end to big fat Indian
weddings? By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - India is mulling legislation
to restrict the number of dishes served at
weddings. Aimed at preventing wastage of food at
social gatherings, the proposed move would involve
slimming down one of the key elements of the big
fat Indian wedding - the menu.
Consumer Affairs Minister Kuruppasserry Varkey
Thomas told reporters last week that his ministry
had received several suggestions to curb food
wastage at social functions. Among these was a
suggestion from the National Advisory Council
(NAC) that called for legislation similar to
Pakistan's "one-dish law".
This is the
Marriage Functions (Prohibition of Ostentatious
Display and Wasteful Expense)
Act, 2006, which permits the serving of a only a
one-dish meal at wedding ceremonies, "a one-dish
meal" being "one salan [curry], rice or
roti [flattened bread] and one sweet dish."
Punishment for violation of this law consists of a
fine of 500,000 rupees (US11,190) and a one-year
Justifying the need for such
restrictions, Thomas pointed out that around
15-20% of the food is wasted at social gatherings.
"A country like ours, which is 63 in the [global]
hunger index, cannot afford to have such a huge
loss of food during big events," he observed.
Indian weddings are elaborate events,
which extend over several days and include many
ceremonies. "You, along with your family and
friends" are usually invited to grace the
occasion. Thus, guest lists often run into the
hundreds, even thousands. Food served at weddings
has always been lavish with the menu including an
assortment of dishes. It is a part of South Asian
tradition to feed your guests well.
new, rich India, however, the lavish meal has
become excessive. Menus include multiple cuisines
and it is not uncommon to be confronted with a
choice of hundreds of dishes at a wedding
Much of the food at these
weddings is not eaten by the guests. Nor is it
sent to the poor and hungry. It finds its way to
trash cans. The proposed one-dish law is aimed at
reducing this waste. Also on the cards are
restrictions on the number of guests at social
gatherings. In the northeastern state of Assam, a
Guest Control Order that is already in place
allows only 25 people, including the host or
hosts, at parties, and a maximum of hundred guests
at weddings and funerals. In 2004, the Jammu and
Kashmir government passed an order restricting the
serving of food in marriage receptions to 250
people in the case of vegetarian and 200 for
non-vegetarian cuisine. The order was stayed by
the High Court.
Restrictions on menus at
weddings or of the number of invitees, though
well-intentioned and likely to curb at least some
of the vulgar ostentation on display at weddings,
have come under fire.
It will hit the
wedding industry, especially the catering sector,
say critics. India's wedding industry has been
growing at 25-30% in recent years and that would
slow if restrictions are put in place.
Others point out that lavish meals are a
part of South Asian tradition. People save for
years to ensure that their children's weddings are
the grandest. What business is it of the
government, especially in a democracy, to tell
people how to celebrate their weddings?
There are questions over how the rule will
be implemented. Will it be monitors from the food
ministry or the police who will be deployed to
keep an eye on menus? The Assam Guest Control
Order empowers a police officer above the rank of
a sub-inspector to enter, search and seize if he
has reason to believe the rule is being violated.
If it is the from the Assam rule that the federal
government draws its inspiration, it does seem
that it will be India's over-worked and underpaid
police who will be saddled with the added task of
storming wedding halls.
intervention is necessary to address the country's
hunger crisis is undoubted. India is the world's
hunger capital. It is home to the largest number
of the world's hungry. The Hunger Index 2010
report described the situation in the country as
"alarming". The non-governmental organization
Srishti Annam estimates that 7,000 people are
estimated to die of hunger every day in the
country and child malnutrition is more acute in
India than it is in sub-Saharan Africa.
Although the government has several
intervention programs targeting hunger and
malnutrition, implementation has been marginal at
best. Worse, its commitment to addressing hunger
is debatable, evident from the fact that its
approach to poverty, hunger and starvation has
fluctuated between downplaying the enormity of the
problem to outright denial.
India has a
public distribution system (PDS) under which those
below the poverty line (BPL) are eligible to
receive a monthly food ration. The government has
been using every trick in the book to diminish the
number of people in the program. As The Hindu's
rural affairs editor P Sainath points out, "The
government seeks ways to spend less and less on
the very food security it talks about. Hunger is
defined not by how many people suffer it, but by
how many the government is willing to pay for.
Hence the endless search for a lower BPL figure."
Late last month, the Supreme Court
questioned the Planning Commission's declaration
of just 36% of the population as falling in the
BPL category and its use of figures thrown up by
the 1991 census to determine BPL status for
extension of foodgrains to the poor under the PDS,
rather than more recent figures that would put a
much larger number in the BPL category.
The government often complains that there
isn't enough money to feed all the poor, yet will
extends corporate tax concessions worth billions
of rupees. It talks about having to stop food
wastage in order to be able to address hunger,
when it allows millions of tons of food grains to
rot in warehouses or be eaten by rats. If there is
a shortage of food grains, it should halt their
export for use as cattlefeed in Europe. Besides,
why were farmers pushed from growing grains to
The government's attitude to
hunger, starvation and famine is to simply deny
In Maharashtra, for instance, it
sought to end hunger altogether "without adding a
morsel to anyone's diet. It simply passed an Act
that deletes the word "famine" from all
legislation in the state. By defining "a problem
out of existence ... a government kills its own
responsibility towards citizens, mainly poor and
hungry ones, in times of crisis," Sainath argues.
Some years ago, it emerged that poverty
stricken tribals in Rajasthan had taken to eating
wild grass to fend off hunger but died since the
grass was hard to digest.
Ramachandran is an independent
journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.
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