The Problem With South Delhi Municipality's Ban On Meat Sale In Navratri
Hindu Dharma neither condemns nor condones meat-eating. Rather, it advocates Dayatva and Damyata - compassion towards all beings and moderation in all consumption.
On 5 April 2022, South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) Mayor Mukesh Suryan issued a letter to the municipal commissioner demanding the closure of meat shops in areas under the municipal body’s jurisdiction during the nine-day festival of Navratri (2 to 11 April). Soon this was followed by BJP Parliamentarian Parvesh Varma saying that meat shops should be closed throughout India for the same period.
This is exactly the behaviour which get seized upon by the opponents of Hindutva. Rightly so.
What worth are ideological enemies if they cannot pounce upon such a wrongful move by an adversary?
Though it is easy, and correct, to criticise these bans and demands for bans on meat shops, there are indeed reasons why such claims arise.
India is perhaps the land that supports the largest number of people anchored in vegetarianism - ethnic as well as ethical. India is perhaps the country with the most number of vegetarian restaurants.
Indian culture could achieve all these without the help of laws and bans. There have been no flogging of non-vegetarians in public and there have been no burning of non-vegetarians at stake and there have been no ostracising of non-vegetarians in the society.
Yet, a non-vegetarian Hindu would refrain from taking meat if he or she is to visit a temple.
A non-vegetarian Hindu would refrain from taking meat during the Mandala Vrata for going to Sabarimala.
A non-vegetarian Hindu would refrain from taking meat on a Tuesday or a Friday or a full moon day or a new moon day as per his or her community tradition or individual spiritual resolve. Hindu culture made this possible without legislation.
The devotional life of the hunter, Kannappa Nayanar, who provided because cooked wild boar meat to Shiva after tasting the meat himself for tender parts, is well known in Saivite circles. In the traditional account of Kannappa Nayanar, two modes of worships are contrasted.
One is the elaborate ritualistic Agamic worship as done by the pious Brahmin Archaka Sivakochariyar. The other is the spontaneous expression of love of Kannappa, which knew no rules.
The traditional account does not make a villain out of the Brahmin. Rather, the archaka was justifiably pained at the presence of meat. However, it was in the dream of the Brahmin that Shiva went and instructed him to understand the extraordinary nature of the love of Kannappa. Traditional narrators of this story point out that Shiva could well have come in the dream of Kannappa and could have instructed him to adhere to the Agamic ritual.
Does this mean that offering meat to the deity is encouraged in Hindu Dharma? No.
It means that while Hindu Dharma subtly desisted from offering meat to the Gods and Goddesses, it never made a commandment out of it. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the greatest spiritual reformers of southern India, Iyya Vaikundar, Ramalinga Vallalar and Sri Narayana Guru stopped animal sacrifices practiced in many communities in the region. At the same time, they effected it through a change of heart of the community, which in turn was because of their mighty spiritual personalities.
In our own times, one of the campaigners for stopping animal sacrifices in Agamic temples was Thiru Muruga Kirupananda Variyar Swami. Again, he did it through constant propagation of ideals and made people realise the need for change.
At the same time, where animal sacrifices are conducted, they continue to be conducted and that is also Hindu Dharma. While Hinduism recognises that conscious abstaining from meat is essential for individual spiritual growth, it also respects the diversity of community practices. A community may abstain from consuming meat through an inner transformation with the advent of a great saint or it may develop a meat-eating festivity because of certain ecological and historical necessities but that in no way makes a community superior or inferior.
Yet, in the last few decades, the binary between vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism has been promulgated by media and academia.
The 'colonised pious' think of vegetarianism as superior and non-vegetarians as less or not-spiritual.
The colonised Hindu-phobes promote the view that vegetarianism is Brahminical elitism which makes an instrument of oppression out of food culture. Often, anglicised ethnic Brahmins consider eating meat as a proof of their progressiveness. The unjustifiable meat-shop bans of South Delhi has to be seen as a kind of unconscious response to this.
No festival needs closing of any shops including Gandhi Jayanti. In fact, the liquor ban on Gandhi Jayanti has only increased liquor sales on 1 October. Actually what is needed is cultivation of the culture of empathy and moderation. That is what Hindu culture has done through millennia.
In the modern times, when that is challenged by the consumerist promotion of meat eating, which is both ethically and ecologically undesirable, Dharma has to respond with more intelligence and dedicated vigour - not through foolish shortcuts.
Instead of legislation closing meat-shops and depriving people of their source of income, those who are really concerned about corporate-encouraged consumerist meat-eating and politically motivated pro-meat campaigns, should start a campaign in the name of Dharma-Vyadha and tell the population that Hindu Dharma neither condemns nor condones meat-eating but it advocates Dayatva and Damyata - compassion towards all beings and moderation in all consumption. That should bring the transformation.
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