The Chinese lady behind the counter looked at me asked “Do you want white rice or fried rice with your Kung Pao Chicken”? I replied that I wanted fried rice. She looked a little confused. She asked me again “You want Pork fried rice”? I again said yes. As I stood and watched her husband prepare the dish in the chicken I was thinking to
myself the number of times I have been asked the same question in Chinese restaurants in the United States in the past two decades.
Americans and Indians who live in America hold certain stereotypical views of India. Many Dunkin Donuts, mini marts like 7-11 and small motels in America are owned by Indians. In many places I have noticed that the moment you enter the Indians behind the counter start talking to you in either Hindi or Gujarati.
They assume that as an Indian I understand Hindi. I do not and I never felt the need to learn these languages (Hindi is spoken by only about 35% – 40% of India’s population). If I had an urge to learn another language I probably would learn Spanish. Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world after Mandarin and in another 30 years will replace English as the main language spoken in America.
Many Americans also assume that Indians are vegetarians. How can a country of 1.1 billion that has one of the longest coastlines in the world, numerous rivers and lakes, almost 30% of the world’s cattle and have huge deserts and arid regions be strictly vegetarian? There are vegetarians in India. It is possible that India might have more vegetarians as a percentage of the overall population than many other countries. This is partly due the beliefs among some Hindus, Buddhists and Jains that eating meat is against their religion. Majority of Hindus do not see it that way and categorizing Indians as mostly vegetarians is incorrect.
But this does not stop the fundamentalists. Most of us know that the Commonwealth Games will be held in New Delhi in October 2010. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has passed a resolution indicating that beef should not be included on the menu for the Commonwealth Games. The former BJP President Rajnath Singh, who is also a member of parliament from Ghaziabad, said that “the MCD resolution becomes significant as it reflects the cultural and religious sentiments of the majority of the people living in Delhi”. He also said that this resolution “reverberates the voice of the entire nation”. I do not agree with these statements on many levels.
Although many Indians would disagree eating beef is part of the Indian culture. There are about 150 million Indians who are Muslims (many of whom eat beef). Muslims have been part of the Indian fabric for over 1100 years. Muslims are part of the Indian culture although some in Rajnath Singh’s party might disagree. Obviously there are millions of Indians of other faiths particularly from Kerala and West Bengal who eat beef.
There is a myth that the invading Muslim rulers introduced Indians to eating beef. But it is clear from the Vedas and other ancient scriptures that Indians did eat beef thousands of years before Islam reached India. According to the Vedas Lord Indra ate bulls meat and Lord Agni ate bulls meat and also cow meat. Vedas also talk about 250 animals of which 50 are deemed fit for sacrifice and human consumption including the cow. The Charaka Samhita (ancient Indian Ayurvedic text) prescribes beef (and beef soup) as a medicine for curing diseases such as fever. For more on this subject please read “Holy Cow: Beef in Indian Dietary Traditions” by Professor Dwijendra Narayan Jha.
The voice of the majority works differently in politics when compared to other issues like individual rights. In politics the majority rule but not so in other areas. The resolution passed by the MCD cannot override the individual rights of the citizens of Delhi or the Indian athletes who will be attending the Commonwealth Games. They may want to eat beef which is not illegal in India (only cow slaughtering is illegal in certain states).
I always believed that the more religious you are the less you know about your religion. Organizations like the BJP, VHP and RSS act as if they are the guardians of the Hindu religion. But time and time again they have failed to educate the public on what Hinduism really is and its history. Even at their peak, BJP has failed to capture the imagination of a large number of people (particularly in the South and Northeast). Some of their policies, like their opposition to eating beef show that the BJP is nothing but a regional Hindu party from the “cow belt”. They do not have a national perspective.
I am hoping that the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi and the Commonwealth Games organizing committee will reject these proposals.
- India Rounding Up Beggars Before Commonwealth Games
- Indians Ignoring Commonwealth Games
- VHP Wants to Ban Cow Slaughter
- India Today: Cultural Intolerance among Fundamentalist Hindus
- Control Room in Delhi to Tackle Beggars
Category: Culture & Religion