A vegetarian look at the caste system
One of the most vicious symbols in the propaganda against the Dalits is the myth of ‘vegetarianism’ being ‘non–violent’ and, as a ‘logical’ outcome, proportional to ritual purity. It is supported by the pseudo–scientific establishment with many reasons—most, if not all, of them false—and naturally so since most of these scientists are products of Brahmanism, and science is a handmaiden of the powerful. Not all science is scientific.
Those who are herbivorous are considered to be more ritually pure than others. The hierarchy of ritual purity is determined by the purity of one’s ‘vegetarianism.’ This ‘purity’ is flaunted by defining others as ‘non–’ suggesting that ritual purity and violence is the standard to be worked towards.
The most ritually pure are those who ingest only milk and milk produce or only fruits. The less pure are those who eat flora grown above the ground. Third come those who have food grown below the ground. Fourth come those who eat small animals such as rabbits, chicken and goats. Finally come the least pure, those who eat beef, often from a dead cow. Dalits belong to the last category, and need to do this as a ritual task of Hinduism.
Not true. The people in the countries with the longest life expectancy are overwhelmingly omnivores. Supposedly herbivorous India has one of the lowest life expectancies—comparable with sub–Saharan Africa, which is omnivorous. Herbivorous diets, health and longevity are not inter–related.
Not true. India, which claims to be herbivorous, has the largest number of poor in the world. The fact is that most Indians are omnivores. India has enough food to feed all its people. Adequate food for all is a matter of distribution and egalitarian, democratic societies—of relations of production rather than a factor of production. Hunger is related to power rather than production.
Not true. Plants are living beings. If we should not eat the ‘poor voiceless animals’ then how much more voiceless and helpless are the plants? Animals at least can run and scream. Plants can do neither. Their contribution to the regeneration of oxygen and environmental health is priceless. The myth of vegetarianism not killing has been convincingly disproved by modern science proving that plants live, and modern technology that can measure the emotions and response to stimuli of flora.
Let us apply this to the hierarchy of ritual purity.
In modern terminology, these people are guilty of foeticide. Seeds, whether of plants or of humans, are potential life. Embryos more so. Milk is the most refined form of blood. Those who drink milk—whether directly, or as butter, ghee [clarified butter], curds, in tea or coffee, in milk chocolate or biscuits...—deprive the calves of their mother’s milk. Transfer this characteristic to human beings. If a man prevents a child from drinking its mother’s milk, but takes it from the mother for himself for coffee or tea, what would his position in society be? Is that not what the milk drinkers do? Is it not child abuse, and breaking the sacred bond between mother and child, and of life itself? Is it not infanticide? And the fact is human beings are the only ones to drink the milk of another species! Not even 'terminally ill' animals do so, unless forced by humans. We have not included people who eat sprouts. That is equivalent to eating animal foetuses or babies. Yet these people have the highest ritual purity!
Many of course, do not have an all milk or all fruit diet. They supplement it with flora grown above the ground. But the pain inflicted on the plants is equivalent to torture. Let us take the case of eating greens. Modern technology tells us that the pain that a plant has when its leaves are broken off is equivalent to breaking the fingers of a human being. Many such fingers are broken for one meal of one ritually pure person, of the second grade. Let us not forget that these plants are captive, to have their hands broken off every single day of their lives. They suffer terrible torture, but are not allowed to die. How ‘non–violent’ is this?
With our present technology we know the comparable pain: it is equivalent to cutting off pieces of an animal for our food—without anaesthesia. Picture this non–violent treatment of flora on to fauna, and the violence becomes evident: cutting off a kilogram of flesh per day from a living cow, without anaesthesia or after–care. Just because the trauma is not visible, it does not mean it is not there—it is the same technique we use to blind ourselves to the violence on the oppressed.
Still Brahmin, and ritually pure, some consume flora such as groundnuts, potatoes and carrots. These people are less ritually pure than the above two categories. The difference here is that they do not torture the plant. The killing is swift. But many plant lives are still needed for their every meal.
