Saturday, May 31, 2008

This Above all
In defence of meat-eaters
Khushwant SinghKhushwant Singh

KILLING an animal or a bird just because its flesh tastes better than vegetables is morally indefensible. You have to see goats being slaughtered in Kolkata's Kali Temple or birds having their throats slit at Kamakhshi temples in Guwahati and your stomach will churn in disgust. You will swear never to eat meat again. Whether it is halal or jhatka, taking life is butchery not a sacrifice.

Nevertheless, a vast majority of the people around the globe are meat-eaters. Vegetarians and vegans (those who refuse to consume animal-produced food like eggs, milk, butter, cream and honey) are eloquent about the harmful effects of consuming non-vegetarian diet. They have to face a few awkward facts. Let me spell them out.

A majority of the people in the world are not vegetarian
A majority of the people in the world are not vegetarian

Vegetarianism is not in the order of nature. Apart from ruminants like cattle, sheep, goats, deer, horses and donkeys, which eat grass, and elephants, which eat leaves, all other species, be they canine (of the dog family like wolves, foxes, jackals, etc) or feline, like cats, tigers, lions, leopards etc, live on eating ruminants. The same is true of birds and reptiles, which, besides snakes, include crocodiles, alligators and turtles as well as insects and fish—they live off eating each other. It is a tooth and claw pattern of survival ordained by nature.

It is nature's way of controlling overbreeding among animals. If you don't believe, catch wildlife programmes on your TV. At a rough estimate, 90 per cent of the human population is flesh eating. There are regions where no vegetables can be grown and people live entirely on meat or fish. Human kind eats a baffling variety of life—cattle, birds, pigs, deer, rats, dogs, monkeys, snakes, fish, frogs and insects. Some religious communities are selective neo-vegetarian. For example, Muslims won't eat pig flesh; Hindus and Sikhs don't eat beef. There is similar selective vegetarianism— some don't eat onions, garlic or potatoes; others do.

It is often maintained by vegetarians that a vegetarian diet is healthier than the non-vegetarian. The argument is not sustainable. Meat and fish are easier to digest than many vegetables. They have as many, if not more, nutrients as vegetables. The idea of a balanced diet is a mixture of meat and fish with vegetables like beans, tomatoes, peas, potatoes or salads that go with them. A pointless debate is about the effects of a particular kind of diet on physical fitness and longevity.

It is evident that meat-eaters are bigger built and sturdier than vegetarians. They manage to live longer. An example often given by vegetarians sounds absolutely silly to me. They say that the strongest in the animal kingdom is not the lion, designated king of beasts and a notorious non-vegetarian, but the elephant, which lives on eating vast quantities of foliage.

Perhaps a fitting answer to this asinine argument would be to say that while the mighty pachyderm is tamed to obey a mahout, who sits on its head and prods him with a goad to kneel, stand up and raise its trunk in salute, no man has yet sat on a lion and ordered it to do his bidding. If one tried, he would soon find himself in the lion's belly.

Indian superstitions

On February 16, 1980, there was a total solar eclipse over Bombay. The Bhattys happened to be living in one of the suburbs. As the day darkened into night, Margaret Bhatty went out to do her daily shopping. Her neighbours shouted at her from their windows warning her of the dire consequences that might follow; like them she should stay indoors and observe a fast. Margaret ignored their warnings but could not buy anything as all shops were closed.

Life in the metropolis had come to standstill. She also ate a hearty meal. Nothing happened to her. Solar eclipses occur at different places at different times of the year. Other people treat them as an astronomic phenomenon without fussing about them. Only Indians succumb to irrational superstitions.

Margaret Bhatty now lives in a village close to Nagpur. She made it her life's mission to debunk belief in the occult and so-called miracles. She has analysed them scientifically and put her findings together in a slender book, Fraud, Fakery & Flim-Flam (Promanand).

How Sai Baba produces vibhuti (sacred ash) by simply rubbing his fingers is explained. There is an acid preparation. If put on the fingers and rubbed, it produces ash. I have seen magicians do it. How did Maharishi Mahesh Yogi levitate himself or fly in the air? There was a hidden prop underneath him, which escaped other eyes and cameras. He claimed to be able to fly but actually flew by plane like everyone else.

When a Christian priest claimed he could light candles by prayer and a sadhu claimed he could kindle a fire by meditating on a heap of firewood, she analysed the chemicals which were used both in the candles and the firewood, which ignited them. Amongst other items she has publicised is vaastu. Every modern architect takes care of natural phenomena like movements of the sun and winds while designing a building. There is nothing scientific about vastu.

Some years ago there was a change in the entrance of the BJP headquarters in Delhi as per advice tendered by a vaastu pandit. The party lost the next election. Bhatty's book is not as well-produced or marketed as it should be but it deserves the attention of our superstition-ridden masses.


A little girl asked her mother: "How did the human race appear?" The answer was: "God made Adam and Eve and they had children and then all mankind was made". Two days later the same question was put to her father and he replied: "Many years ago there were monkeys from which the human race evolved". The mother removed the confusion and said: "I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his".

(Courtesy: Amir C. Tuteja, Washington)