The Tamil Nadu State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes stated Monday (August 1) that excluding beef from the proposed Ambur biryani festival would be tantamount to “discrimination,” and that such restrictions should be avoided in state-sponsored events.
Nearly two months ago, Tirupattur Collector Amar Kushwaha had said that beef and pork biryani stalls would be excluded from Ambur Biryani Thiruvizha 2022. This had stirred a controversy with various outfits in the district criticising the move. However, the May event was later indefinitely postponed by the collector citing “forecast of heavy rains.”
Around the same time on May 12, the Commission issued a notice to the collector, questioning the “discrimination on communal basis” in the biryani festival.
In May, the Tirupattur district administration announced a three-day biryani festival (May 13-15) in the town of Ambur, renowned for its well-spiced biryani made of seeraga samba — a fragrant, short and plump grained rice.
The festival was planned to boost tourism in Tirupattur, a district created only three years ago after Vellore was divided into 3 districts in 2019.
It was also hoped that ‘celebrating’ more than 20 varieties of biryani in over 30 stalls at the festival would help Tirupattur get the coveted Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Ambur Biryani.
However, the excitement in Ambur over the event turned out to be short-lived as the collector said that only chicken, mutton, fish and prawn biryani would be sold at the fête.
Speaking to The Indian Express in May, Collector Kushwaha had said the organisers were avoiding beef and pork to respect the sentiments of the people, as many Hindus reside in the town.
Exclusion of pork and beef stalls from the planned festival had drawn criticism from Islamic and Dalit outfits and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), an ally of the ruling DMK that was formerly known as the Dalit Panthers of India.
Opposing the ban, VCK’s Vanni Arasu had tweeted on May 12 that the collector’s move goes against the DMK’s Dravidian Model and demanded that “beef that is consumed by 75% of the people be included” in the festival. He added that if the district officials would not take heed of the demand, then the VCK would distribute free beef biryani opposite the Ambur Trade Centre, where the festival was scheduled to take place.
Following the controversy, the collector decided to indefinitely hold off the event, citing prediction of heavy rains. Kushwaha had told The Indian Express that the festival would take place at a later date.
Subsequent to the exclusion of beef and pork from the festival, The Tamil Nadu State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes issued a showcause notice to the Tirupattur collector. It sought an explanation from the official for his move, and stated that not allowing beef biryani to be sold was a form of discrimination against Dalits and Muslims.
“This Commission, on consideration of the petition, has chosen to take up the matter for enquiry as a practice of untouchability in the form of a discrimination against SC/ST and the muslim population which accounts for more than 2 lakhs. You are required to submit your remarks as to why the same shall not be taken as a discrimination on communal basis,” the notice read.
After postponing the event, the collector reportedly stated that the commission’s action would not apply to him as the biryani festival had been called off. The commission responded that the collector was disrespecting the state body, for which separate action could be taken against the official. It, however, chose to avoid it in light of the respect that the public accords to his post, as reported by PTI.
The Commission’s latest order
The Commission accepted the district administration’s reply that he did not do anything to cause caste-based discrimination, but pointed out that “beef biryani should not be avoided in a biryani festival organised by the government and if done so, it leads to discrimination”.
The order was forwarded to Tamil Nadu’s Chief Secretary, Home Secretary and senior officials of all districts.
It directs the Tirupattur administration to avoid any such exclusions and differential treatments from state-sponsored events in the future, as it would set a wrong precedent.