|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
From The Vegetarian, Jan-Feb, 1958:
THE 15th WORLD VEGETARIAN CONGRESS, INDIA
We write to report the progress of this fabulous, whirlwind Congress, during which we have met and talked with Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President of India ; Mr. Nehru, the Prime Minister; at least five Cabinet Ministers; the Governors of Bombay and Bihar; the Maharajah of Benares and many civic dignitaries - all have entertained us with a hospitality quite unknown in the West, and now a few of us are the guests of Mr. Shanti Prasad Jain, an Indian multi-millionaire and managing director of The Times of India, which has given a great deal of space to our activities - his swimming pool and a fleet of cars are at our disposal.
We were greeted at Bombay Airport with garlands and a host of photographers, and the amazing journey through India began in venerable and windowless wooden bus, the hot dusty air doing little to cool our overheated bodies even though our English underwear had been surreptiously removed as the plane journey progressed. We could not even mop our foreheads for fear of smearing the red dabs of kum-kum with which we had been ceremoniously greeted.
India's "teeming millions" were all around us on this ten mile dash to Bombay through the country suburbs - every kind of costume from rags to brilliant saris, bullock carts, cows and crowds surging all over the road. Brown faces pressed around us every time we stopped - our cameras worked overtime.
There is probably nothing more tedious or exhausting than a long plane flight - but we opened immediately on arrival with a symposium with an American doctor, a Parsee priest and a Buddhist Bikkhu - subject and audience unknown - however, we spoke, and from that minute it has been a fantastic whirl of activity with speeches, interviews, broadcasts, Eastern meals of gigantic proportions, visits to temples, ruins, coping with beggars, snake charmers and long journeys in trains, during which dust and dirt made a mock of any hope of managing with a couple of "non-iron' shirts.
We have been amazed by the breadth and scope of all the arrangements - the organization has been little short of miraculous. The inauguration in Bombay was held in a colourful flat-roofed durbar tent - at least two acres in extent - with seating accommodation for 5,000, and a vast food exhibition with products and speciality dishes from all over India.
Dr. Rajendra Prasad was received at Bombay airport by the Governor, a large naval guard of honour and a row of vegetarians - probably the first time since the days of Asoka that the head of a state has recognized the existence of the vegetarian movement. We were all introduced and the Congress was duly inaugurated by Dr. Prasad, a charming and dignified man.
At the inaugural dinner, our President (Mr. W. A. Sibly, M.A., J.P.) and your secretary found themselves to be the principal speakers - a quite momentous occasion, and we were permitted to make a presentation of our book "Why Kill for Food?" to Dr. Prasad. Mrs. Clarence Gasque, President of the I.V.U., had flown from Mexico for the Bombay sessions, despite her knee injury, and took the chair at social and business meetings.
Twenty nations were represented and the British party included W.A. Sibly, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Harris, Miss M. Carpenter, Miss E. C. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Fleiss, Miss J. Irwin, Miss T.H.Tyack, Mr. R. St. Barbe Baker, Dr. and Mrs. Alan Stoddard, E. J. Blacker, Mr. Jack Revill and Mr. Geoffrey L. Rudd. A gruelling two nights and two days train journey took us to Delhi where we were again received by Dr. Rajendra Prasad and given tea at the Presidential Palace, which the American delegates agreed put the White House to shade. But the President said: "You must not judge India by this, India is a land of huts". This we had seen in our trips around Bombay - poverty and an animal-like existence in the rudest possible shelters - yet the impression we have is of a gentle, happy people. The sight of thousands of men and women sleeping in rows on the pavements of Bombay and all other cities, quite shattering at first, is later softened by the thought that it is infinitely preferable to sleeping in stuffy, overcrowded rooms.
We soon learned that India cannot be judged by Western standards, its people and its problems are different. The heat and dust alone would defeat any but a nation with great determination and patience. As we travelled hundreds of miles across the flat plains we saw a land in which the constant struggle is for water - it is covered with wells at which men and beasts toil all through the day. Every square yard of India which is capable of being cultivated is cultivated and irrigated. We have seen rice fields in every stage of growth - flooded, growing, ripening, and being harvested - young wheat, fields of pulses, millet, sugar cane and many strange crops impossible to identify. We have seen villages of adobe mud and simple shelters with a few rags and bowls. A seemingly endless plain of intensely cultivated land - this is the real India; the cities are isolated points, well organized, clean and full of commercial activities, with splendid buildings and many in the course of construction, but India lies all around, a vast area with 250,000,000, people coping with nature, sustained by a handful of rice and dahl, pan and betel nuts, temples and Hindu Gods.
One of the most encouraging contacts has been with a large company of Namdhari Sikhs, a Sect of strict vegetarians, all hand-some outstanding men of splendid stature - vegetarians for many generations and a living proof that flesh-eating is quite unnecessary. We were entertained in Delhi by their second Guru, or spiritual leader, His Holiness Sri Satguru Partap Singhi Maharaj, a most friendly and patriarchal figure. We also attended the World Religious Conference and we had the privilege of addressing the gathering in company with the Patriarch of Russia, in his regalia, and Jain priests, with their masks to prevent germs being scorched by their breath
Shrimati Rukmini Devi Arundale, one of our newly elected Vice-Presidents, is a very distinguished Indian lady and a member of the Indian Parliament, who has presided at many of the functions, stressed the need for an ethical and humanitarian outlook, as well as the scientific side of diet.
We have visited hospitals and universities, Rotary Clubs and Medical Associations, and we have been kept busy stating the various aspects of vegetarianism. The enthusiasm around has been heartening. Interest has been intense, audiences listening for hours on end to our dissertations - real audiences of hundreds and even thousands, the like of which we have never seen in England, or any other country for that matter. In Delhi the Prime Minister, Mr. Nehru, gave us a warm and cheerful reception in his own home and took us into his garden to show us his pet pandas. We went into the cage with him and took a photograph.
We have had huge Indian dinners, learning quickly to avoid the fiery dishes which abound - these have been served on a silver platter, once baked Benares clay, and even palm leaves. We have seen Yogi demonstrations, Indian dancing, plays, and heard Indian music. Sometimes we were taken from our mosquito netted beds at six in the morning to start the programme. We have seen the Taj Mahal about which so much has been written but which baffles description. It is utterly beautiful and twice the size expected. The photographs we know so well are taken at least a quarter of a mile away. We have boated on the Ganges and seen the burning ghats; the body of a ten year old child floating unremarked along the bank gives an idea of the problems in India - in our country the child would have been taken out of the water, an inquest held, and the country turned upside down to solve the mystery. In Benares the body bobbed about on the shore and no one took the slightest notice.
We have stepped barefooted in Temples - clean Jain Temples and dirty Hindu Shrines, carefully avoiding great gouts of betel sputum. We have seen Patna, the birthplace of Mahavira; and Bodh Gaya the temple sacred to the Buddhist, and we have talked and lectured and talked and lectured. We have definitelv put vegetarianism on the Indian map. We have pleaded with Indian audiences to hold fast to their traditional policy of non-violence.
India has everything needful for human peace and culture - if it can use it. Our purpose has been to encourage Indians to take the lead.