The debate over Rasogolla

Context:

  • West Bengal has been awarded the Geographical Indication (GI) for “Banglar Rasogolla” (Bengal rasogolla). In the backdrop, Odisha claims the origin of the sweet.
  • It was noted later that the GI tag was for the “Banglar Rosogolla” — the rosogolla originating in Bengal.  Not the generic rosogolla (pronounced “rasgulla” across North India).

The decision for the Banglar Rosogolla

  • The decision for the Banglar Rosogolla has been made under the GI Act that authenticates products to either geographical locations or to communities or societies.

The struggle for the GI – TAG

  • For long there has been a tussle between Odisha and West Bengal about the origins of the Rasagulla.
  • The battle between Odisha and West Bengal began in the year 2015 when it was pointed out that the origin of the sweet rosagolla existed for about 600 years.
  • Odisha claims it invented the rosogolla which, as the legend goes, was offered as bhog on the ninth day of the Jagannath Rath Yatra during a Niladri Bijaya ritual, to goddess Mahalakshmi in the famous Puri temple.
  • The sweet, named “Pahala rasagola” (Odia pronunciation) has been dated back to the 12th century — with scholars citing religious texts and temple records for evidence that the rasagola, also called khira mohana, was part of Puri’s sacred rituals.
  • Further the rosogolla swelled in popularity as according to the story, Odia chefs took the recipe with them to Bengal, and Bengali visitors carried home the technique, at times apparently extracted from  Bikalananda Kar himself, the legendary sweetmaker from Salepur in Cuttack, who is believed to have modified the original khira mohana.

Bengal side of story

  • Bengalis have a very different view of how the rosogolla was born, claiming that it was invented in 1868 by the Kolkata-based sweetmaker Nobin Chandra Das.
  • The legend goes that Das made rosogollas by boiling a rounded mix of chhena and semolina in sugar syrup. In 1930, Nobin’s son Krishna introduced vacuum packing to keep the sweets fresher for longer.

Move by Odisha

  • In the year 2015, the state government of Odisha initiated a move to get GI status for its Pahala rasagola.
  • It constituted three committees to establish the rasagola’s Odia origin and it was underlined last year that a 16th century Odia version of the Ramayana, the Dandee Ramayana, mentions a sweet made of cheese being offered in rituals.
  • Rasagola campaigns increased in popular culture. On July 30, the day of the Niladri Bijaya in 2015, the hashtag #RasagolaDibasa celebrated the sweet’s Odia origin on social media and in newspapers.
  • Sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik made a sculpture on Puri beach depicting Lord Jagannath offering rasagolas to goddess Lakshmi.

Bengal’s argument

  • Bengali experts insisted that the rosogolla couldn’t have existed in India until the 17th century, when the Portuguese brought recipes for curdling milk.
  • Until then, Indian sweets were made with khoya, not chhena, they argued besides, curdled milk would not have been offered to a deity at all.

Has Bengal really won now?

  • Despite the initial exhilaration, the GI tag doesn’t give the rosogolla to Bengal.
  • It only states that “Banglar Rosogolla,” which has some specific characteristics such as the way it feels in the mouth and how sweet it is, originated in Bengal and not that the rosogolla/rasgulla itself did.

What is Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999?

  • GI Act is an Act of the Parliament of India for protection of geographical indications in India.
  • India, as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), enacted the Act to comply with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
  • The GI tag ensures that none other than those registered as authorized users (or at least those residing inside the geographic territory) are allowed to use the popular product name.

What is a Geographical indication?

  • A geographical indication (GI) is a name or sign used on products which corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin (e.g. a town, region, or country).
  • In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. In addition, the qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin. Since the qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between the product and its original place of production.
  • The use of a geographical indication may act as a certification that the product possesses certain qualities, is made according to traditional methods, or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin.

What rights does a geographical indication provide?

  • A geographical indication right enables those who have the right to use the indication to prevent its use by a third party whose product does not conform to the applicable standards.
  • However, a protected geographical indication does not enable the holder to prevent someone from making a product using the same techniques as those set out in the standards for that indication.
  • Protection for a geographical indication is usually obtained by acquiring a right over the sign that constitutes the indication.

For what type of products can GI?

  • Geographical indications are typically used for agricultural products, foodstuffs, wine and spirit drinks, handicrafts, and industrial products.

Examples of GI-tagged products

  • In 2004-05, Darjeeling tea became the first GI-tagged product in India.
  • Other GI tags include Mysore silk, Jaipur blue pottery, Kashmiri pashmina, Kannauj perfume, Goa feni and Rajasthan’s Thewa painting, using gold on glass.

How are GI protected?

There are three main ways to protect a geographical indication:

  • so-called sui generis systems (i.e. special regimes of protection);
  • using collective or certification ; and
  • methods focusing on business practices, including administrative product approval schemes.

Broadly speaking geographical indications are protected in different countries and regional systems through a wide variety of approaches and often using a combination of two or more of the approaches outlined above. These approaches have been developed in accordance with different legal traditions and within a framework of individual historical and economic conditions.

Why this trouble over food?

  • There are parochial reasons for these quarrels.
  • As globalization progresses, local contexts sometimes feel anxious about losing “their” products to others.
  • Therefore, states try to emphasize their uniqueness, like a trademark product, claiming that a particular product simply isn’t the same when made elsewhere. For example, champagne from the French district of that name, or Scotch whisky.
  • There are commercial reasons, too. The hummus trade, for example, is worth over a billion dollars annually. In such cases especially, the ‘brand’ matters, and food fights are as much about financial sense as about regional sensibility.
  • In the end, though, no matter what you call it, a rosogolla from anywhere tastes just as sweet. What matters is the process of applying for GI for its own rasagola.
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