Bharat, i.e. India, is an ancient land. In the general stream of continuity of culture, history, religion and tradition, the importance of vegetarianism seems to have remained constant I and unaffected. We come across vegetarians spread all over India. Bom vegetarians, they never felt like tasting meat at all. On the other hand, outside India, there are a large number of people who have become vegetarians. Most of them had consumed meat sometime in their lives. Vegetarianism spells for them a radical change, almost a “conversion”.
In this context, the value of vegetarianism rises quite high, and this way of diet assumes exceptional importance.
Another important fact is that India continues to be a predominantly agricultural land. Even in 1997, more than 70% of the people depend on agriculture only. The figure for the last decade was 80%. While around 1947, at the time India won freedom, it
was 85%. Even today, traditional methods are usually followed as there is no alternative. And no major changes in this practice are likely to take place during the following, decade. Agriculture has been exposed to the following unfavourable conditions for years on end: the shape and size of the farm holdings, pieces of land with uneven gradients, particularly along the ridges of hills, • deep rooted poverty getting worse year after year, heavy debts of the farmers, family feuds and, to make the situation worse, the capricious, undependable monsoon rains. Mechanization is top costly, almost beyond the means of the farmers. That is why farming has to be continued on traditional lines and in this; the livestock is the main support, the backbone of old-fashioned farming. The labour, the hard work put in by the farmer and the members of his family, is not adequate enough to meet the situation. The farmer has, therefore, to depend constantly on the animals. The sheep graze in the fields and, in a sense; this cleans the field of the weeds and grass. The flock of sheep “camp” on the farms at night. They eat the dry grass and their droppings provide manure. For ploughing and harrowing, the bulls are put to yoke. Thus the farmer requires the services of the animals at all the stages. The farm produce comprises different varieties and some of them can be used for the growth and proliferation of the livestock.
After the harvest is gathered, the remaining hay is used as fodder for the cows, bulls and buffalos. After pounding the corn and separating grains from it, the husk and small particles left can be used as chicken feed. The remains of the oil seeds, after the oil is extracted, are mixed with animal feed to which is added the creepers that are cut down and the coarse portions of vegetables. This interdependence in the agricultural operations, this complex network can be regarded as the economic nerve centre of the country.
Farming requires, as is obvious, a pair of bulls and a few bullocks. They are replaced by horses in hard terrain. In the desert it is the camel,“the ship of the desert”, that helps man. In Bihar, Bengal and Assam, the buffalo is available for such service. In Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, a pair of buffalos is yoked to the plough. Sheep, also present on the farm, yield their fleece from which wool is made. The woollen clothes and blankets made of the sheep’s wool protect us from the cold. Most of the rural families, particularly those who own no farm, have a goat for milk.
It will be surprising if, against this background, vegetarianism does not dominate the scene. Generally speaking, an Indian meat eater does not eat meat more than twice, or thrice a week. The farm livestock is too important to use up as,food. In a predominantly agricultural country like India we can easily understand the natural facts of vegetarianism.
A rural India, breathing in the atmosphere of agriculture, has only one important concern – breeding, protecting and adding to his own as well as his neighbour’s live stock. The animals are sold during the hard days of a famine, out of sheer helplessness arid with a heavy heart. But when the animals are sold to the owners of slaughter houses, the farmer’s grief is beyond words and he feels as if he has lost a member of his family.
Meat eating is not a common practice in rural India. “Mutton feasts” are arranged on special occasions. For instance, a goat is killed in honour of visiting guests and relatives. At the Jatras (village fairs) local deities are offered meat as a naivedya. Finally, there are “votive dinners” arranged in gratitude to gods for giving things prayed for [Navasphed). On all these occasions, an animal is specially killed and non-vegetarian food is served. On the other hand, it is a custom in some communities to eat the flesh of dead animals – carcasses. The custom has its roots in abysmal poverty and social inequality. The members Of the communities concerned own no land; have no regular source of income. For their living, they have to depend solely on the vatan, a hereditary mode of livelihood that gives only paltry returns, The custom has its origins in economic dependence which is akin to slavery. The disposal of the flesh and the decaying remains of a carcass was. treated as a part of the duties of the vatarLdar. This social custom has been practised for centuries, though in recent times there have been changes for the better. These are the unusual but true answers to the question as to why and when rural India
eats non-vegetarian food.
