A Facebook page called ‘Kolkata Vegans’ recently put up a viral post asking Bengalis to “stop eating fish if they love fish”. The Bengalis, gearing up to feast on all their favourite fish dishes before Durga Puja, were obviously not charmed by this.
Following the controversy, the Kolkata Vegans were massively trolled. Some even insinuated that they have political connections.
But do they? We decided to speak to the vegans themselves to find out.
‘Not Our Intention To Target A Particular Community’
We met the Kolkata Vegans at ‘Ubuntu’, Kolkata’s first vegan cafe. Those associated with the movement, which was introduced in Kolkata about 10 years ago, said that they did not intend to hurt the sentiments of the Bengali community. The term ‘Bengali’, they said, was used in the placard simply to appeal to people in West Bengal.
“This particular campaign was given attention because it was targeting…not targeting, but saying the term ‘Bengali’. So Bengali people thought that we are hurting their sentiments because, yes, Bengali people are very emotional about their food.
Especially fish. But the intention was not to target any community”, said Abhinav Bajpai, a vegan and the owner of Ubuntu.
Bannya Mukhopadhyay, another member of the community, said:
“It is not like we are asking a particular community to not eat something or that we are imposing a vegetarian diet or that we have a hidden political agenda or some funding. But somehow, this post got viral because some people who write on Bengali nationalism shared it. They portrayed it as if this is something against Bengalis and Bengali culture.”
The vegans also vociferously denied being a part of or even supporting any political party. They say that the accusation that they are siding with the BJP has no logical basis.
“The political party under which we are now is one under which India is the second largest exporter of beef. If the party supported veganism it wouldn’t be exporting beef, right?” said Beas Basu, a member of the community.
“I’d like to clarify that the BJP government is supporting the vegetarian thing,
not vegans. There’s a thick line of difference between being vegetarian and being vegan. Like vegetarian people do consume milk. vegans don’t,” added Soumya Roy.
Beas further said that the vegan movement was not an imposition, but a request.
“If I challenge you to make me eat meat...I say, 'do what you can to make me eat meat'- you won’t be able to do it. Because I love animals! After I see the bloodied body of a chicken, I won’t be able to eat it even after you’ve coated it with masala and cooked it in an oven. Similarly, how can I force you to stop eating fish? I can request you, that fish and chicken feel pain so don’t eat them. All I can do is request. And globally also, vegans only request”, said Beas.
Bengalis Not Buying It?
But can an anti-fish movement work in a fish-crazy land like Bengal? Well, the fish-eating Bengalis that we spoke to don’t seem convinced.
“I do like veg food. But only three days a year – Saraswati Puja, Poila Boishakh and Ashthami before anjali,” laughed Suprovo Tagore, a resident of Kolkata.
His friend, Anirjit, said that there shouldn’t be a problem with eating fish as it is reared for consumption and is not an endangered species.
“There’s an entire industry - it’s called pisciculture. They are rearing fish. So if you’re growing crops, they are growing fish. So, why not treat it that way?”, he said.
Another Kolkata native, Shimli Basu, said that if non-vegans aren’t imposing anything on vegans, vegans shouldn’t either.
“I have a lot of vegan friends and I don’t impose anything on them. So they shouldn’t impose on me either. I love fish and I don’t care”, said Shimli.
We also asked the Bengalis if they have or will ever consider giving up fish.
The answer was a sharp ‘no’ from Anirjit. “I love fish, and I could live on it”, he added.
Another resident, Raika Chowdhury, agreed with him.
“Giving up fish would mean giving up Bhetki Maacher Paturi, so no chance!”, she laughed.
Others like Kolkata residents, Baishakhi Bhattacharya and Susmita Banerjee, say that while veganism as a concept is okay, it is difficult to incorporate it into long-established Bengali dietary habits.
“If veganism means I have to quit meat, I will do that, but I would stay with fish!”, said Baishakhi.
“Being a vegan is a good concept, but as a Bengali, giving up fish completely unless you agree with it from the very bottom of your heart, will be very difficult.”, added Susmita.