Ritual pollution starts here. But these are people who kill only one life for one meal of five to 20 people. This is the first time that we come to an inverse ratio of lives killed or maimed, to life sustained.
Dalits belong to this category, and need to do this as a ritual task. This category of people take at most one life for a meal of about 500 or more people. People in this category are polluted. Some Dalits eat the meat of a dead cow. This means no life for one meal of 500 people. Yet this most non–violent diet is supposedly the cause for Dalits becoming untouchable, unseeable and unhearable though Manusmriti, 5:131 itself says
The meat of an animal killed by dogs or killed by carnivores or by aliens such as ‘fierce untouchables’ is unpolluted.
The ‘scriptures’ themselves are ambiguous—and tied up in knots. The Manusmriti contradicts itself twice in less than 25 verses, in the same chapter.
Manusmriti 5:32. Someone who eats meat, after honouring the gods and ancestors, when he has bought it, or killed it himself, or has been given it by someone else, does nothing bad.
Manusmriti 5:48. You can never get meat without violence to creatures with the breath of life, and the killing of creatures with the breath of life does not get you to heaven; therefore you should not eat meat.
Manusmriti 5:56. There is nothing wrong in eating meat, nor in drinking wine, nor in sexual union, for this is how living beings engage in life, but disengagement brings great fruit.
For some time the argument was that humans were meant to be herbivores since the intestine was long like a deer’s or a cow’s. That pseudo–scientific argument vanished when it was pointed out that the comparison should be with monkeys—who are cannibalistic! Why don’t these same people use the argument for polygamy or group marriages? After all monkeys and deer and cows—in fact most animals—are known for that. So that is the ‘rule’ of ‘nature.’ Animals do not have bride burning, nor sati, nor widow abuse... why not use examples to liberate instead of for control and subjugation? People take positions first and then use science and other ‘neutral’ academic tools to justify them.
Dalits do not seek to make carnivores of all beings. Yet the ‘vegetarians,’ true to their ingrained violence, are not satisfied in foisting a dehumanising identity on Dalits but are bent on forcing their diet on the Dalits and others as well. Is it to ensure their steady supply of milk? Why is it that those who campaign for animal rights never express even solidarity with those working for human rights, specially for the abolition of untouchability? Why is it that the ranks of animal rights activists have a disproportionate number of conservatives and reactionaries? Is it co–incidence or is it, like ‘merit,’ another label to further oppress Dalits? Tigers, after all, are carnivores! We all love and protect wildlife—don’t we elect the same bunch to parliament and legislature every time? Non–Dalits and non–Adivasis have superficial concern for animals since the animals will always be totally dependent. Not a shred of this concern is for fellow humans because of the potential for equality.
The point is not to make a case for a new ideology with Dalits becoming ritually pure and Brahmins becoming the untouchable. For survival, we drink our mother’s blood for nine months, and then her milk for many more—totally disregarding the status of her health. For survival, we need to eat food. When eating is for living, it is fully justified. The unfortunate and unnecessary aspect is ascribing purity and ahimsa, non–violence, to it. What is criminal is ascribing violence and pollution to it inversely, and perversely.
Those who know their religious mythology—sorry scriptures!—well enough will jump to assert that there are some verses or ‘slokas’ that do take precisely this position.
Manusmriti 10:104. A man who eats the food of anyone, no matter who, when he is on the brink of losing his life is not smeared with evil, just as the sky is not smeared with mud.
Sorry about the gender bias! Presumably women are also included. Manusmriti 10:105—8 then goes on to give examples of justified cannibalism, including eating one’s own son, dogs and beef.
But then, why is untouchability scripturally sanctioned and religiously practiced? It reinforces our basic point that religion and morals are elastic. In the public sphere, they are for oppression rather than liberation. With the present level of knowledge available to use, the rational diet is different. The need, the cost of regeneration and carrying capacity should be the principle of consumption. All other justifications are superfluous, unnecessary and bigoted.