|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
Vegetarian World Forum
THE CALCUTTA SESSION
THAT a World Forum of distinguished men and women should visit this ancient land of ours for preaching the gospel of Ahimsa in the matter of food is an occasion of great significance for us.
As a corollary to the basic principle of Ahimsa, vegetarianism has been an article of faith with us in India. In practice, too, vegetarianism came naturally to us because our economy has been agrarian and all our philosophy sylvan, in the sense that all our hermits and sages and great Rishis had their abodes and their Ashrams in forests where they meditated and realised that in all its diverse forms, life was essentially one. Hence, the principle of Ahimsa (non-injury) and of compassion. Our great epic, Ramayan, was written by the sage-poet, Valmiki, so the story goes, not so much because of any literary inspiration, but because he was moved to tears by the sight of a dying bird whose heart had been pierced with arrows by a hunter, greedy of flesh.
Though we are not a nation of cent. per cent. vegetarians, yet on the positive side we have the unique distinction of having in India millions of families where meat or fish or eggs have been a taboo for generations. Moreover, even among the families taking a non-vegetarian diet there has been an implicit respect and regard for those who do not take, such diet. Vegetarianism has always carried with it a sense of higher level of living. Of course, at times there have been vicissitudes to this way of thinking. With the advent of western education and with a preference to the western way of living, our young men came to have a feeling that the so-called physical superiority of the western races had something to do with their preponderantly animal diet. No less a person than Mahatma Gandhi, in his youth, was influenced by these thoughts. He has described the connected incident very graphically in his autobiography. At that time, and even now, "Protein" was the word that gave a halo of scientific authority and superiority to all foods prepared with meat. We seemed to forget that all the proteins that we need are abundant in milk, in pulses and in beans. We also forget that our history had, many a vegetarian king and hero whose physical prowess proved to be more than a match against the best of their meat eating adversaries, sometimes coming from the west.
What was then a matter of personal, or at the most, of national faith, has now come to possess an import of international magnitude. Conscious adoption of a vegetarian diet is a step that leads to amity and peace between man and man, and ultimately between nation and nation.
THE holding of the Fifteenth World Vegetarian Congress in India, therefore, strikes me as a sign full of deeper meaning. It shows that the hands of the clock of Time have completed a full circle. When you from The West come to our country and tell us of the superiority of a vegetarian diet for physical fitness, for mental alertness, and for spiritual elevation, we are fortified in our beliefs and are reassured of the achievements of our great men in the past who devised for us a system of dietetics now eagerly avowed by a scientific age whose best advocates are our respected guests here this evening. As a matter of practical suggestion may I bring to your notice the case of Indian pulses as a rich source of proteins. The adoption of pulses as an item of food in Europe and elsewhere will add to the variety and nutritious value of western food. This will give an impetus to vegetarianism in our country too.
As a result of the ever-increasing population of India, food has become a matter of perennial problem with us. The problem is being attacked from many angles and at many levels. One of the solutions offered is that as the production of rice and wheat means utilisation of extensive areas of cultivable land which is not readily available, we should rear up animals and then kill them to satisfy our hunger. How it revolts against the finer sensibilities of man, and how it puts a discount on our principles of Ahimsa is a matter where there can be no two opinions. But, as the advocates of this solution argue, facts are facts, and where food for human beings is involved, animals have hardly any claim for consideration. It is a matter of great satisfaction that this World Vegetarian Congress had given serious thought to that aspect of the question and exposed the fallacy of this argument. Through its various pamphlets and through speeches delivered from its platforms, the Congress has proved that it takes more land for the grazing of animals to produce a certain quantity of meat than to produce foodgrains of equal calorific value. The proportion of yield of foodgrains and of meat from the same land is about 3 to 1. In practice, rearing up of animals for purposes of milk and meat proves that the extent of land needed for milk-production, in terms of calorific value obtained, is much less than that needed for meat production. Stress on this vital point constitutes an important contribution of the World Vegetarian Conference to the cause of Ahimsa and of Vegetarianism in this country.
I shall not anticipate any further what this august body has to say regarding various aspects of Vegetarianism. We have assembled here to have the thrill of listening to our guests and to benefit from the experience of those who have espoused a cause most dear to us in India.You have done us honour by accepting our invitation to hold a session of this Congress in Calcutta. Bengal, this beautiful region of bountiful nature and of magnificent literature, art, and culture, welcomes you with open arms. As hosts, we have to present a humble but homely fare which we hope you will receive with a generous gesture, ignoring our failings wherever they may occur.