For the last six or seven decades, an urban Indian, with no daily links with agriculture and farming, has been adopting a life style influenced by the western countries. Meat eating is part of the urban Indian’s “package” of enjoyment, consumption, drinking and smoking. He firmly believes that for breakfast, only bread and omelettes are the right food, not shtra nor pohe (spiced rice flakes). Perhaps, it is convenient and saves time. But how many of them admit that convenience alone dictates their choice? Similarly, no special welcome party for a guest can be complete without drinks and, of cqurse, chicken. This change in attitude is general and cuts across all the traditional distinctions between the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the Hindus and the non-Hindus, the believers and the non-believers. And a hasty conclusion is drawn – that one who fails to grasp this change, fails to respond to the new, up-to-date style of living must be a person with an orthodox mindset, “a square and a phone”. Obviously, this is due to the growing influence of the English language and the use of English as a medium of instruction from the K. G. class onwards. The powerful impact of the television, with its several channels, creates an impression that non- vegetarian food is a daily necessity and is readily available. That is why it has been given an important place in the urban diet.
Hotel culture is a part of urbanization. With the advancement of commerce and industry, travelling has become indispensable and, with it, an arrangement for a short sojourn away from home. Hotels came up to meet this requirement, The travellers i.e. the inmates of the hotels want relaxation after office hours. Hence there was a constant need for meat, drinks and entertainment. This became almost a habit with the travellers and they had a strong desire to carry over to home their hotel practices. What they enjoyed at the hotel they could have at home too! A promising, aggressive young man from a traditionally vegetarian family has to travel frequently, far and wide, on business assignments and has to stay at hotels. In a few years, his lifestyle changes radically and he is won over by the modem Western culture. He becomes a career oriented
person who bases his life on consumption and enjoyment.
There is a direct ratio between the Indian meat eating habits and the slaughter of the animals. The more the consumption of meat, the higher the number of the slaughtered animals. To meet the growing requirement of meat, several countries in the world started the project of breeding animals on a scientific basis. Nothing on these lines has taken place in India-except in poultry that started systematically, grew fast and has became a commercial industry. But no measures have been taken for scientific breeding of sheep, goats, pigs, cows, buffalos, bulls and male buffalos. There is simply a natural increase in the number of the animals (proliferation) following the agricultural way of life but no conscious efforts for scientific breeding of animals have been made. As a result, though there is a remarkable rise both in meat consumption and city population, there is no corresponding increase in the number of the animals that could fulfil the growing meat requirements. On the contrary, the animal population is continually on the decline, which has been causing much anxiety. There is almost an inverse ratio. The number of animals against every thousand human beings is mentioned in the chart below. The figures are indeed, eloquent.
The Central Leather Institute at Chennai collects statistical data about the livestock in India every five years. The figures are important for them as they are associated with the leather industry. The figures show how the recent trends have cast their shadows.
Another danger stares us in the eye – an “invasion” on the
Indian livestock from the Middle Eastern countries. For the last two decades India has been exporting quality meat to please the palate of the neo-rich countries in the Middle East. Export by air is viable only if it is on a large scale. For this, huge slaughterhouses have to be built and for the Continuous functioning of these abattoirs, thousands of animals a day have to be slaughtered. Many multinational companies have started the projects of building huge slaughterhouses. A Kabir is one of them. As they were refused permission in Maharashtra, they have moved over to Andhra and started the operations near Hyderabad. Those who thipk that exports boost our foreign exchange keep silent about the ways and means to rebuild the livestock depleted by these companies. The earning of foreign exchange has to be linked up with the scientific breeding of the livestock – a fact that seems to be unfortunately ignored by those interested in betterment of the foreign exchange position of our country.
