Nearly 2 decades ago, 2nd Oct meant an early morning parade, some sweets and freedom for the rest of the day. Of course, the price of that freedom was a short speech about “Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation” that most of us snoozed through.
Gandhi is a familiar figure for every Indian. You cannot miss him even if you are a visitor in India. His photographs are hanging in every single government office. His face plastered on all of our money. He was the guy, you will be told, who won us our freedom.
Well, you cannot deny that he was one of the freedom fighters, at least.
For most part, I’m ambivalent towards Gandhi. He did what he had to during his time and I’m glad that his reign ended when it did, because I’ve a sneaking suspicion that we wouldn’t have progressed as much if he were around today. He had rather regimented views about things like globalization, or the concept that existed then.
Of course, he was also the person, we are told, who fought for the rights of the oppressed. The Dalits. Or the Harijans, as he liked to call them. He told the rest of India aka the upper class India who followed this caste system, that these ‘others’ shouldn’t be treated as ‘untouchables’ and they were the same as everyone else. The term ‘Harijan’ is perhaps one of the most loathed words in the Dalit community.
Though the term stands for ‘People of God’, the implication of the word is more patronizing rather than accepting.
But Gandhi did fight for equality in his own way. He tried, in his way, to tell people to clean their own toilets, do their own work and stop discriminating against people based on what they did.
However, 60 years after his death, we honor him by banning the sale of meat and booze on his birthday. This is supposed to be a homage to the man who tried to support equality. But we concede that Gandhi was an ‘upper-class’ Hindu. He was a vegetarian and stayed so through his life… not because of religion. Because he believed that meat polluted his body. He abstained from alcohol for the same reason.
This edict has been irritating me for a while now. True, this perhaps is in line with Gandhi’s idealogy that we should lead a ‘pure’ life. Which means we should ask every Indian to eat the simplest of the simplest food on this day. We should ask them to clean their own toilets, do their own laundry and much more. Well, that isn’t going work to so we are gonna close every single meat shop, because that is the one way in which we can show that we are doing something.
I’ve a lot of vegetarian friends, and some of them have stayed vegetarian because they claim that Hinduism demands it. According to them Hindus are supposed to be vegetarian. And those rare occasions when they were convinced to eat meat, they felt miserable and sick about it the next day.
My thought about this is simple – if we weren’t meant to eat meat, our digestive systems wouldn’t be able to take it. We are the most evolved creature on earth. So we are able to digest pretty much anything. Otherwise, our digestive systems would be suited to a particular kind of food.
Anyway, it seems to be that banning sale of particular things on Gandhi’s birthday is hypocritical and perhaps even goes against what he taught – acceptance of everyone. That was the first rule of his teachings, not vegetarianism.
Majority of the country today is a meat-eating population. And the statement that Hindus are vegetarians is sheer nonsense. Even if you do want to believe in the caste system, apart from the Bramhins, everyone else ate meat. And Brahmins were a select few and sacred, which makes the rest of the population – the majority.
Of course, eating meat or not is a personal choice… but if you tell me you are vegetarian because your religion tells you to be and that I should be one too cuz I’m from the same religion, you are just asking for trouble.