In Monpa-dominated West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, people avoid meat for nearly a month as part of a ritual in the month of June. This despite the Monpas being purely non-vegetarian, and rightly so as they live in high Himalayas where vegetables are scarce. Meat, mostly yak meat, is a major part of the diet of these natives of snowcapped mountains. Yet, they test themselves by becoming vegetarian for a period in the summer month. The meat shops in the towns like Bomdila, Dirang and Tawang remain closed then, without any order from any civic body. It’s because of the sheer drop in demand. There is no buyer, so no use of opening the meat shops. A case of clear economics! But, you still find non-vegetarian dish in some restaurants of these tourist-frequented towns. So then, thanks to politics, a time might come when there would a ban on non-veg cuisines in the restaurants of West Kameng district!

Are we eating the same food we used to eat 100-200 years ago? Have we not added branded potato chips, biscuits, ice creams to our diet? None of Christian rituals in West, let alone East, have such items on menu. Shall they be banned while observing a particular festival or ritual? The Jains believe in pure vegetarianism. And ‘Paryushan’ is a ritual of fasting. It has no relevance for a Jain to being vegetarian or non-vegetarian during Paryushan. If he is offended by the sight of meat, he should not tolerate vegetables either! Although some restriction on meat selling in a Jain village in Rajasthan can be accepted, it is unimaginable that in a city like Mumbai the first such ban order was passed way back in 1964. The politics of appeasement has a long history! And why not, after all Jains are the kingmakers of Mumbai, and of India. Their insignificant population ratio of 0.4% has not prevented the thriving trading community from sitting on the driving seat of Indian economy.

All said and done, it’s time to grow up. The half-a-century old mistake cannot be justified and re-justified anymore. Like in case of caste quota, such ban would give birth to demands for ban on certain diets by other communities in areas dominated by them. Political leaders are already there to stoke the fire. The true Jains themselves may not like the controversy and want the ban withdrawn, but politics won’t allow them to do so. Dear political leaders, spare the food, at least.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on September 11, 2015)

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