|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
| IVU News|
A Report from India
On my way back from Thailand I stopped for three days in Mumbai (Bombay), as a guest of Jashu Shah, General Secretary of the Vegetarian Society (Reverence for Life). At their managing council meeting, held at the Samrat vegetarian restaurant, I spoke about the ethical, religious and environmental aspects of a vegetarian lifestyle and was honoured with a garland and a shawl. The talk, followed by a social dinner, was attended by more than seventy members and guests, including Dr. M. M. Bhamgara and the newly appointed Assistant General Secretary of IVU, Hiren Kara, who also spoke to me about their activities in naturopathy and animal protection.
The situation in India, where vegetarianism is so widespread among the general population, may be regarded with envy by pioneering vegetarian campaigners in the west, aware of the many difficulties encountered in promoting a vegetarian lifestyle and philosophy in a heavy meat culture. However, when vegetarianism is seen only as a religious or cultural phenomenon, at a time when cultural barriers are coming down, as they are in India, it becomes just as hard to motivate people to remain vegetarian for sound ethical, health and environmental reasons.
The indomitable Jashu, who combines working as a lawyer with active local and international involvement in the vegetarian movement since 1967, when he was Organising Secretary for the World Vegetarian Congress held in India that year. From his experience then, and since 1984 as IVU Regional Secretary for India and the Far East, he is well aware that the trend towards vegetarianism in the west - a motivating factor for Indian people to remain vegetarian - must be actively encouraged in the east through the work of the Vegetarian Society in India. Founded in 1983, last April the society gave for the first time an international as well as a national vegetarian of the year award. The recipients in 1995 were Tarla Dalal - a household name - in India - in recognition of her active promotion of vegetarianism through her popular vegetarian cookery books, and Maxwell Lee, then Hon. General Secretary of the IVU, in acknowledgement of his contribution to the vegetarian cause.
The Vegetarian Society, whose current president is Pujyashri Chitrabhanuji, currently has some 400 members, most of whom are life members, and holds regular meetings every second Thursday followed by a social dinner. The society publishes a newsletter and, through the efforts of various active members, organises picnics, seminars, cookery demonstrations, essay competitions and talks on various educational and health topics. The main event on its current agenda is the Regional Vegetarian Congress for India and the Far East, to be held from 28th February to 3rd March 1997 at the Fountain Hotel, Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra, with the theme "Live and let live", which everyone is invited to attend.
Beauty without Cruelty
Hiren Kara, director of the Mumbai BWC centre, reported that a recent BWC survey of their 6,000 members had found that 62 per cent. of the readers of their quarterly magazine, "Compassionate Friend", which also carries articles on vegetarianism, are lacto-vegetarians (including 5 per cent. ovo-lacto-vegetarians), and a very small number are vegans while the rest describe themselves as sympathisers. In the last two years, BWC has introduced the concept of "vegetarian blood", which is collected in hospitals from vegetarian donors for the benefit of vegetarians who may need it as a result of accident or illness. Some blood banks and hospitals in India have already implemented the system and are in the process of extending it.
BWC publishes an investment guide to help investors to identify companies whose businesses do not harm animals. The 4th revised edition, published in May 1996, covers companies listed on the four major stock exchanges in India.
Also in the process of being completed is a book-let entitled "A Vegetarian Way of Life", containing information on all animal-free and non-animal tested foodstuffs and other consumer products.
Some 20,000 stickers bearing vegetarian and animal rights slogans such as "STOP killing animals", "Look after them" and "GO vegetarian" were also widely distributed. by BWC.
An Interview with Dr. Bhamgara
During our social engagement at the Samrat restaurant, I made an arrangement to meet Dr. Bhamgara - a co-founder committee member and forthcoming Vice Chairman of the Vegetarian Society - over a fruit lunch at his home, where at age 69 he still practises as a consultant naturopath, to learn about his healthy lifestyle, his many publications and his holistic views.
Dr. Bhamgara was raised by his grandmother in a non-vegetarian household where mutton or fish were served once a week, so despite a natural dislike for meat and eggs he was unable to completely reject such foods during the early part of his life.
During the two world vegetarian congresses held in India between 1957 and 1967, he gradually became more involved with vegetarian issues and was in charge of the vegetarian scientific committee organising the congress in 1967. He also travelled abroad with J. N. Manker in 1976 to promote the 1977 International Vegetarian Congress held in Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.
Practising what he preaches, Dr. Bhamgara is a slim and trim enthusiastic advocate of exercise, which he strongly recommends as the best therapy to treat any ailment and to cure or prevent many states of ill health, from the common cold to cancer. He believes that it is as important to exercise every day as it is to eat correctly and recommends a diet of natural unprocessed raw foods as the best way to stay healthy, adding that any cooked foods should only be boiled, baked or steamed.
In "The spiritual dimension of health", Dr. Bhamgara presents a broader vision which takes into account the spiritual component that pervades all of the physical, mental and social dimensions of health. He argues that since we also have an invisible life of thoughts, dreams, aspirations, frustrations, fears and numerous other feelings imperceptible to others, we are like floating icebergs manifesting only a fraction of our whole being. Spirituality helps us to reduce our dependence on medicines as well as to develop a desire for self-analysis. It raises the pain threshold and promotes a positive attitude to physical work, exercise, diet and the avoidance of damaging habits such as smoking and drinking. To be calm, balanced, considerate, loving, giving, understanding, careful and caring is to be spiritually healthy, while focusing on the external, visible and tangible is a sign of alienation from our true universal being.
Health, Art and Spirituality
Before leaving India, I also had the opportunity to attend a talk at the Bombay Hospital, on "Age and solitude" by diabetologist Dr. Anand Gonaki, a great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. Gonaki spoke of solitude as a healthy and meaningful companionship between our outward and inner self and a state in which it is never possible to be lonely in one's later years, rather than the self-destructive loneliness characterised by despair, depression, self-isolation and frustration which lead to loss of self-respect and self-esteem.
A Farewell Performance
Finally, to mark the end of my visit, Jashu Shah and his family invited me to see an Indian musical play called "Amrapali" or "Found among the Mango Trees" about a dancing woman and her involvement in the historical events leading to the reign of Asoka, the king who twenty-two centuries ago converted to Buddhism. The play was beautifully presented and sung by an all-female cast of amateur performers, mainly students, who undertook both male and female roles with style and enthusiasm.
The fascinating blend of Indian culture and spiritual traditions remain an irresistible magnet attracting many foreign visitors in search of ethical answers and the spiritual guidance that a materialistic world cannot provide. To preserve such humanitarian traditions and the ethical and religious values associated with Indian society - constantly under threat from those who seek to benefit from the introduction of the hamburger culture - we need to be alert and spare no effort to confront them at the Governmental and private level, while encouraging the world's largest democracy to play its rightful role in the current ecological, vegetarian and spiritual awakening of the west.