Assam Government Withdraws Meat Sale Ban at Cultural Festival After Social Media Outcry

Although the ban has been lifted, food stalls selling non-vegetarian tribal food have been moved to the periphery of the venue from the main area that was earlier allotted to them.

Artists perform during a rehearsal for the Namami Brahmaputra festival at the bank of river Bramhaputra in Guwahati. Credit: PTI

Artists perform during a rehearsal for the Namami Brahmaputra festival at the bank of river Bramhaputra in Guwahati. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: After a massive public outcry in social media against the Assam government prohibiting food stalls from selling non-vegetarian tribal food at its Namami Brahmaputra festival, the state government withdrew its decision a day before the event is set to take off in Guwahati. Such food stalls, however, have been pushed to the periphery area of the venue from the main area that was allotted to them earlier.

To be inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee on March 31 in Guwahati, Namami Brahmaputra is a five-day long multi-crore extravaganza organised by the state government across 21 districts to celebrate the cultural symbol and lifeline of the people, the Brahmaputra river, and to augment tourism.

“Two days ago, on getting to know that we will be selling pork dishes at our stall, we were called to a meeting by an official overseeing the festival to tell us to strictly not keep any non-vegetarian food. We were told it was a direct order from the chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal,” one such person putting up a tribal food stall told The Wire from Guwahati on March 30.

Another food stall owner said, “However, today, after a lot of public criticism, we were called again for a meeting and told to sell non-vegetarian food but also told to take our the stall from the central area of the festival to the periphery. Those in the central area would not be allowed to sell any non-vegetarian food.”

He said that in the last meeting with the organisers, those intending to sell non-vegetarian food were told to avoid doing it because of a replica of a naamghar (Vaishnava prayer hall) put up in the central area.

“Though one is prohibited from taking meat inside a naamghar but never have I heard that there is a rule not to eat non-vegetarian food because a naamghar is nearby. We also heard later that the decision was taken by some non-Assamese officials keeping Navaratri in mind. We don’t have such traditions in Assam. Everyone has the freedom to eat what they want. We are extremely hurt by this decision. If we tribals can’t sell pork dishes, something that is part of our culture, what would we sell? Khoirka bengena (brinjals on sticks)?” he asked.

Commenting on the development, Guwahati-based well-known political and social observer Navanil Baruah said, “If this is a festival to showcase Assam’s culture and way of life, why should we not showcase the reality? Why should we be apologetic about it? Assam has a large population of tribals and they are essentially meat eaters. So what culture is the government talking about without taking the tribals along? Also, never have we heard that meat is prohibited where there is a naamghar. It is not allowed inside it surely, but there’s no ban outside it.”

Barua pointed out, “Even the Brahmins of Assam are meat and fish eaters, unlike their counterparts in North India. In a revered place and pride of Assam like the Kamakhya Temple, meat is allowed. Even buffaloes are sacrificed there.”

According to a food stall owner, the officials also asked them “to make space for some Patanjali products.” The official twitter handle of the festival has congratulatory posts of Baba Ramdev, besides others.

This is not the first time that the state government’s event, touted to be the biggest river festival, has attracted public ire on social media. A few days ago, many criticised the video of its official song for sparing very little space for the culture of the tribals who reside along the banks of the Brahmaputra.

The video was also criticised for a visual of a woman floating a lit clay lamp, akin to the aarti ceremony practiced on the Ganga, in places like Haridwar and Varanasi. The Brahmaputra is known more for being a navigation route since the ancient times than for having any religious importance.

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  • Rohit Jahari

    These developments makes me extremely sad because there is a deliberate attempt to appease a culture which isn’t from Assam. I can assume that in the coming days the government will think of an absurd law to ban the sale of meat altogether here. Such developments are an exact replica of the laws enacted in other parts of the country without considering the fact that these decisions are in direct contrast to the socio-cultural reality of Assam.