As recent events show, ideas about who belongs and often don’t boil down to food

During the Spanish Inquisition, it was often the telltale scent of food cooked in olive oil that led authorities to the homes of their victims. These were almost always Conversos (Jewish converts to Catholicism) and Moriscos (Spanish Muslims) who had remained stubbornly stuck in their old eating habits and therefore, according to Inquisitorial logic, also in their heretical beliefs. The good Catholics, the so-called cristiano viejos (old Christians), cooked their food in lard. They ate pork, eels, cuttlefish and rabbit and, unlike the cristiano nuevos (recently converted Jews and Muslims), had no use for ingredients like saffron, coriander, cinnamon and almonds. And so servants and other conveniently placed people – butchers, grocers, etc. – were instructed to watch and report anyone using the forbidden ingredients, flouting Christian culinary conventions by baking unleavened bread or cooking dishes like long-simmered sheep’s head, and following “heretical” dietary restrictions , like the Jewish ban on mixing meat with dairy.In 15th-century Spain, even what you didn’t eat could get you burned at the stake.

New India is not close to reaching the height of food otherness that Old Spain reached at the height of the Inquisition. However, recent events have caused some concern. Take the attempt to force meat shops in Delhi to remain closed during the ongoing Navratri festival, following calls for a boycott of halal meat issued by Hindu outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal in Karnataka and the characterization of halal food as “economic jihad” by BJP National General Secretary CT Ravi. There was also an attempt in November last year in several towns in Gujarat to stop street vendors from selling meat and eggs.

In a letter ordering the closure of meat shops during Navratri, Southern MCD Mayor Mukkesh Suryaan wrote: “People are even giving up the use of onion and garlic, and the sight of meat being sold in open or nearby temples makes them uncomfortable. Similar logic, based on “hurtful feelings”, has been used against street vendors selling meat and eggs in Gujarat. The outraged might be seething with questions: what about the onion and garlic vendors, so why only the butchers? What about non-Hindus who are deprived of meat and fish at a feast they do not even observe? What about the livelihoods of butchers, meat retailers and even restaurants and ancillary service providers like delivery people and transporters? What about the majority of Hindus who, due to caste or other intersecting identities, do not observe Navratri or adhere to prescribed dietary restrictions?

But the plain fact is that none of these issues matter because this latest imposition, like others in the past, is beholden to no justification acceptable to those who value such things as choice personal and individual rights. It is driven solely by the desire to place a singular pan-Indian Hindu identity over all others that exist in this country. That this identity has little basis in lived reality is well documented, notably in Isn’t This Plate Indian?, a pioneering work led by sociologist Sharmila Rege to document the dietary practices of Dalits in Maharashtra. It is in service of this larger identity that the various bans and restrictions, such as the beef bans in several states, are imposed. Indeed, they are the very scaffolding upon which this idea of ​​pan-Indianness is built.

Returning to the Inquisition, it should be noted that it was part of the larger project of defining a newly unified Spain after the completion of the Reconquista in the 15th century. An essential part of this project was to identify all who rightfully belonged to this new kingdom, a task that could not be accomplished without first identifying those who did not belong, i.e. the enemy. The Moors had already been expelled and in the absence of external enemies, as the Italian novelist and semiologist Umberto Eco pointed out in his essay “Inventing the Enemy”, an internal enemy is always invented. In 15th century Spain, these internal enemies were the Conversos and the Moriscos. It is disturbing that internal enemies can also be spotted in New India.

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