International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India


INDIA
A NOBLE INHERITANCE
K. SANTNANAM
Chairman Finance Commission

Individuals and nations occasionally inherit rare virtues. Vegetarianism is one of such blessings which the Indian people have inherited. In other countries of the world, there may be stray vegetarians through personal alone. But 1 believe, India is the only country where large, groups of people are vegetarians through centuries of tradition. I do not know whether there are any statistical estimates of complete vegetarians in India. Perhaps their number is the order forty or fifty millions. It should also not be forgotten that even though the rest, the majority of the people of India are not strict vegetarians, the so-called meat-eating Hindu masses are mostly vegetarians. The average per-capita consumption of meat and fish in India is a tiny fraction of the quantities consumed in other countries.

How and why this miracle happened in this country is a matter for speculation. I am not also anxious to enter into a controversy about any supposed moral superiority of vegetarians. If there is any virtue in it, the vegetarians in India must thank their ancestors and cannot claim much merit for themselves. The individual vegetarians by choice in other countries can well claim superiority over the habitual vegetarians in India.

At the same time, I am convinced that vegetarianism is a noble and precious inheritance which we ought to preserve and propagate. There is something which is indescribably ennobling to feel that man is not obliged to kill animals with consciousness and sensations similar to his own in order to preserve his own body. The justification for killing animals for food can only be stark necessity. Probably it will not be possible for the majority of mankind to become vegetarians for many decades and perhaps even centuries without the risk of grave malnutrition. But there is no doubt that mankind can become progressively vegetarian till, at last, the idea of killing a conscious animal for the sake of its flesh will become unthinkable. However long it may take to reach this goal, the vegetarian communities of India should never forget that they are the guardians of a great mission. They can advance the cause of vegetarianism only through humility, perseverance and firm resolution to demonstrate to the world that vegetarianism does not involve any sacrifice of health, strength, intelligence, courage, longevity of life, or efficiency in work of any kind.

It is sad to reflect that there is a tendency among high Indian officials belonging to strict vegetarian communities to give up their traditional habits and take to meat-eating through false notions of social prestige. There might have been some meaning in this before freedom. In Independent India, of which the soul of Mahatma Gandhi is the invisible guardian, there is no place for any such inferiority complex and everyone, who is by habit or conviction, or both, a vegetarian, should be proud of it.

Often, short-sighted critics as well as supporters object to the use of milk and milk products as opposed to the true spirit of vegetarianism. I do not think this criticism is valid. Just as there is a division of work among men for their mutual benefit, there is nothing wrong in such a cooperation between man and animal. If we can treat our cows well and enable them to produce more milk than is strictly necessary for the calf, I can not see that there is any objection to taking milk in exchange for cattle-food. It is, however, necessary to realize that the cow cannot complain and man is in duty bound to ensure its honourable treatment through severe social and legislative restrictions on himself. Subject to these conditions and proper provision for old cattle, the use of milk and milk products is not inconsistent with vegetarianism. It may, however, be worthwhile to conduct systematic research to reduce the consumption of milk and milk products through substitution of vegetable proteins and fat without any detriment to health or efficiency.