"Opinions are like assholes- everyone has one"!
These are my opinions. They don't matter much because they do not bring any change. People live as ever - spitting, throwing garbage, cheating, bribing, but leading a moral life - not smoking, not eating meat, not visiting a prostitute.
The minor trace of vegetarianism embraced by few people of the West is celebrated by Hindus as vindication of their longstanding habit of vegetarianism. Indian Hindus quickly quip, “We have always been vegetarian for a long time now, and you have come around in full circle to embrace it!”
Though this rejection of meat-eating may show certain similarity between the behaviors of the West and the Indian Hindus, there are two big differences. One, this phenomenon is a fringe movement in the West, where only certain people of yuppie crowd have renounced mean to embrace vegetarianism it as a fashion or a lifestyle, while in India there are millions who have never tasted meat in their entire life. There is no other country on the planet where there is such huge population of complete vegetarians. Most of the world is invariably meat eaters. Two, the underlying reasons for practicing vegetarianism are completely different. I will be discussing the second difference here.
Unlike the West’s post-modern rejection of meat-eating which is based in health reasons and other guilt reasons emanating from treatment towards animals, Indian Vegetarianism is NOT founded in ‘health reasons’ nor has a basis in ‘good diet’. It certainly does not emanate from guilt reasons. Certain people in the West, especially some New Age enthusiasts, have rejected meat because of the West’s excessive and preponderance dependence on meat in their regular diet.
West’s rejection of excessiveness of non-vegetarianism is misconstrued by Indian Hindus as rejection of non-vegetarianism in all its forms.
Food habits amongst Indian Hindus are very much caste-centric. Most Brahmins, expect in some regions (such as Kashmir or Bengal), are completely vegetarians. In most regions of India, all upper caste Hindus do NOT touch or eat meat. Many Shudras eat chicken, mutton, fish, etc, but NOT beef or pork. Some higher Shudras who live more like higher caste than lower caste DO NOT eat meat just like higher caste of that region. Dalits and tribals eat most meats including game, beef, pork, pigeon, etc.
In each region of India food habits are distinctly aligned along caste lines. Knowing one family’s food habits of certain caste will allow one to know the eating habits of all families of that caste in that region. Thus, meat eating habits are synonymous to caste hierarchies in India and NOTHING to do with healthier diet habits.
Indian vegetarianism has a halo or an elite status in India, which suggests that it is more to do with one’s class and caste and not much to do with healthier diet consciousness. Though there are renewed attempts to justify this vegetarianism as a sanction of the scriptures, most ancient scriptures heavily indulge in meat-eating and sacrificial rituals. Therefore, it is clear that the basis for vegetarianism is not found in scriptures and therefore not sanctioned in religion.
Though meat-eating was a common phenomenon in ancient India, through time, as it was elsewhere in the world, certain trends suggested a practical sense to move towards vegetarianism reducing the burden on the meat which became a scarce commodity in civilized societies. How this practice got intertwined with Indian caste system is not exactly known (to me, though I could speculate some reasons), it is now seen strictly along caste lines.
Most (not all) Indian twice-born castes reject meat, terming it ‘debased, depraved and lowly’, something suitable for lower castes. Much the same way as Muslims consider pig as a filthy and a lowly animal, upper caste Hindus considered eating meat (in all forms, NOT just beef) lowly and depraved worthy of lower castes. The rejection of meat became a renewed affirmation of one’s caste when during Muslim rule the Muslims were clearly identified by their meat eating habits. It was upper caste Hindus’ way of saying that chaste Hindus are quite different and in some way more refined and elite compared to barbaric Muslim hordes descending on India. ‘Not eating meat’ became a sign of elite and higher status and to an extent an identity itself.
Now, many people in India share similar opinion and look down upon meat eaters, with some exceptions such as urban yuppie crowd who have welcomed meat eating cuisine departing ways from their parents. While some continue their journey as meat-eaters, many others revert back to vegetarianism after a brief spout of rebellious streak. The guilt factor of deviating from the tradition and culture rides too high for them.
In the towns and villages of India, the people of lower caste who aspire to be elite, those who want to move upward in the social echelons, renounce the habit of meat eating, thereby embracing vegetarianism, so that they could feel ‘superior’ or ‘equal’ to other higher castes. Some lower castes have gone up in the caste hierarchy by renouncing meat eating and aligning themselves closer to the elite upper castes.
It is clear that vegetarianism in India is rooted in caste and to certain extent religious affiliations and nothing to do with dietary or New Age rejections as seen in the West. If it were indeed really prescribed as healthy diet in Hinduism, such habits should have been more universal, not just along caste lines.
Indian celebration of stories of vegetarianism and renouncing of meat eating by fringe class of the West is for wrong reasons and has no common ground. Imagine we now find a new dreadful disease caused by eating pigs. It’s like Muslims saying, ‘Look! We always knew it. That’s why we never ate it to begin with!”
Vegetarianism in India has no founding in any of the empirical evidence, scientific argument or logical conclusions. It has no basis in healthy dietary experiments, conclusion or arguments. It has everything to do with religious orthodoxy, blind belief, superstition soaked with strict and distinct casteist sentiments based on showing ‘one’s superiority over inferior others’.