Mainstream, VOL LIV No 36, New Delhi, August 27, 2016
Why Vegetarianism Is Anti-national
Sunday 28 August 2016, by
“Human beings are not pure vegetarians like sheep, nor are they pure meatarians like tigers. They need to eat both.”
—A farmer of my village, Papaiahpet, Warangal district, Telangana
When I said in some of my speeches and writings that the kind of vegetarianism that the Sangh Parivar, the Bharatiya Janata Party headed State governments, its central leadership, apart from the Hindu priestcraft, are trying to project as national is wrong and it is in fact anti-national, a lot of dust was raised around it. I want to take up this question in some depth here. In my view, this question is closely related to our economic development and modern competitive nation-building and also manpower development.
In any nation economic development is very much linked to the food culture of the people and the production and distribution of food items so that the people—particularly the productive masses— would have a healthy body and creative mind. In a globalised scientifically competitive world the young children of the nation should be brought up by giving them high protein food, both when they are in the mother’s womb, and also when their growth begins after birth. A sound mind of the children in an early stage of six-seven years growth is going to decide their mental abilities lifelong. After all, human mind is like the software in a computer. Any nation’s strength depends on the imaginative ability of that software. A nation’s strength is dependent on the knowledge potential of the young, more than the physical energy that the “yoga school” is talking about.
Naturally the rich eat well and feed their children well even though they are vegetarian. In a country of caste and untouchability the higher castes have better economic viability and they also have the cultural capital to feed their children very well. For example, in India mostly the Brahmins, Baniyas and Jains (who are also Baniyas) eat several varieties of vegetarian curries, several forms of dal items, ghee, sufficient rice or chapathi, fruits, leave curries, curds and so. They feed their children with a lot of butter, ghee, fruits, ice creams, fruit salads and so on. They can also feed their children more number of times, at regular intervals, as the nursery experts suggest. Even if they are not fed with egg, meat, beef, their body and mind growth would not suffer much. However, all this is not equivalent to high protein meat foods that are required at an young age.
How can a poor mother feed the baby in the womb if rich protein food is not available? Cheap meat foods are the only best source that the poor lactating mothers have in the villages. And later feeding the children with some nutrition-rich food is possible only with cheap meat foods. The village food economy even now is not dependent on the vegetable market. It is dependent on meat and fruit food gathered from the surroundings. Vegetable production is taking place only around the urban areas. But the deeper villages even now are only meat-dependent economies, particularly in South and East India. The North and West Indian poor masses are heavily malnourished forces, as they have by and large become the vegetarian lot under the influence of Gandhian, Arya Samajist and the RSS’ vegetarian campaigns.
The Tamil Brahmin intellectuals have done enough damage to the South Indian food culture as they spread all over the country after the Periyar movement. They are the most ardent vegetarian cultural fundamentalists. I was surprised when I stayed one day in the M.S. Swaminathan, the most respected agricultural scientist, Foundation guest house in Chennai They said they serve only vegetarian food in their canteen. His personal and caste choice he imposed on the institution run with public money. The Navdhanya school, headed by Vandana Shiva, is also propagating only vegetarianism. They never studied the impact of these campaigns in a country of superstition, idol worship and Brahminism. Now the RSS has taken up a massive vegetarian campaign from power only to control the poor dalit bahujan mass brain and body growth. It looks as though the weak mind and weak body of these poor caste communities is essential for their nationalism.
They do not study the economic impact of their propaganda on the whole nation. They also do not realise that the vegetarian food culture was first started by Jains in ancient India and now by choice the Brahmins and Baniyas (non-Jain Baniyas) have become vegetarians. Originally the Sangh Parivar was a vegetarian parivar; now it wants the whole nation to go vegetarian.
Quite discreetly, the BJP-controlled States are also propagating vegetarianism. The nation knows how the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister has stopped feeding lower caste children with egg. From the Prime Minister to all their Chief Ministers, along with party leaders, are not only vegetarian but making the whole state machinery to suffer vegetarianism. In Delhi in any government programme people have to suffer vegetarianism. They do not even believe in allowing any food choice. This is sending a strong signal to the whole nation that it should go vegetarian.
