The Vegan Myth: India, Spirituality, and Meat Consumption

In Life in India by Vijay Jayaraj0 Comments

The myth of Hindus being vegetarians has been used widely by many to promote veganism and vegetarianism, both in India and elsewhere. During my time in Canada, UK, and Portugal, many have asked if I was a vegetarian. It was very common for them to associate the religion of my country with veganism. Ignorance about the subject and various new age teachings have created a distorted image of the moral landscape surrounding veganism. But what’s the truth?

I grew up in India. I’ve always had that one friend in every place who wouldn’t eat meat or eggs. I soon understood that people belonging to certain castes within the religious hierarchy of Hinduism were prohibited from consuming animal products except milk.

Surprisingly, a survey released by the registrar general of India has revealed that 71 per cent of Indians are not vegetarians. People in the southern states of India are predominantly meat-eaters.

In the state of Tamil Nadu where I reside, 97.65 percent of people eat animal products. That’s a staggering percentage, given that more than 87.5 percent of the population practice Hinduism.

Most families I know consume meat once a week, with Sunday being the preferred day. In contrast, the states in the North-East of India consume meat more frequently.

Chicken, fish, and goat meat are the most widely consumed meat. Pork and beef are the least consumed, with the latter being banned in some states recently. Nevertheless, it is very common to find a beef stall in most towns and cities in Southern India. Meghalaya, a North-Eastern state is the highest beef consumer. In the state of Kerala alone, 72 communities eat beef and many of them are Hindus.

Hinduism is a complex religion which evolved over the past 2000 years, and was shaped by the cultures that existed in a vast geographical area. The dietary habits of ancient Indians included meat. The sacred scriptures of Hinduism talk about the consumption of various forms of meat. Moreover, the indigenous native people—better known as Dravidians—consumed meat regularly and animal sacrifices were very common.

Whilst beef consumption and cow slaughter have been controversial subjects in the country recently, my curiosity is more about the consumption of meat itself. Apart from the nationwide unrest surrounding beef consumption, there has been no resistance shown to consumption of other meat in general.

The quality, quantity, and variety of meat consumed has drastically changed over the past few decades. But the morality surrounding meat consumption has not changed. Meat consumption has been an integral part of the Hindu culture. Whoever has been portraying Hindus as vegetarians has little or no knowledge about the historic evolution of Hinduism, the various sects within, and their dietary practices.

People’s dietary habits should be respected regardless of their choice. Those who have embraced veganism for various reasons have that right. The dietary choices of meat eaters should likewise be treated with dignity. To hold them as morally evil by claiming superior morality is preferential intolerance.  And there is no justification to impose veganism based on imaginary moral values and false assumptions.

Vijay Jayaraj (M.S., Environmental Science) is the Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. He currently lives in Udumalpet, India.

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