Regarding the population of unproductive animals; an issue comes up for discussion. What is the use; of keeping an old, barren cow, sheep or goat or an old ox or a horse unfit for a race? What is wrong in sending them to a slaughterhouse? The Indian agriculturist so far insisted on keeping and feeding such animals. The persons who vehemently argue in favour of putting an immediate end to such unproductive practices ignore an important thing. An Indian farmer loves his animals and productivity has nothing to do with this feeling. He never thinks in terms of money when he considers the utility and productivity of, say, a bull he has been working with almost as a companion, sweating and labouring along with it.
It is interesting to note that people living in their city bungalows carry on intellectual discussions about the unproductive animals. Their conclusions could be unproductive too. They produce facts and figures to show how the slaughter of these animals will help ecology and save fodder. But the same persons become wild with grief if their pet dog or cat falls ill due to old age. And they would not hesitate to throw out a person who suggests that the old dog, unfit to guard the bungalow, should be put to sleep. Strangely enough, these persons go on easily madding with the livestock of others.
In modem slaughterhouses, emphasis is placed on producing tasty and tender meat that could be sold at a fabulous price. For this, young calves and hefty bulls, cows, buffalos, sheep and goats are slaughtered. In fact, old decrepit animals are rejected. As the young and useful animals are axed, the animal population has been diminishing very rapidly and it might sink to the lowest (dangerous) level during the next decade.
This is not to suggest that people should turn vegetarian just to preserve and protect India’s livestock. The object is to understand the peculiar Indian situation. Here, there is a certain balance among the various factors like the Indian context, the mental attitudes of the rural Indians, their economic standing in general and the scientific breeding of livestock. And the balance is quite different from what the world figures indicate. It is these facets of difference, of separateness that should be taken into account before one can get an answer to the question, Why Vegetarianism? As against this, the urban discussions based on the facts and figures about unproductive livestock turn out to be unfruitful and meaningless.
Perhaps, as a cumulative effect of such discussions, we come across much aggressive advertising about eggs. The advertisement says that the eggs are vegetarian since they are devoid of life (UN fertilized). Nothing is said about whether an egg is good or bad, whether it boosts health or increases cholesterol. Such advertising could result in misleading and confusing people.
Artificial breeding in poultry has been developed on scientific lines. The producers met with great success in this venture. Breeding for chicken and eggs had been carried out on large scale. However, unfortunately, there was no boom in the sales. The price rise for an egg from 1970 to 1997 has been just from fifty paise to a mpee. It is this negligible price of a single egg that might have prompted aggressive advertising. As is commonly known, eggs are perishable and storing the unsold eggs is not feasible. Transporting them to distant markets might involve damage. Under these circumstances, it was not easy to recover the capital. Hence, the recourse to such advertising. The story seems to be repeated in the case of broiler chickens too. It is a rule that the “meat” of a six to eight week old chicken must be between eight hundred grams and a kilo. In order to adhere to the rule, the producer has to give a special feed to the chicken, consisting of nutritious items and medicines. All this adds up to the production cost which is in inverse proportion to the price of the meat. Even today the wholesale producer’s margin of profit seems to be veiy negligible. The chicken (broiled) that was sold at Rs. 30 per kilo in 1970 fetches Rs. 60 only today. But, comparatively, the prices of chicken feed, electricity, land and water and other categories have shot up considerably.
Ethical considerations, tradition and discernment – these values are ignored when a business venture with a huge capital investment finds itself exposed to serious risks. The wholesale producers of meat have struck a severe blow to everything Indian – the context, the lifestyle, the sanskars, and the mental make-up of the rural people. They started poultry businesses and pig farms (piggeries) and production of tinned meat in the slaughterhouses. But when they realized that the sale of meat does not fetch sufficient income, they prepared plans for the use of the by products.
