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Updated: August 9, 2015 12:37:18 AM

With two states wrangling over the origins of the humble rasgulla, we take a look at some of the bittersweet debates involving ‘geographical indication’ tags in the country

RASGULLA—THAT soft, juicy and spongy sweetmeat and whose very sight gets almost every Bengali worth his or her salt salivating—is at the centre of a bitter debate. Although this battle between West Bengal and Odisha, the two estranged neighbours, over its origins is nothing new, it got a fresh lease of life recently after the Odisha government initiated a move to get a geographical indication (GI) status for its famous Pahala Rasagola (this is how it is spelled and pronounced in Odisha), the variant of the sweetmeat made at Pahala village in the state.

Some Net-savvy youths from Odisha followed it up with an initiative on social media, mainly Twitter, to celebrate the first-ever ‘Rasagola Dibasa’ on July 30, Niladri Bije day. People from the state bombarded Twitter with hundreds of tweets, many of them posting selfies with rasgullas. At one point, the hashtag #RasagolaDibasa was trending at the top spot nationally.

So what exactly is GI and what is this fuss all about? A GI is a name or sign used on certain products, which corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin (for example, a town, region or country). The GI tag ensures that none other than those registered as authorised users (or at least those residing inside the geographic territory) are allowed to use the popular product name. Darjeeling tea became the first GI-tagged product in India in 2004-05.

Since then, over 235 products or items have been added to the list maintained by the Geographical Indications Registry (GIR) in the country.

Most food historians in West Bengal believe it was invented in then Calcutta in 1868 by iconic confectioner Nobin Chandra Das, whose son later founded the famous sweetmeat chain ‘KC Das’. The debate gains momentum now after researchers reportedly unearthed evidence to prove that the tradition of offering rasgullas by Lord Jagannath to Goddess Laxmi on the day of Niladri Bije (the day when the deities return to their abode after the annual Rath Yatra) is at least 300 years old and thus much older than the 150-year history of the Bengali rasgulla.

Dhiman Das, executive director of KC Das and one of the descendants of Nobin Chandra Das, says: “This outrageous claim not only disavows Bengal’s icon Nobin Chandra Das’ invention of the rasgulla in 1868, but it also suddenly claims to challenge a fact that has been well established in the pages of history for almost 150 years. Rasgulla is not just a sweet, which has gained adoration as the most popular sweet of India, it is also an integral part of Bengal’s cultural heritage and the Bengali identity.”

However, Delhi-based food writer and critic Sourish Bhattacharyya disagrees: “Being a Bengali, I will be accused of being blasphemous, but I believe the weight of history is in favour of Odisha government’s move. For most flag-waving Bengalis, that is like saying Subhas Chandra Bose was an Odia because he was born and raised in Cuttack, but historical evidence points to the rasgulla having been invented at Pahala, a still-thriving village of confectioners located on National Highway 5 between Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.”

Giving out more details on the sweetmeat’s ‘origins’, Bhattacharyya adds: “The halwais of Pahala called the sweetmeat kheer mohana and it was offered at the Jagannath temple in Puri as far back as the 18th century, more than 100 years before the Bengalis woke up to their beloved rasgulla. The palm leaf manuscript, Niladri Mahodaya, which historian Sarat Chandra Mahapatra dates back to the 18th century, mentions the ritual of Lord Jagannath offering kheer mohana to his consort, Laxmi, to pacify her over his nine-day sojourn without her. This ritual, which saw 15 quintals of rasgullas being offered to the goddess this year, is still performed as part of Niladri Bije festivities during the Rath Yatra.”

Noted food critic Marryam H Reshii takes a different view. “Today’s recipe is made with chhena, which is equal to ‘split’ milk. You have to boil milk and add some souring agent to it till it ‘splits’. Now, split milk cannot be offered as bhog in a temple. So it is possible—and not probable because it will take a genius to figure this whole thing out—that the old recipe of what was called rasgulla by the Odias did not include chhena, but something else,” says Reshii, adding, “Let’s assume that rasgullas were used in the Jagannath temple. But this particular version of rasgulla that we are so used to seeing is 99.9% made in Bengal because it was the Portuguese who taught Bengalis how to split milk. Now, this split milk has become the basis of what goes into the making of rasgullas. Now, I don’t know whether to call this rasgulla or the one that’s offered at Jagannath.”

The debate rages on.

 

Basmati rice

In 2009, the agri-export promotion body, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), which comes under the commerce ministry, had applied to the  Geographical Indications Registry (GIR) asking for exclusive (commercial) use of the basmati tag for the grain varieties grown within the boundaries of the Indo-Gangetic plain in Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, 26 districts of western Uttar Pradesh and two districts of Jammu and Kashmir. However, in a directive issued on December 31, 2013, the Chennai-based GIR asked the Centre if Madhya Pradesh could be included in the definition of traditionally basmati-growing regions, inviting strong reactions from the commerce and agriculture ministries, which think the state’s claim is unjustified.
Subsequently, the APEDA moved the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) against the GIR observation. Under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, the APEDA is designated to be the custodian of GI rights for farm produce.

