In possibly a first since ‘cow politics’ started dominating the cultural discourse in India, Star India-owned digital content streaming platform Hotstar has started displaying a trigger warning before some of its food shows against “bovine meat”, advising “viewer discretion.” The message is clearly meant to warn sensitive viewers who might be offended by the usage of beef, which is banned in several Indian states, on the globally acclaimed food-based shows.
The warning precedes each episode of Masterchef US, Masterchef Australia, and Masterchef Junior, all three of which are popular foreign culinary shows where the use of beef and beef products is common.
The messages are slightly differently worded for each show, although they convey the same meaning; while Masterchef Junior gets ‘This episode contains certain images/references to bovine meat. Viewer discretion is advised’, the message displayed before Masterchef US is ‘This episode might contain Images / references to Bovine organs / meat (sic). Viewer discretion is advised.’
We are awaiting responses to emailed questions regarding this, which were shared with Star India’s communications agency on Wednesday evening. The story will be updated as soon as we hear back from them.
The cow has always been venerated by upper caste Hindus in India as a holy animal and mother figure, but this veneration has reached fever pitch recently with the rise of Hindutva politics. While it is well-known that there are over 80 million beef eaters in India, 12.5 million of them Hindus, as per a 2015 National Sample Survey, the dominant narrative that has emerged on social media, WhatsApp forwards and in Indian drawing rooms is that of anger against consumers or even handlers of beef. This has resulted in several instances of violence as well.
However, this sort of warning before the mere depiction of beef in a food show is a first, and goes to show how sensitive the cultural climate of the country has become, with Hotstar possibly making this effort to preempt any potential backlash against itself.
The warnings have, not unexpectedly, created a bit of a stir Twitter.
Welcome to a scared democracy. Freedom in chains! pic.twitter.com/eDbOtmyRuI
— Abhishek Gureja (@AbhishekGureja) May 24, 2017
And it’s not just beef — though it is the most sensitive of food topics in India today. While it has been shown in surveys that over 70% of Indians are meat-eating non-vegetarians, there has been a cultural shift towards portraying Indians as predominantly vegetarian. This has played out in various ways — from the exclusion of eggs from mid-day meals of schoolchildren to the all-vegetarian mandate of food magazine BBC Good Food Guide’s now-defunct India edition.
Incidentally, Masterchef India, a Star Plus show, went veg-only in its fourth and fifth seasons.