Quite a lot of rural lower caste masses are also coming to believe in vegetarianism because of the media campaign. The Hindu food culture’s role must be understood in comparison with the Chinese, Japanese and Euro-American food cultures. their economic strength and intellectual power. India as of now cannot match them in any discoverable knowledge. We must also see how our village economies are still bound by their own food cultural system, which have very positive universal values and strength. The new vegetarian campaign is likely to destroy that cultural strength.
For example, when I was a child in the forest zone village in the Warangal district of Telangana State, our parents could manage some meat item or the other by the evening. Fish, rabbit, a variety of birds, chicken, wet and dry lamb-goat meat were our daily food. Milk, curd butter milk with jawar or rice food items were also part of our diet. We used to get vegetables only in rainy season and old persons among our families would be very unhappy when a vegetable curry was cooked. Among the Dalit families the staple food item along with jawar, rice was beef, wet or dry. In other words, the village food economy was dependent on meat and milk but not vegetarianism. This situation has not changed much. But the new vegetarian campaign is attacking that culture as unhealthy and uncivilised as if only Brahminism knows what civilisation means. This is an arrogant approach to cultural issues.
The vegetarian nationalism is affecting the whole psychological environment of the Shudras, SC/ST/OBCs who used to eat their food with a cultural confidence before the BJP came to power. The cow slaughter ban during the Congress regimes did not lead to a cultural degradation of total vegetarianism. Meateria-nism, beeferianism, fisherianism and so on were part of the Congress culture. It appears that the so-called Congress-vimuktha Bharat will be only vegetarian Bharat. The RSS and its networked media is campaigning about the greatness of vegetarian nationalism day in and day out. Now the Brahminic so-called cultural TV channels have launched a campaign to say that meat, beef and fish-eaters are uncivilised people. The Brahminic sociologists spread false theories that meaterianism is known as polluted food culture and vegetarianism is known as pure food culture. This is an absurd theory but they continue to teach it in the schools and universities also.
This kind of food cultural retrogression has very serious implications to our national growth. The cattle and bird cultivation would suffer quite significantly. The leaders of this cultural movement are actually those who never got involved in food productive or cattle rearing activities. The vegetarian food cultural Brahminism is sought to sustain by juxtaposing it to Islamic and Christian meaterian and beeferian food cultures in India. Part of this cultural campaign originated in the Hindu spiritual system. The vegetarian priestly community, which was never involved in cattle, bird and animal economy, started a campaign called “cow protection” from there; it’s now being expanded to total vegetarian nationhood. The ruling dispensation is trying to project that culture as Indian culture. This in the long run would weaken the nation’s mental and physical growth.
Many farmers, whom I spoke to, were of the opinion that with mere vegetarian food they “cannot sustain their working energies in the fields”. One farmer said that ‘’at least twice a week we need to eat meat or fish. This we realise with our own working energies on the day we eat sufficient meat and on the day we eat our food with some vegetable. It may be alright for those who sit at home or do some business to be a vegetarian. But for hard working people like us meat eating is a must.”
They also have another important economic dimension to be remembered. Unless an animal or bird is an economic animal or bird, they cannot maintain them. One person said: “Even if the chicken is not a food bird we cannot feed it and sustain it.” This kind of peasant response to cow protection or any other animal protection is valid because maintaining animals without being of labour value or of food value is just not possible.
Any nationalist argument has to be based on improving the people’s mental and physical energies. Nationalism should not weaken the people in physical and intellectual spheres. It is a false nationalist argument that does not understand the existing potential of the people in different spheres. Nationalism cannot depend on sentiments.
This is the land that got defeated by Middle Easterners and Europeans. Now with this kind of false food cultural theories and also nonsensical practices they would like to surrender this country to more energetic, more imaginative and more creative forces that come from outside. The nation must debate this issue more seriously than any other issue.
Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is the Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Gachibowli, Hyderabad.