As Air India decides to serve only vegetarian food in domestic flights to economic class, there has been uproar in the country.
National carrier, Air India, has decided to stop serving non-vegetarian meals to economy class passengers on domestic flights in order to cut costs.
“Air India has taken a conscious decision not to have non-vegetarian meal in economy class on its domestic flights to reduce wastage and costs as well as in order to improve catering service,” the airline said in a statement on Monday.
Coming from some other debt-ridden airline, it might have been shrugged off as just another service cutback. Social media is talking and people are reacting in different ways about the food being served now.
G P Rao, a spokesman for the government-owned airline, said the change was made a week ago strictly to reduce waste and cut costs. But what people eat can be a sectarian flash point in India, especially since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took power.
Many members of the Hindu majority are vegetarians, while the country’s Muslims and other minorities eat meat. So the airline’s action was seen by many as discriminatory and part of a wave of religious nationalism sweeping the country.
Others, though, came to Air India’s defense, saying they could not understand all the public indignation.
“Simple business sense suggests that any loss making entity should attempt to optimise and cut costs & more food options = more cost,” Krish Ashok, who describes himself as a techie in Chennai, wrote on Twitter. He compared the move to other airlines’ serving sandwiches in place of a hot meal.
In India, diet is an important signifier of group identity. At the heart of the outrage over the airline’s policy is a widespread sense that India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party is trying to limit the freedom of the country’s minorities.
However, budget flyers on AI’s international flights will continue getting non-vegetarian food. The move comes as AI’s debt burden of over Rs 52,000 crore and mounting losses led the government to decide to sell it off.