For years one had lived under the illusion that the vegetarians are essentially non-violent people who eschew meat as they believe that killing animals for food is sinfully violent. However, unravelling events have made it impossible to cherish such childish beliefs.
Ever since vicious lynch mobs of self-styled cow protectors raising bloodcurdling slogans were unleashed on unsuspecting meat-eaters, it was clear that fanatical herbivores had tasted blood and the days of poor meat-eaters were numbered. In recent days there has been a spate of disturbing statements made by religious leaders and men in public life that can be termed alarming to say the least. No longer can these be dismissed with the contempt they deserve for sharing stupidity in these communally passion-charged times.
The president of All India Hindu Mahasabha takes the (eggless) cake for pronouncing that the Corona virus is an avatar like Narsingh that has descended to punish non-vegetarians and once they have been chastised, the half-man-half-animal incarnation of the ferocious god will retire to heaven. There are others who have come out with hasty reassurances that strictly vegetarians and cow protectors have nothing to worry about the pandemic as they enjoy natural immunity against the virus that devours only the flesh-eaters.
The traditional Ayurvedic therapy, as usual, we are told, can cure all—from dengue and cancer to COVID-19. It is intriguing that none of these preachers and practitioners have embarked on a humanitarian mission to vanquish the virus. Or is it a case of weakening our great adversary, China?
A myth that needs to be busted is that India is a nation of vegetarians. The majority of Indians are not-vegetarians. They renounce meat on certain days for religious/ritual reasons or on grounds of health but certainly do not believe that they should avoid meat all the time. On the contrary, many in the ‘strictly vegetarian’ community can only be termed as closet non-vegetarians; they observe the taboo against meat only within their home, while in the company of friends cannot resist tasting the forbidden ‘fruit’. Most Hindus don’t touch beef. The followers of Islam keep safe distance from pork but all other meats, fowls and fish are consumed by hundreds of millions of Indians. There is no prohibition on non-vegetarian repast among the tribals, Dalits or Christians. Under these circumstances, a small minority spearheading dogmatic vegetarianism has been allowed by the ruling majority in power to run riot and impose its interpretation of the swadeshi Indian diet on the rest.
It started with eggs being taken off the menu of midday meals in BJP-ruled states. Then the axe fell on the meals served in trains and economy class passengers in planes. Now, a specially curated meal showcasing what our ancestors ate at Harappa has been rendered totally toothless by vegetarians on rampage with their beaks and claws tainted with the blood of the mortally wounded carnivores. Justifications offered by officials are laughably silly. The museum, we are told, houses idols of Hindu gods and goddesses, and is also home to a relic of the Buddha. Even a child knows that idols defaced and broken are not worshipped nor does the presence of a relic transform the museum into a sacred stupa.
More than a century ago, the great Hindi satirist Bhartendu Harishchandra had penned ‘Vaidiki hinsa, hinsa na bhavati’. The point he was making was that violence used to vanquish one’s opponents (as animals in some noble sacrifice) is proclaimed by its practitioners to be non-violence. Past has come to haunt us in strange ways. No one is really interested in learning about ancient India or our shared cultural heritage. Scientific evidence—be it radio carbon dating, DNA analysis or computer-assisted linguistics—can be dismissed as a conspiracy of Hindu-baiting India-hating foreigners. While it is true that many Christian missionaries have misrepresented the ‘findings’ of colonial scholarship to deride India and Indians and more recently some overzealous Marxists have also played dangerous games with history, this by no means should blind us to the hazards of the nonsense being spouted at present.
Let us make no mistake. The issue is not what to eat or not to eat. The substantial question is whether anyone in a country governed by rule of law can forcibly restrict the choice of another citizen in strictly personal matters. Even more dangerous is the emerging trend of the government and judiciary looking the other way when the Fundamentals Rights are being trampled by what till sometime back was referred to derisively as the lunatic fringe. The BJP’s rise to power, it appears, has dangerously emboldened the wicked and the evil who are now baring their fangs.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University