By Ram Puniyani
22 May, 2005
while travelling on the early morning flight from Mumbai to Ahmadabad,
I overheard my co-passenger's request for non vegetarian breakfast being
denied by the flight steward on the ground that on Mumbai Ahmadabad
route, non vegetarian food is not served. The same got confirmed a few
days later when the management of the said airlines publicly stated
that since the passengers on this route are manly vegetarians, and in
case of some slip on the part of airlines staff if the vegetarian passengers
if by mistake is served the non vegetarian food, it will be hurting
their religious sentiments.
one of the trips to Ahmadabad when sipping tea with one of the young
IT professional friend in his rented accommodation, I was aghast to
see the landlord barging into the flat and making headway straight to
the kitchen, inspecting something and going away. I could not hide my
amazement and asked the young friend as to how someone can come and
inspect your kitchen utensils, and that too even without the courtesy
of asking your permission. He replied that it is more or less a routine
practice in the city where the landlords or landladies keep a watch
whether the tenant is cooking non vegetarian food.
Also one house hunter
in the city of Mumbai was surprised that the real estate agent inquired
about his food habits before showing him the flats for sale. He was
also told that the particular housing complex where he wanted to buy
the house, they had the unwritten (? written) rule that non vegetarians
will not be permitted in the housing complex.
By now it has become
a routine for one to hear in different workshops and seminars that Muslims
are having aggressive mentality because they consume Non vegetarian
food. There is a hidden sentence in this which comes out easily when
probed further that the real reason for their having aggressive mentality
is that they eat beef. It comes as an addition that since cow is holy
for the Hindus, they at the same time are hurting the sentiments of
This trend is picking
on from last few years more strongly. One can roughly say that it runs
parallel to the rise of communalism and communal violence in society.
It has become rooted in stronger fashion, post Babri demolition along
with demonization of Muslims reaching a new high.
Two issues have
been deliberately intertwined in the social common sense. One is the
non vegetarian food causing violent tendencies and the second, the eating
of beef by Muslims and there by hurting the sentiments of Hindus. It
is very clear that the definition of non vegetarian food varies from
place to place and community to community. Eggs are passé for
some vegetarians and strict no for others. Some regard sea food, fish
and the like as vegetarian while for others it is non vegetarian food
in all sense of the meaning.
Today World over
roughly more than 80-90% of the population is Non vegetarians so to
say. While Muslims in India are the object of wrath, apart from other
things, also for eating beef, the Europeans and Americans do get away
easily in this psyche despite having beef as the staple diet. In the
countries and people who follow the biggest apostle of non violence
ever, Lord Gautam Buddha, the consumption of non vegetarian food is
no less in quantum. For that matter right here there are innumerable
communities for whom beef has been a part of the food habits, non vegetarianism
being prevalent in most communities and even amongst those who feel
that Muslims are aggressive because of eating non vegetarian food the
prevalence of eating non vegetarian food is substantial.
A section of community
has been discarding non vegetarian food in a very strong way. Amongst
these sections of middle class, traders are taking the wows of vegetarianism.
There are political over and undertones also in this 'hate Non vegetarians'
thinking. One can go to the extent of saying that Vegetarianism is also
being used as a social and political weapon to browbeat the minority
community. No doubt one has the choice of shifting to vegetarianism
with full commitment, but to be intolerant to the non vegetarians and
to label the Muslims as having violent personality due to the food habits
is a part of political campaign.
beef was the staple food in Vedic times (Cow is essentially food, Atho
Annam Via Gau). D.N. Jha in his classic book on the ancient Indian food
habits shows that it was with the rise of agricultural society that
the restriction was brought in on cow sacrifice by Lord Buddha. The
primary goal was to preserve the cattle wealth. The ardent follower
of Buddhism, Emperor Ashok, in one of his edicts to the royal kitchen
orders that only as many animals and birds be killed as are necessary
for the food in the kitchen. This was to put a break on the animal sacrifice
which was part of the Brahminical rituals. It was as a reaction to this
that Brahminism came up to project cow as mother to show that it also
has concern for cattle. One can make an interesting point a la Kancha
Ilaih's 'Buffalo nationalism', as to why only cow was selcted to have
the exalted place as a mother, why not Buffalo? Has the colour politics
something to do with this. Needs investigation!
Than as far as the
violent personality and food is concerned, not much scientific literature
is available to prove the correlation of food with the violent tendencies.
Violence is a personality trait, in the realm of psychology, which is
shaped by familial, social and political circumstances. It also keeps
changing according to the situation. A quiet person can take to arms
and violence when faced with adverse physical situation. A person with
a history of violent behaviour can change to quiet behaviour, without
change of food habits, with the change in circumstances.
There are systems
of medicine, the traditional one's which classify food according to
the Satwik (leading to pure, quiet persona), Tamsik (increasing anger)
and Rajsik (royal) but it hasn't been vindicated beyond stray empirical
assertions. It is more than understood in the modern system of medicine
that the psychological traits have all to do with the circumstances
at all the levels, family, social and political. Despite some people
holding on to human nature and type of food, it is far from being vindicated
by any of the modern scientific studies.
There are groups
of people taking to vegetarianism, the vegans, on health grounds, which
one can understand. The element of religiosity is not mixed up here.
Neither are these people intolerant to the ones who consume non vegetarian
food. The phenomenon being observed amongst the sections influenced
by Hindu right operates at the level of religiosity. Vegetarianism here
is a part of one's religion so to say. Being mixed up with religion
it becomes associated with emotions and that's where the strong rejection
of non vegetarians in the neighbourhood. How this has been turned as
one more tool of demonization of Muslims is a matter of amazement for
the writer of these lines. One also feels like complementing the rumour
mill of rumour spreading society, which has achieved this feat of using
the food habits as yet another tool of spreading hate.
Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer,
the pioneer of Human rights, narrates a story about Mahatma Gandhi's
Muslim friend's son visiting his Ashram on the day of Bakar Id. Gandhi
the vegetarian, ordered for the non vegetarian food to be brought to
the Ashram for his Muslim friend's son as it happened to be associated
with his festival. It is another matter that the Muslim boy in deference
to the rules of Gandhiji's Ashram insisted that he will have no non
vegetarian food in Gandhi is ashram. Respecting each others sentiments
comes alive in his best form here. One sees the similar espect for 'others'
sentiments in the will of Babur who writes to his son Humayun that since
Hindus respect cows he should not let the cows be slaughtered during
What a contrast
to the present atmosphere where the Vegetarianism is propagated and
imposed in such an aggressive way. One is not sure whether Non vegetarian
food leads to aggressive tendencies or rather one can say violence is
in the mind and mind is shaped by social situations. One can certainly
say that those propagating vegetarianism in such a fashion are intolerant
to the hilt, and that's for sure. One will like to be informed, Narendra
Modi, who presided over one of the worst carnages of present times,
is he a vegetarian or a non vegetarian. This writer will wait for the
answer! Forget Modi, one suspects that Hitler who unleashed the biggest
ever pogroms in History of modern times was an ascetic and a vegetarian.