Preparation of wazwan, a multi-course Kashmiri meal with a variety of meats, including mutton and beef. Caste, and caste-based prejudice around certain foods, causes fault lines within Kashmiri Muslim society, even though not much has been written about this.
 Photo courtesy: Burhan Majid
Preparation of wazwan, a multi-course Kashmiri meal with a variety of meats, including mutton and beef. Caste, and caste-based prejudice around certain foods, causes fault lines within Kashmiri Muslim society, even though not much has been written about this. Photo courtesy: Burhan Majid

The hidden stigma around beef in Kashmir

In Kashmiri Muslim society, beef and mutton consumption entrenches caste and class fault lines

I was around ten years old when I was brutally made aware that my food preferences defined who I could sit and eat with. It was at a wedding in my ancestral village where bad maaz (buffalo meat or beef) was served during the feast and I was huddled with other beef-eaters, separated from those who were supposed to be served kat maaz (mutton). This segregation, observed during the wazwan, a multi-course meal served in Kashmiri cuisine, made me realise that my consumption of beef made me different from others. It was much later when I learnt that even within the seemingly homogenous Kashmiri Muslim community, households that ate beef were looked down upon as "uncouth" and even "uncivilised" in comparison to those that ate mutton. 

My memories of growing up in Kashmir are riddled with instances and anecdotes of people being stigmatised because they consumed beef. A close friend of mine was reprimanded by other friends and relatives for having brought dishonour to the fragile prestige of his community just by his attendance at a wedding where beef was being served. A 16-year-old was mocked for something that might be incredibly trivial to an outsider. As a Kashmiri who has grown up amid a sad abundance of such supposed transgressions, followed by shaming from the community, I know that such chiding was far from trivial.

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian
www.himalmag.com