EID in Pakistan leaves heavy amounts of carcasses to manage. But the world’s largest ritual slaughter festival is held every five years in the village of Bariyarpur in Nepal, mostly of water buffaloes, for the propitiation of Goddess Gadhimai. On the other hand, The Indian Express recently reported that more Indians are turning to meat consumption than ever before, leaving vegetarian men in the 15-49 age group – who had never consumed” of fish, chicken or meat” – at 16.6. percent in 2019-21. Indian gurus cite ancient texts to suggest that eating meat makes us aggressive and vegetarianism has a calming effect.
That’s not how it always seems to go though. Are people who kill people in a riot or massacre vegetarians or meat eaters? This is probably the wrong question to ask. I once ordered a bowl of thukpa from a Tibetan restaurant in Manali. It is a meat dish with noodles popular among Tibetans who are almost all Buddhists. In the meantime, I was wondering if the owner could kindly chase the flies away. There was a complete refusal to do anything about the parasites hovering above the table. “We don’t kill,” was the clear but polite response. And the thukpa? It has meat. “I didn’t kill him,” smiled the man.
Within the carnivorous and vegetarian groups, there are other subdivisions that can be just as unnecessarily misleading. Giora Becker and Gershon Kedar were Israeli diplomats I knew in India. Becker was a free-spirited Jew and did not hesitate to put on his plate foods forbidden in his culture. Kedar was an Orthodox Jew who turned out to be Becker’s opposite in eating habits. He was unprepared, for example, to have a meal anywhere but at Dasaprakasa, once a popular vegetarian restaurant in Delhi. There was no chance of kosher requirements being violated at the restaurant where meat of any kind was neither cooked nor served.
Their different approaches to food and even their religion played little or no role in the approach to the Palestinian issue. If blood were to be shed for their country, rightly or wrongly, it would be shed, not to mention the key commandment that forbids killing humans as a sin.
Are people who kill people in a riot or massacre vegetarians or meat eaters? This is probably the wrong question to ask.
The popular belief about food distorts men and animals. Indian gurus insist that vegetarians are calmer while meat is aggressive. A careful examination would find little or no evidence for the common assertion. Along the same lines, the fact that snakes did not drink milk from caves before popular belief. Sample the flawed but commonly used idiom that refuses to yield to compelling fact. He insists that giving milk to a baby snake is like feeding an enemy.
The Express report on the growing number of meat eaters in India grapples with the number of vegetarian leaders the country has elected, including the current one. The three of Kashmiri Brahmin stock – Nehru, Indira, Rajiv – ate meat and practiced yoga. The other meat eaters were AB Vajpayee, a Brahmin from the Hindutva flank. Chandra Shekhar and VP Singh, the two thakurs from Uttar Pradesh, and the two gentlemen from Punjab, Inder Gujral and Manmohan Singh were regular omnivores. Gulzari Lal Nanda, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarji Desai, Narasimha Rao, Deve Gowda and now Narendra Modi talk about the vegetarian group. Shastri and Indira Gandhi waged wars adroitly despite their different eating habits.
There is another challenge to the vegetarian versus non-vegetarian debate. You can be this or that, or, in today’s fashion, even vegan; it won’t take you away from your bloody past. If the late Professor Kailash Nath Kaul was right, Indian languages offer insight into our cannibalistic origins, which we share with the rest of the world. The common threat of drinking someone’s blood in a hot moment or chewing someone raw, or making mincemeat of their quarry may have an unaccepted origin in our early evolution as social beings.
Film actor Dharmendra was more popular than his contemporaries for calling out for the blood of the enemy in frequent climactic scenes. He was applauded, not booed for using the North Indian idiom of bloodlust. The phenomenon is evenly distributed in many countries. The military carry on the tradition of our past as headhunters. If one remembers correctly, there was this photo of a British soldier with a pile of decapitated heads of Malay communist guerrillas in the 1940s. Accusations abound against Indian and Pakistani troops who periodically engage in gore.
According to Harikishan Sharma’s report in the Express, as the country is increasingly convulsed in the dispute over vegetarian meat consumption, the truer picture remains carefully left out of the debate.
“More people are eating non-vegetarian food than ever before, and the proportion of Indian men doing so has risen sharply in the six years between 2015-16 and 2019-21,” the Express quotes the National Survey on family health as an indicator. Meat-eating women have also increased, albeit glacially.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Posted in Dawn, July 14, 2022