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Friday, August 12, 2022

Not in my name: I am a Jain and Gurgaon meat ban isn’t about my religious sentiments

Vansha Jain writes: Paryushan Parv is about ridding ourselves of hatred, greed and the pull of the ego. Hurting the livelihoods of traders is about an exclusivist politics


August 2, 2022 6:40:27 pm
Is this solidarity with “Jain sentiments” worth the suffering of Muslim and Hindu meat traders? Are Jains just being appeased for a hidden motive? (File Photo/Representational)

Written by Vansha Jain

Meat, even today, is a bit of a taboo — a subject that makes people cringe — within Jain families. While most wince at its mention, there are also some among us who, surreptitiously of course, are known to tuck into the odd chicken tikka. As a child, I used to find this funny because at home we would all be back to eating food with no onion and garlic. My grandmother was a devout Jain and that was reflected in her lifestyle and food habits (she wouldn’t let me even kill mosquitoes). It is well-known that onion and garlic are not consumed in very traditional Jain families, while the injunction around potatoes is both less well-known and practised. Even my devout grandmother loved them and so did our extended family. Her beloved potato was in everything she made. It was only during Paryushan Parv that she would not touch them.

I bring up these dietary memories because today, the public conversation seems to be based on the belief that it is only meat that Jains refrain from consuming. And the ban on the sale of meat in Gurgaon during Paryushan Parv (August 24 to September 1) has only sharpened my doubts around actions taken to protect “religious sentiments”.

If my religious sentiments as a Jain were the sole reason behind the meat ban then, surely, onions, garlic, and potatoes would also be included? Or, in fact, any root vegetable? They are not, for obvious reasons. There would be havoc as the dietary and cultural life of multitudes and the livelihood of those involved in cultivating, transporting and selling these items would be deeply disrupted. But, fundamentally, isn’t the ban on any food – meat, in this case — equally absurd?

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This leads me to think that, perhaps, restrictions such as the one in Gurgaon have less to do with my sentiments and more to do with a larger political project. “Pure” and “impure” – think “pure veg restaurant” – have castiest and exclusionary notions attached to them (there is “caste” among Jains too). The ban seems more to do with who the powers-that-be think of as “meat eaters” than respecting those who do not.

Food for me has always been a personal choice. It is about nutrition, taste, pleasure and, yes, culture, and is as varied as all these factors. In a perfect world, there would be no “food shaming”. And now, it is being done in my name, as a Jain.

Many of the people selling meat are Muslim. As the economy struggles back to its feet after the shock of the Covid pandemic, should they suffer another blow to their livelihoods? Is this solidarity with “Jain sentiments” worth the suffering of Muslim and Hindu meat traders? Are Jains just being appeased for a hidden motive? To be honest, most Jains in urban areas don’t not know this ban is being done in their name. Most of them do not think of meat or its products in their daily life — there are enough vegetables to preoccupy them. There is a lot of dietary diversity within Jain families. A small number follow all the restrictions.

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Jains have been celebrating their festivals with great fervour without meat bans. Paryushan Parv’s main goal is to remove impurities from within, ridding ourselves of hatred, greed and the pull of the ego. Can we celebrate those values if there is intolerance using our religion as the excuse?

The writer studies political science at Delhi University

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First published on: 02-08-2022 at 06:40:27 pm
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