Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum


There are various castes and creeds in India. The very common belief among the foreigner that all Indians are born vegetarians. This is true only in part. Indian people are divided into three main divisions- Hindus, Muslims, and the Parsis. The Hindus are again divided into four main castes-Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras; there is theory only Brahmins and Vaisyas are pure vegetarians. But in practice almost all the Indians are vegetarians. Some are so voluntarily and others compulsorily. The latter, though always willing to take, are yet too poor that they cannot buy meat. This statement will be borne out by the fact that there are thousands Indians who have to live on Twenty rupees per day.  These live on bread and pulses, for even in a poverty-stricken country like India, it will be very difficult, if not utterly impossible, to get meat. The Indian vegetarians, decline to take besides fish, flesh and eggs, because they believed that to eat an egg is equivalent to killing life.

In Bengal the staple article of food is rice, while in the Bombay it is wheat. All the Indians generally take two meals a day with a glass or two of water between the meals whenever they feel thirsty. The first meal they take in the morning.  It is a substantial meal.  There is no breakfast—which, seeing that the Indians generally rise early in the morning, they would seem to require nor the ordinary mid-day meal.

This may be explained in two ways- habit and nature. Their religion commands some, and employment or custom compels others, to take not more than two meals in one day. Secondly, the climate of India, which is very hot, will account for the habit. Indians do not take each dish separately, but they mix many things together. In fact they don't believe in plain boiled vegetables, but must have them flavoured with plenty of condiments- pepper, salt, cloves, turmeric, mustard seed, and various other things.

The first meal consists generally of bread and some pulses. like peas, beans, etc., and two or three green vegetables cooked together, or separately, followed by rice and pulse cooked in water, and flavoured with various spices. After this, some take milk and rice, or milk, or curd, especially in summer.

The second meal, like the supper, consists of much the same things as the first one, but the quantity is less and the vegetables fewer at this meal. Milk is more liberally used at this meal. The reader should

be reminded that this is not the food that the Indians invariably use nor should he think that the above will be the typical dishes all over India and among all classes. No sweets are mentioned in the specimen meals. So also with regard to the third exception which must prove the rule, the food among the labouring class is different from what is given above. Ghee is much more used for culinary purposes than abroad. And according to a doctor of some authority, if it would do no good, much use of better, in a hot climate like that of India would do no harm such as it might do in a cold climate like that of Europe.

All-important fruit is sadly conspicuous by its absence in the abovementioned specimen dishes. Some, among many of the reasons, are that the Indians do not know the proper value of fruit, that the poor people cannot afford to buy good fruit, and that good fruit is not available all over India. Indeed, there are certain fruits, not to be found here, which are used by all classes in India

Wheat is first ground in a hand mill—a simple contrivance to reduce the wheat to powder. This powdered wheat is passed through a sieve with large holes, so that the coarsest bran is left out. Indeed, among the poor classes it is not passed through the sieve at all. Thus the flour, though not the same as that used by the vegetarians here, is far superior to the ordinary flour that is used here for the much-abused white bread. Ghee is quite pure-and then allowed to become cool-say a teaspoonful to a pound of flour—is mixed with the flour, a sufficient quantity of water is poured on it, and then it is kneaded with the hands until it forms itself into one homogeneous mass. This lump is divided into small equal parts, each as big as a tangerine. These are rolled into thin circular pieces about six inches in diameter with a wooden stick made especially for the purpose. Each piece is separately and thoroughly baked in a flat dish. It takes from five to seven minutes to bake one cake. This cake is eaten while hot with ghee, and has a very nice flavour. Or a meat-eater does not, regard his meat as an absolute necessity, but takes it rather as a side dish to help him, so to speak, in eating the cakes. Such in outline, and only in outline, is the ordinary food of a well-to-do Indian vegetarian.

The upper class have begun to believe in breakfast, which usually consists of a cup or two of tea. Now this brings us to the question of drink. The drinking of tea and coffee by the educated Indians. The most that tea and coffee can do is to cause a little extra expense, and general debility of health when indulged in to excess, but one of the evils is the importation of alcohol—that enemy of mankind, that curse of civilization. This enemy has spread throughout the length and breadth of India, in spite of the religious prohibition; for even the touch of a bottle containing alcohol pollutes the Muslims, according to his religion, and the religion of the Hindu strictly prohibits the use of alcohol in any form whatever, and yet, alas! the Government, it seems, instead of stopping, are aiding and abetting the spread of alcohol. The poor there, as everywhere, are the greatest sufferers. who spend what little they earn in buying. Alcohol instead of buying food and other necessities. It is that wretched poor man who has to starve his family, who has to break the sacred trust of looking after his children, if any, in order to drink himself into misery and premature death.

There is a comparison between vegetarian class and a meat-eater. It is a comparison between strength and strength and not between strength and strength plus intelligence, for my attempt for the moment is simply to disprove that Indian vegetarians are physically weak on account of their vegetarianism. Eat what food you will, it is impossible, it seems, to make physical and mental strength go together except, perhaps, in rare cases. The law of compensation will require that what is gained in mental power must be lost in bodily power. A Samson cannot be a Gladstone. And granting the argument that a substitute is required for vegetables in the present state of society, is it conclusively proved that flesh or meat is that substitute?

Then take the case of the Kshatriyas in India. They are meat-eaters and how few of them there are who have wielded a sword! Far be it from me to say that they as a race are very weak. As long as Pruthuraj  and Bhīma and all of their type are remembered, he will be a fool who would have it believed that they are a weak race. But now it is a sad fact that they have degenerated. The truly warlike people, among others, are the people of the North-Western provinces, known as Bhayas. They subsist on wheat, pulse, and greens. They are the guardians of peace; they are largely employed in the native armies.

From the above facts it is easy to see that vegetarianism is not only injurious, but on the contrary is conducive to bodily strength and that attributing the Hindu weakness to vegetarianism is simply based on a fallacy.

We saw that the bodily weakness of the Hindu vegetarians was attributable to other causes than their diet, and also that the shepherds who were vegetarians were as strong as meat-eaters. This shepherd being a very good specimen of a vegetarian, we may with profit examine his way of living; but before proceeding further, the reader may be told that what follows does not apply to all the Indian shepherds. It applies to the shepherds of a certain part of India.

The Indian shepherd then gets up generally at five o'clock in the morning. The first thing he does, if he is a pious shepherd, is to offer some prayers to his God. Then he does his toilet which consists of

Washing his mouth and face. I may be allowed here to digress for a while to acquaint the reader with the brush an Indian uses for his teeth. The brush is nothing more than a branch of a thorny tree called

babul; one branch is cut up into pieces about a foot long. Of course, all the thorns are removed. The Indian crushes one end of the stick between his teeth till it is soft enough to brush his teeth. Thus he

makes for himself every day a new and home-made brush. When he has well brushed his teeth and made them pearl white he splits the stick into two, and after bending one part into a curve scrapes his

tongue. This process of brushing probably accounts for the strong and beautiful teeth of the average Indian. It is perhaps superfluous to add that he uses no tooth powder. Old persons when their teeth are not strong enough to crush the stick use a small hammer. The whole process does not take more than twenty or twenty-five minutes.

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