How influential is a state’s culture on its students’ lifestyles? And what are the bearings when one state’s culture compels students from other states to modify their appetite? Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology (SVNIT) in Surat, Gujarat, is the only NIT in the country to restrict students’ meals to vegetarian food. The institute does not allow non-vegetarian food to be cooked or carried into the mess area, a rule that has been rooted in the institute since decades.

SVNIT being an Institute of National Importance in the
state of Gujarat, has a 50% quota for students from Gujarat. Almost 70% of the students
in the institute are vegetarians or practice Jainism. “Hence, the institute has
formulated a no non-veg food policy so as to respect the sentiments of the
majority student crowd,” says Prof Ravikant, the Associate Dean of Student
Affairs. Mohit Singh,  Student General
Secretary, says, “It is not economically viable to divert resources into
preparing meat, when the demand comes from just 20% of the student crowd.”

However, while students are allowed to acquire non-veg
food from other sources, they cannot eat it in the mess. It is not just about the
preparation or sourcing of food. The divide is made on the dining table where
students cannot relish a meal of their choice if it doesn’t conform to tastes
of the majority, which is vegetarian. The Student Affairs Dean, Prof H.B. Naik,
says, “When I went to IIT Bombay, I noticed that Jain students used to eat boiled
food on the same table as students eating non-vegetarian food. It will take
time and effort to develop such a level of tolerance amongst students here.”

At the same time, the institute mess is surprisingly comfortable
with offering egg based foods to students. This move seems to be contradictory
to the authorities’ aversion to hurting the sentiments of their students.

For an institute with student intake from across the
country, the idea of submitting to some students’ intolerance or sentiments
seems unsettling. Pavan Vilhekar, a student at SVNIT who hails from Mumbai,
says, “I reduced my meat intake as compared to what I used to have in Mumbai, after
coming to SVNIT. While the institute has no qualms with us eating non
vegetarian food in our rooms, which is sourced from outside the campus, it is
too expensive to purchase such food on a regular basis.”

Dr Ravikant is also of the opinion that students who are
today adamant about their eating principles may have a hard time adjusting if
they get job placements in other urban areas like Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad,
Calcutta, etc. Yet, there has been no prominent effort lately to alter the no
non-vegetarian food policy

While students and professors continue to debate
against SVNIT’s stand on no non-vegetarian food, Prof Naik gives a clear
statement for the cause of this decision,
‘The culture of Gujarat has a huge influence in this issue’.

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