, they will get rid of it. Anurup pointed out a very interesting point, they are different kinds of meat. Meat of dead animal, rotted animal, that will go to a Dalit. They used to be forced to eat that kind of meat but there will be export quality of beef that will be for different people. So again there is a hierarchy of animal and quality.
NS - Absoultely, the quality of meat also given out. I think if we look at differently, we also look at the context of censorship, freedom of expression, one of the thing we are seeing is the film that has been censored, the food that has been censored, the books that has been censored. I think the thing censored or at least some sort of ban, even informal ban, goons walking in and stopping the film screening; these are films, foods, that may be about or representative in some way of marginalized communities. They could be Minorities, they could be Dalits, there could be other marginalised communities like Tribals and other low castes and everything seems to be getting go ahead by this government. It is interesting we live in time that, it is also interesting that there is equally strong resistance. Yourself are saying that this film was stopped at one place and there is been so much response and so many people want to show this film. So all the very best you guys and I really hope that, this film is seen very widely and it is extremely important at our time.
FM - I will just add one more point on the issue of censorship and what was the government want to get through. So government doesn't have problem with beef politics. We know Hindutva leaders they visited after Dadri lynching episode. Sanjeev Som also have beef factory and they were supporting the attackers not the victims. So that kind of politics they want to encourage by the informed debate on the issue. "Beep for Beef". Anywhere you find, just remove it. You can't talk about beef also. You don't eat it and you cannot talk or think about beef also. And we are kind of privileged that we are getting this kind of coverage because I think, we came from a prestigious institute. If would have come like state university or small college, they won't get space.
NS - I think the question of beef, the way just made out, I think it is so much more prevalent across classes and caste and you are right, it is only a certain people who belong to may be privileged university or people of certain class who are been heard on this issue. So thats why I think your film became so much important. Its look like beef outside of...
FM - This film is somewhere tool to look at the issue beyond academic debate. So it is not only look at academically but somewhere the issue of marginalised. We have to speak in their own languages. Approach and attitude should be their own kind. It should not elitist attitude, we don't need that kind of attitude.
NS - Well, Thank you all for being here and this is hoping that the whole question of not just beef but the larger politics that this government being to represent does find greater like you were saying we needs to be more informed much more deeper discourse around this issue. So I think this could be start of that. Thank you so much.
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