Thus, the blood of a slaughtered animal need not be wasted. It can be used for producing a blood tonic. It becomes necessary, then, that such a tonic should have a large market. Today; such tonics are recommended to confirmed vegetarians by equally confirmed vegetarian doctors, without either of them having the remotest idea of the composition of the tonic thus taken. But the business thrives openly, by keeping both the doctor and the patient in the dark.
Animal tallow, a waste product, is used in making soaps, candles and, occasionally, vegetable oils. These are freely marketed. The scandal about animal tallow import of the last decade was suppressed immediately and it is now history that the foreign exporters have not suffered in any way.
The remaining bones of the slaughtered animals are reduced to a powder and, through chemical processes, calcium is separated from phosphorous. The powder is used for making expensive fertilizers or it is mixed with organic manures and sold freely. The users are totally ignorant of this.
Production of some of the ingredients, used in digestives, medicines like enzymes, insulin and tonics and injections with a portion of liver in them is carried on with the help of the unregulated activities at the slaughter houses.
India is facing a very serious water problem. The problem of drinking water assumes serious proportions immediately after the monsoon is over. Waste water thrown into rivers and brooks causes pollution. These problems do not engage our attention so long as a small slaughterhouse at work causes them. But when a huge project for meat production comes up in the vicinity, it requires vast quantities of water, nearly the contents of a small lake. There is also the major problem of the disposal of wastewater. Similarly, keeping off pollution, illness and foul smells is another problem. Strangely enough, the factories that are the mam cause of this entire problem refuse to take any responsibility. In foreign countries, the laws connected with these things are enforced strictly. Hygienic and ecological norms are observed meticulously. The prices of meat products are, therefore, much higher. Such projects are set up in India in! order to escape these restrictions, with unfortunate Consequences for the Indians. The meat processed here is for export only. In the Context‘ of many factors, including this one, a proper comparison between vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism becomes necessary. It is’ essential that we evaluate the reality of the Situation as it is in India rather than base our judgment on facts from other countries which do not apply here.
All the matters discussed above are very much related to vegetarianism – particularly in the Indian context. The experts have no doubt that the grains harvested on the available land and the available quantities of water are adequate to sustain the vast population of India. Similarly, the fodder and the hay can meet the requirements of our livestock. But if some of these resources (grains, water) are diverted to animal breeding and meat production, then the balance will certainly not be maintained. There is adequate statistical data in support of this statement. The Late Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, once stated the problem succintly in the following words (translated from Hindi)
“For producing one kilo meat, the animal has to be fed seventy kilos of fodder. If a crop is produced on the land instead, it will feed many poor people.”
The statistical data states almost the same. For producing a kilo of vegetables, 120 litres of water is required over a period of a hundred days.
For producing a kilo of fruit, 150 litres of water is required over four months. For getting a litre of cow milk, the cow needs 480 litres of water over a period of fifteen months.
For cultivating a kilo of wheat 350 litres of water is needed for five months.
But the figure of meat production tops the list. For producing a kilo of meat 5000 litres of water is required.
What is right in the Indian context – vegetarian food or non-vegetarian food? The answer can be determined by mentioning one more reason that is connected with health. When any item with meat content in it is produced, care has to be taken to preserve it properly and this applies to all types of meat – chicken, buffalo, and goat and to sea fish. If there were only one slaughterhouse around, taking into account the demand of the customers could easily control the meat production and, therefore, there would be no need for preservation. However, proper preservation of meat is the main problem in big abattoirs. For preservation of meat they need large refrigerated chambers with deep freeze arrangements. A temperature of – 8 to -30 degrees has to be constantly maintained as a necessity. For this, there has to be a constant, uninterrupted supply of electricity on a very large scale. If the supply is not continuous, the temperature will rise and as a result, the stock may be spoiled with the presence of germs in it. To change the temperature of an edible item from cold to normal and back to cold again involves risks. “Never freeze again once you bring down the temperature of an eatable. It is an open invitation to poisoning.” Is there a single city or town or rural region which can boast of unlimited, uninterrupted electricity supply for thirty continuous days?
