A festival to celebrate the Ambur biriyani, a style specific to Ambur town and popular across the state, has drawn widespread criticism after the Thirupathur District Collector decided to ban beef and pork at the event’s premises.

Representative image of Ambur biriyaniPicxy.com/insta_with_sarru
news Controversy Thursday, May 12, 2022 - 18:10

As Thirupathur district in Tamil Nadu gears up to celebrate its famous Ambur biriyani in a food festival organised by the state government, the District Collector, Amar Kushwaha, has courted controversy by disallowing beef and pork biriyani on the premises. While beef biriyani is popular in Ambur, pork biriyani is relatively rare, and the move is seen as a way to make it a ‘both sides’ balancing game with the aim of banning beef. The festival is set to begin on May 12, and go on until May 14. The Ambur biriyani gets its name from the Ambur town in Thirupathur district. The biriyani style is famous across the state for its use of the small-grained fragrant seeraga samba rice native to Tamil Nadu.

The strong opposition to the ban has been on the basis of beef being a staple food among Dalit and many other lowered-caste communities. Criticism against the move has come from well-known writers, citizens and political leaders including Vanni Arasu, deputy general secretary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). All of them have pointed out that the beef ban at the festival goes against social justice and the ‘Dravidian Model’ platformed by the DMK currently in power.

When TNM reached out to the District Collector, he said, “There are two groups, one asking for pork biriyani, one for beef biriyani. We have avoided both because it will hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims.” He also added, “This festival is for celebrating Ambur biriyani in particular, which is made with only mutton, chicken and fish. The biriyani is not free at the festival. People will have to buy it. If they are willing to pay money at the festival for the biriyani, they can also buy outside the festival at any shop if they want beef or pork,” he said. 

When the criticism around the ban was pointed out, the Collector said, “It is not an issue of upper-caste or lowered-caste. I am not against beef or pork. Let people eat what they want. People can even sit with me and eat whatever they want. Those who are creating an issue are only 0.5% of the population. I, as an official, have to think of the remaining 99.5%. I don’t want any controversy happening.”

Ambur-based Dalit poet Yalan Aathi strongly refuted the claims made by the District Collector. “There is no Ambur biriyani without beef biriyani. If you come to Ambur, you can see the number of beef biriyani stalls for yourself. You can’t go from one place to another in Ambur without coming across a biriyani stall, and many of them serve beef biriyani,” he said, adding that the town is a leather production hub. “A majority of people who are from here are working-class and their lives revolve around this leather industry. A plate of mutton biriyani costs about Rs 225, beef biriyani costs Rs 50 to 70. Which do you think people can afford?”

The writer went on to ask, “if the sentiment of Hindus is important, what of the sentiments of Dalit people? I don’t eat chicken or mutton. So, am I allowed at that festival being conducted by the government or am I not? Am I a citizen of this society or am I not? A majority of the people working in the leather industry are Dalit or Muslim.”

Yalan also told TNM about a particular restaurant in Ambur that is famous for beef biriyani. “That shop alone sells 200 kilos of beef biriyani per day. They add the same quantity of meat that they do of rice. This is one shop.” He added that the move to ban pork too, in his view, is an eye-wash. “Who has heard of pork biriyani? But if people want pork, let it be served too.”

Many other critics of the move expressed their anger on social media. VCK’s Vanni Arasu put out a statement on Twitter condemning the move by the District Collector. “Excluding the food of a particular community goes against respected Chief Minister MK Stalin’s Dravidian Model. We demand that beef that is consumed by 75% of the people be included in the biriyani festival being held on May 12, 13 and 14,” he said, adding that if the demand isn’t met, the VCK would give away free beef biriyani opposite the festival premises in protest.

 

 

The popular anti-caste YouTube channel Neelam Social put out a short video message directed at Chief Minister MK Stalin.

 

 

 

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