The Gujarat government outlawed in August the sale of meat and eggs in the town of Palitana, as well as the slaughter of any animal within the municipality’s limits, making Palitana the first veggie city in the world.
The decision came after a hunger strike by 200 Jain monks demanding the city, one of Jain’s holiest sites, to be declared a ‘meat-free zone’.
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of ahimsa – nonviolence – towards all living beings, and emphasises spiritual independence and equality between all forms of life.
The religion, one of the oldest in the world, has some 4.2 million adherents in India and 6.1 million across the globe.
“Meat has always been easily available in this city, but it’s against the teaching of our religion,” said one local. “We always wanted a complete ban on non-vegetarian food in this holy site.”
“Everyone in this world — whether animal or human being or a very small creature — has all been given the right to live by God,” said one monk. “So who are we to take away that right from them? This has been written in the holy books of every religion, particularly in Jainism.”
But the good news were not well received by everyone. Local Muslims, a quarter of the city’s population of 65,000, believe it’s unfair to declare the city vegetarian when the majority of people are meat eaters and it’s their right to eat whatever food they choose.
Fishermen have also complaint that the decision is taking away their livelihood and have taken the issue to the high court claiming that it should be illegal to ban the sale of fish in the entire town and are asking permission to re-open their business and get their licenses back. A hearing will be held this month.
Others believe the move had nothing to do with religion but rather with politics. “Government authorities wanted to create rift between followers of different religions through such tactics. They have been doing this for long in order to derive political mileage and nothing else,” said political analyst Ajit Sahi.
Sahi accused Gujarat’s party of exploiting cultural differences since it was elected last May.