We are accustomed to frequent power failures in India. Veiy few seem to pay heed to this. The huge ice chambers or refrigerated rooms cannot be run on generators. That means the basic health rule is constantly flouted.,. All that the consumer knows is the date of manufacture printed on the frozen meat packet. What he does not know is the number of power failures between the date of manufacture and the date on which he purchases the meat packet. He, therefore, consciously or otherwise, receives, indirectly, the food “poison* in his system. From this example it is clear how important it is to consider the specifically Indian context of the problem.
In the ecological context, sometimes, an attempt is made ;to reconcile the equation between animals and production and between vegetable food and production. It is found that in some specific geographical regions some animal species live in harmony with their number;, i.e. their population is being controlled naturally.
This essential aspect’ of ecology continues to be beyond the total comprehension of man even in the present times. So far man has collected factual data on the following – life expectancy of an animal, the total number of cubs/puppies it gives birth to during its lifetime, the animal diseases and their nature, and the natural food of the animals. But even today man does not know for certain the answers to a question like “How does nature exercise control on the natural number? Why do
certain species become extinct?” A vegetarian animal sustains itself on vegetables. Figures are available about the quantity of vegetable food or grains required for its growth. (The growth should be measured in terms of one kilo meat); But we do not have adequate information on how a balance is maintained between vegetarian animals and their number on the one hand, and carnivorous animals and their number, on the other. The problem requires deeper study.
It is common knowledge that in India we constantly face a shortage of water, food and grains. Under these circumstances, the question is whether we should give preference to vegetarianism or whether, just for catering to the luxury Of a chosen few, we should deprive the poor of their daily meals that are not substantial enough. The figures mentioned below may help us to decide our answer.
In advanced countries like the U. S. A., the livestock is developed and maintained on a large scale. Animal husbandry is a science. The same is true of Denmark, New Zealand and Australia. The U. S. A., however, depends mainly on advanced industries. In this country, about fifty percent of the available water is spent on maintaining the livestock. In addition, maize and wheat-generated fodder is also used for scientific breeding of animals.
U. S. A., New Zealand, Australia, Denmark arid the U. K. are in the forefront of breeding and maintaining livestock. However, the population of these countries taken together does hot total up to even a half of the Indian population. As against this, the food production in these countries is much higher. The figures for milk, eggs, chicken and meat produced are many times higher than those in India; These countries have rains all through the year, abundant water supply and vast agricultural lands. U. S. A. and Australia are respectively double and triple in size compared to India. Nothing will, therefore, be gained by a pathetic attempt at imitating these countries. It is true that the whole world finds itself irresistibly attracted to the American way of life, to the prosperity and to the standard of living. But American diet, which is a non¬vegetarian meat diet is out of place, very unsuitable inded, here in the Indian context. Hence, it is always in the interest of the nation to give preference to ,the vegetarian diet.
An Indian meat eater settled abroad eats meat once or twice a week on an average. On all other days he prefers vegetarian food. That way he saves enough to have a family trip back to India every three years. While saving money in this manner, which is, by cutting down on meals, the blind followers of the western style of life do not complain at all. They do not seem to miss much after all. It proves, in other words, that a vegetarian does not, in any way, lack the strength and stamina required for facing the cold climate, the stress and strain and heavy work load in a foreign countiy.
To sum up, considering tradition, need, available live stock, agricultural orientation, shortage of agricultural land and economic stringency, the vegetarian diet is the only suitable food in the Indian context.
The Indian way of life is founded on some perennial ethical concepts – to live together harmoniously, to live and to let live, and to avoid causing trouble and grief to others. In a sense, therefore, the Indian way of life vindicates the vegetarian diet. Let us conclude with the prayer sanctified by time,
•Let all be happy
•Let all be healthy
•Let all see the auspicious
•Let no one suffer