If you have traveled the world as an Indian, you will notice one thing about the whole world that is so unlike India – you would realize that all other cultures on the planet eat some kind of meat in their regular diet. You will stumble upon the great discovery that India is the only country on the planet which has highest percentage of vegetarians, where vegetarianism is proudly worn as badge of virtue and value. Only in India would you see people preferring the vegetarian diet overwhelmingly, wherein even the non-vegetarian communities tend to consume mostly the vegetarian food with paltry consumption of meat one or two meals per week.
Upon this greatest discovery of your lifetime you may go through a debate, if you happen to have some curiosity that your mental faculties have endowed you with. And if you happen to be one of those Indians who grew up believing India is the greatest country on the planet and it is your mission to tell the whole world how great it is, like for example, if you happen to be Modi bhakt, you would come to the same conclusion which many other have come to – that is – India is indeed the greatest country on the planet to have found the virtue of vegetarianism thousands of years ago, and therefore it makes more sense now to tell the whole world the greatness of vegetarianism, how you are kind to animals, especially the street roaming cows, and how you now hold yourself high morally and ethically. Like many other Hinduphiles, you will ignore the complicated topics, such as dietary habits of various castes, and instead focus only on the virtues of the vegetarian diet.
Why are the most cultures on the planet happen to be meat eating?
For millions of years, the ability to obtain adequate levels of protein has been the common feature of human history. Getting protein was always a big challenge because it was not easily available. As a hunter and forager, humans consumed protein from various sources, including insects, rodents, and small animals. Catching big game like a boar or deer was occasional. And those living close to water bodies depended on fish. Only after the advent of Agricultural Revolution which can also be called Domestication Revolution did we create a regular source of protein through rearing of cattle exclusively for meat. Beef, pork, chicken, fish and so on became the rich source of protein. While cereals and pulses also contributed to protein intake, they were never a great substitute for the meat which continued to supply most of the amino acids required by humans.
In India, the trend is exact reverse where vegetarian diet is a virtuous diet. There is a historical, sociological context to this – but primarily it is religious in origin, and if we want to be more accurate, it is mostly casteist, which is an integral part of Hinduism. Religion indeed plays a big role in imposing dietary habits of a culture. Muslims and Jews do not eat pig. While Muslims eat camels, Jews do not. These impositions come through religious texts, doctrines or practices. In India, vegetarianism is carried through casteist doctrines. The general rule is that upper castes are mostly vegetarian now while the lower castes are meat-eaters, with some exceptions based on the region.
Vegetarianism is casteist doctrine
Promotion of vegetarianism is primarily through the casteist doctrine which seeks purity of humans – and meat-eating is considered a major contamination. Amongst the popular folklore, vegetarianism is promoted through slogans, like ‘You are what you eat’, that meat could make your more aggressive, or that it could increase sexual appetite. Purity is the most essential feature of caste system in India. Even the non-vegetarians shun meat prior to visiting a temple, and do not take meat on auspicious days.
Recently one of my nephews who wanted to stand first in the class stopped eating meat because his teacher told him that meat consumption reduces his intelligence. I am routinely asked, ‘Isn’t it true that Brahmins don’t eat meat and therefore they are so intelligent?’
Such myths abound.
In reality, dietary practice in India strictly a feature of caste. One’s caste in particular region determines whether you are a vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Promotion of vegetarianism is not apologetic. Apartments are rented out to vegetarians only. If you travel in Gujarat, every restaurant proudly displays the sign, ‘Pure Veg’.
Starving India through Vegetarianism
Recently, there is a drive by the upper castes to push vegetarianism into the mainstream, and impose it onto even the non-vegetarians. If you go to Reliance canteen, you will be served only vegetarian food, even if you are non-vegetarian. And nobody complains because it is generally understood even by the non-vegetarians that being vegetarian is pious.
Nearly 40% of Indian Children are malnourished. If you go to a village in India and look at the youth you will realize how stark the difference is in their height and weight compared to youth from the cities. You will think he is attending 7th or 8th class when in fact he may be in a college degree program.
Serving midday meals to schools in rural India has been one of the best welfare programs India devised. And yet, we do disservice there. The teachers and the attenders responsible for serving the food to children have become the pilferers of rice and cereals. The served curry with pulses is watery. One of the best ways to combat the pilferage, contain dilution, and increase the nutrition content was introduction of eggs. Because the egg is a whole unit, it becomes easy to identify if there is pilferage. You cannot dilute it, and preservation is easy.
And yet, the upper caste vegetarian who have now donned the hat of saving animals have lobbied against this. Recently when NPR ran a critical article on policy of Madhya Pradesh to ban eggs in the midday meals, one Indian living in US writes in THE HINDU:
Using the cliched and colonial trope of starving children, we are offered one more lesson in how Hinduism is somehow responsible for all that is wrong in India today.
The author, like most upper caste apologists, converts this critical article on malnutrition in India into one of those superior-West-bullying-us arguments. This has been the consistent argument of all the vegetarian bullies - to convert their casteist dogma into a humanitarian agenda of saving animals from cruelty.
According to these Hindus, vegetarianism is no a longer a diet that is followed strictly along casteist lines, but is a hallmark of Hinduism that needs to be exported to the rest of the world, like Yoga and Deepak Chopra.
The importance given to vegetarianism in Indian life for the simple reason that our ancestors knew we could live without taking an animal life, is an enormous leap in human civilisation that the modern West has had a very tough time coming around to accept.
Equating an article that called spade a spade to that of Hinduphobia, the author skirts the essential issue – whether Indian school going kids should be served with nutritious food or not. Instead, she ‘celebrates’ these bans on meat, on eggs or on beef - because they happen to help the environment and the animals.
We must not dismiss what is perhaps the oldest, living, continuous tradition of vegetarianism in the world as mere superstition.
These champions of vegetarianism which finds audience in the New Age yuppies in the West get ruffled when back home in India meat or egg-eating is promoted. It is like their idol moving away from its ideals. So, in an effort to push their agenda to their audience in the West they would like India continue to be chaste and pure, i.e. vegetarian. Such bans and campaigns against meat serve their purpose and fits their story in which India is leading the whole world to a better world. Rich in their heritage, rich in ancient tradition, rich in best practices that were discovered by their ancestors almost two thousand years, Hinduism is the beacon to the world that is haunted by materialism and meat consumption.
And to serve that agenda, they would rather starve their own children back home in India.
PS: When I was told by a supercilious vegetarian that ‘You are what you eat’, I asked, ‘So, you are a brinjal?’