The application filed by the APEDA got strengthened recently after the All India Rice Exporters’ Association (AIREA), a key trade body, supported the claim of the agriculture ministry that Madhya Pradesh, which is outside the Indo-Gangetic plain, can’t be included in the definition of traditionally basmati-growing geography.

Leading agricultural scientists have also opposed Madhya Pradesh’s attempt to be included in basmati-growing regions by stating that it would adversely impact the ‘quality’ of basmati rice and sully its global repute. “Calling rice grown in Madhya Pradesh as basmati is not correct, as we have developed seed varieties keeping in mind agro-climatic zones of the Indo-Gangetic plain,” KV Prabhu, deputy director, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), and a well-known rice breeder, said recently.

In a new twist to the legal wranglings, the IPAB recently allowed a new party—the Basmati Growers’ Association from Patiala in Punjab—to implead in the case. With the new party getting into the picture, the IPAB has now fixed November 3 as the date for kickstarting the process of final hearing.

The patent, trademark and GI tribunal also allowed Pakistan’s Basmati Growers’ Association’s (BGA’s) appeal that has opposed the inclusion of Madhya Pradesh in the scheme of things, while objecting in totality to the granting of a GI tag for basmati rice in India.

Patan patola saris

The geographical indication (GI) tag to Patan patola saris in 2013 put an end to the conflict between the Salvi brothers of Patan and the Rajkot weavers in Gujarat over the name patola. The beautiful double-ikat
800-year-old craft, which was an important commodity of trade between Gujarat and south-east Asia for over 500 years, cannot be duplicated any more, as it got the GI recognition in 2013 for its products under the name

Patan patola.

The Patan Double-Ikat Patola Weavers’ Association had filed an application, prepared by the Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association (ATIRA), before the GIR in Chennai in 2011. As per the procedure, the registry issued the showcause report and subsequently the application was published in the GIR. The waiting period for the issue of a GI certificate is normally four months, but in this case, it took almost two years because of the apparent differences between the two groups. The GI certificate was finally issued in December 2013.

Salvis of Patan are the only ones that practise the craft, which has been handed down over several generations. Making this textile is a complicated process and the weaving procedure is painstaking. It takes 10-12 months to weave a patola sari on a single loom in five to eight yards’ length with a width of up to 54 inches. The
motifs of designs are essentially traditional and Indian—geometrical, floral, animal and leaf patterns.

Tirupati laddus

Tirupati laddu is a prasadam given at the Tirumala temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, which is the richest temple in India. In 2009, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), the trust which manages the temple, obtained the GI tag for its Tirupati laddu from the Indian Patent Office.

The TTD had been trying to enforce its rights under GI, which was facilitated by the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Andhra Pradesh Technology Development and Promotion Centre (APTDC), and was accorded it in September 2009. However, in 2013, when the TTD came to know that Ganga Sweets in Chennai was making laddus similar to the Tirupati laddu and advertising them through its website, it filed a civil suit in the Madras HC, seeking to restrain Ganga Sweets and others from using the name ‘Tirupati Laddu’.

The TTD maintained that it was the original manufacturer of the Tirupati laddu for which it had been granted GI protection in 2009. On February 25, 2014, the Madras HC passed an order decreeing the suit, confirming the rights of a registered GI.

The laddu, made from flour, sugar, ghee, oil, cardamom and dry fruits, is sought after by those visiting the temple located in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. As per some estimate, archakas, or hereditary priests, in the temple’s kitchen prepare around 50 million laddus every year for around 25 million visitors. The TTD distributes one laddu to each visitor free of charge, but charges them for a certain amount apiece.

GI applications registered in India from April 2014 till date

* Leather toys of Indore (the logo): Madhya Pradesh
* Bangalore rose onion: Karnataka
* Meerut scissors: Uttar Pradesh
* Khurja pottery: Uttar Pradesh
* Naga tree tomato: Nagaland
* Arunachal orange: Arunachal Pradesh
* Sikkim large cardamom: Sikkim
* Mizo chilli: Mizoram
* Joynagar moa (sweetmeat): West Bengal
* Banaras gulabi meenakari craft: Uttar Pradesh
* Assam Karbi Anglong ginger: Assam
* Tripura queen pineapple: Tripura
* Chengalikodan Nendran banana: Kerala
* Ratlami sev: Madhya Pradesh
* Tezpur litchi: Assam
* Khasi mandarin orange: Meghalaya
* Kachai lemon: Manipur
* Makrana marble: Rajasthan
* Varanasi wooden lacquerware and toys: Uttar Pradesh
* Mirzapur handmade dari: Uttar Pradesh
* Memong narang orange: Meghalaya

Source: Geographical Indications Registry (GIR)

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