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19th World Vegetarian Congress 1967
Delhi/Bombay/Madras, India

From The British Vegetarian, March/April 1968:



Several score of women and men set out from the West early in November, 1967, to talk vegetarianism to the people of India. Were they carrying coals to Newcastle?

Nowhere on the planet is there as great a concentration of vegetarians as one finds in India. Without any reliable figures, Indian vegetarians guess that they comprise a fifth of the whole population. If they are right, the number of vegetarians in India must be about one hundred million.

Some two dozen delegates from Great Britain and lesser numbers from other western countries came face to face with a vast army of Indian vegetarians. Never was a deputation of zealots from across the seas more hospitably receivedby their opposite numbers than the delegates to the XIXth World Vegetarian Congress of India, its officers and members.

Plan called for three weeks of meetings, receptions, dinners, exhibits and demonstrations in four cities: Delhi, Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay. As luck would have it, political unrest in Calcutta at the exact time of the conference led to a last minute cancellation of all sessions in that city. A delegation of Calcutta vegetarians visited the Congress sessions in Bombay, conveying their regrets and bringing with them the souvenirs which they had hoped to present to the delegates on their home ground in Calcutta. The other three cities outdid themselves in receiving, entertaining and enlightening their visiting confreres.

Top-ranking politicians, leading professional people, school children, young people and adults attended the public meetings in impressive numbers. Crowds were perhaps largest in Bombay, a city of four million. The youth sessions in Madras were memorable with a huge auditorium full of school and college students. Young people from the Congress and from the floor did most of the speaking. Incidentally, a large part of the success of the youth session depended on a vegetarian essay contest for which prizes were distributed.

Vegetarian diets were discussed by scientists, technicians, agriculturalists and housewives. Exhibits of Indian foods, menus. recipes and kitchen appliances and utensils were shown in each city These well-arranged exhibits were well-attended by the public and were educational for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.

Indian cities are served by a wide variety of daily newspapers. printed in English and in native languages. In Delhi five English dailies were on news-stands each morning. Press representatives attended the public sessions of the conference and the press coverage was excellent.

Many delegates were housed in Indian vegetarian households where they met with friendly families and neighbours, and sampled Indian vegetarian meals. Hotels and restaurants vied with one another in serving vegetarian meals to the foreign delegations. One girl from Holland, who had been a vegetarian for only nine days had quite an experience staying with families who had been vegetarians for many generations. On the other hand, many of the Indian householders were surprised and delighted to have "born vegetarians" from foreign lands for guests.

Truly, the XIXth Vegetarian Congress opened the eyes of many a delegate as to the widespread nature of vegetarianism and as to the varied possibilities of vegetarianism as a way of life. It also did something for the vegetarian movement in India. India is being modernized and, of necessity, westernized to a degree. Extensive efforts are being made in this direction by spokesmen for the American Way of Life. Slaughtered fellow creatures, their flesh blood and bones, play a prominent role in diet all over the West and especially in the United States. Westernization means, for India, an increase in meat dishes in restaurants, canned meats, fertilizers and other products made from animal bodies. Advertisements in Indian papers urge an increase in meat consumption.

One delegate from the West made a good point in his speech to the Congress: " We are not here to try to convince or enlighten each other. We want principally to discuss here how we can convince others who are not vegetarians - especially in India.

While countless adult Indians, with generations of vegetarianism behind them, stand firm for the ahimsa principle: repsect for life - all life, many members of the rising generation are being attracted by the fleshpots, and lured by persistent advertising and propaganda. Millions of Hindus, and particularly the Jains, who take their vegetarianism very seriously, are disturbed by the trend among Indian young people to eat meat and use animal products. For them the Vegetarian Congress was a real boon because it enabled them to reiterate to a wide public their belief in vegetarianism and their respect for life - all life.