|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
Though some aim to convert
by spreading awareness, others use more aggressive methods
Last month, the 37th World Vegetarian Congress was held in Goa. The coastal state that offers a great seafood-based cuisine must be an unusual place to hold a meeting of vegetarians. But the organisers, the Vegetarian Society of Mumbai (VSM), explain that they have an active chapter in Goa.
Perhaps they chose Goa because the state, with its die-hard fish and meat eaters, offers plenty of future converts to vegetarianism. Or maybe, the organisers wanted to test the resoluteness of the delegates in the midst of such delectable seafood.
More than 300 delegates, half of them foreigners, attended the meet with 21 of them from China, sent by their government to find out whether vegetarian diets enhanced health.
The VSM was founded by the late prime minister Morarji Desai. At their meetings in Mumbai, these vegetarian evangelists actively seek converts to their way of life. The members, mostly Gujaratis or Jains, emphasise that vegetarianism is not just abstaining from food, the preparation of which involved violence and cruelty to animals. They also stress that a vegetarian diet is also environmentally-friendly because it uses less natural resources and thus leaves a smaller ecological footprint on the earth. For instance, they point out that one cow raised and slaughtered for meat could use water and grain that could have fed thousands of people.
In Mumbai, the group promotes their ideas by giving awards to restaurants for innovative vegetarian cooking.
But all proponents of vegetarianism do not follow such quiet methods. Last month, this newspaper reported that vegetarians in Juhu-Vile Parle had complained about cold counters stocking meat at a newly furbished super market. When the agitated vegetarians threatened to go about town protesting, the store meekly agreed to put opaque glass to hide the meat counters. The store even offered to shift the counters out of the store.
Some three years ago, vegetarian zealots forced a tandoori restaurant in Matru Ashish building on Napean Sea Road to close operations. Some time back, Vile-Parle residents had protested against the opening of a McDonalds in their neighbourhood. In some parts of Mumbai, the fear of a backlash from the vegetarian lobby is so great that some hyper markets do not sell non-vegetarian food.
Last year, promoters of a new housing project in Khar said that only vegetarian Hindus from Gujarat would be allowed to buy the expensive flats. In fact, an international real estate agency estimates that one in 100 new buildings in South Mumbai is now strictly off bounds for non-vegetarians. In the suburbs, the proportion is one in 50 and growing.
Jashu Shah, general secretary of VSM, says that he does not approve of the aggressiveness of some vegetarian groups. He believes in slowly converting non-vegetarians to their vocation by love. If I force my beliefs on someone, there would definitely be resistance. But if I make them understand the benefits of a vegetarian diet, they would perhaps agree with my point of view. When I visit restaurants, the guests on the next table could be eating non-vegetarian food. I have no problem with that, he declares.
Another VSM member, Pankaj Shah, too feels it is a bad idea to have housing estates only for vegetarians. His reason: Cosmopolitan residential areas offer fertile grounds to seek would-be vegetarians. What is the point of living in a building where everybody is vegetarian? I would prefer to live in a mixed neighbourhood where I can find people to change to my beliefs, he says.
The group meets once a month at Samrat, a popular vegetarian restaurant at Churchgate. This year, they even invited the media to two meetings. However, not many journalists came. Unlike in the West where the vegetarian habit is growing fast because the media promotes it, the press and television in India do not give it any importance. Media attendance is bad at our press conferences, complains Jashu Shah. Perhaps they should shift the venue to a place that offers fish fingers or chicken drumsticks!