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The Fabulous Fifteenth: A Rediscovery of Vegetarian Ideals at the Historic 1957 World Vegetarian Congress

In a surprising and historically significant find, the International Vegetarian Union (IVU) recently uncovered two original letters from the 1950s, shedding light on the immense efforts and profound stories associated with the preparations for the 15th World Vegetarian Congress held in India. These letters, exchanged via the laborious process of snail mail—a necessity of the time when long-distance calls were a luxury few could afford—reveal the dedication and global connections forming in anticipation of this grand event.

Mr. Emil Diem in India
Mr. Emil Diem in India
One of the fascinating stories to emerge from these correspondences involves Mr. Emil Diem, a staunch vegetarian from Lugano, Switzerland. Emil's commitment to vegetarianism and his rejection of his family’s butcher business is a testament to his strong moral convictions. In a time when such choices could lead to significant personal and financial loss, Emil's decision to forsake his inheritance to avoid complicity in harm to animals underscores a profound ethical stand. His son, Cipriano Diem, recalls how Emil's choices were not only about diet but represented a deeper spiritual journey that eventually led him to India.

These letters, typewritten and carefully preserved, were sent to and from Emil Diem in the buildup to his anticipated travel to India for the Congress. The correspondences include invitations and confirmations, detailing plans that underscored the international collaboration and excitement surrounding the event. Notably, one letter mentions a necessary postponement of the Congress to November 1957, likely due to the international political tensions of the era, possibly related to the Cold War dynamics affecting global travel and cooperation.

Historically, the 15th Congress was unprecedented in scale and ambition. Dubbed the "Fabulous Fifteenth," it spanned an entire month and traversed multiple cities including Bombay, Delhi, Benares, Patna, Calcutta, and Madras. This was a logistical marvel, especially given the era's limited communication technologies. The event drew thousands, far surpassing the attendance of any previous Congress. The marquee event in Bombay alone seated five thousand attendees, including the President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who actively participated, emphasizing the significance of the Congress to India and to the global vegetarian movement.

Mr. Emil Diem in India
The President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad,
receives a presentation from the IVU
General Secretary, Mr. Geoffrey Rudd,
after speaking at the inaugural dinner in Bombay.
Mrs. Rukmini Devi Arundale, a notable participant and a voice for Indian vegetarians, eloquently addressed the paradox of hosting such a Congress in a predominantly vegetarian country. She highlighted the erosion of traditional knowledge and the rise of materialistic values among the youth, stressing the need for a rejuvenation of India's ancient ideals of non-violence and vegetarianism, not as mere tradition but as a conscious, ethical choice.

As the world navigated the complexities of post-war politics and the dawn of new international relations in 1957, the Congress served not only as a forum for discussing vegetarianism but also as a beacon of peace and ethical consistency. The delay to November allowed for a better-organized event, ensuring that the political climate was conducive to international participation.

The legacy of the 15th World Vegetarian Congress continues to resonate, as evident from the detailed accounts and the grandeur described in the souvenir book, accessible online. This event marked a pivotal moment for the IVU, setting a precedent for future congresses and solidifying the role of India and its leaders in shaping the discourse around vegetarianism and non-violence.

In revisiting these letters and the stories they hold, we are reminded of the enduring power of ethical convictions and the timeless quest for a more harmonious world, principles as relevant today as they were in 1957. As we reflect on Emil Diem’s remarkable journey and the monumental Congress he attended, it becomes clear that history has much to teach us about the values we hold and the lengths we go to uphold them.
 Author: Alex Fernandes
Here are the images and transcriptions of the letters.
Note that the transcriptions were made using OCR and AI to reconstruct the text. In case of questions, just take a look at the photos of the letters.


letter february 9th 1957

PATRON-IN-CHIEF:
DR. RAJENDRA PRASAD,
PRESIDENT, REPUBLIC OF INDIA.

SPONSORED BY:
THE INTERNATIONAL VEGETARIAN UNION - LONDON.
PRESIDENT: MADAME CLARENCE GASQUE

GENERAL SECRETARY: Mr. Harry Harris

ALL INDIA ANIMAL WELFARE ASSOCIATION
GENERAL ORGANISER: SHRI J. N. MANKAR

BOMBAY HUMANITARIAN LEAGUE
PRESIDENT: SHRI JAMNADAS KHIMJI KOTHARI

HEAD OFFICE:
149, SHROFF BAZAR, BOMBAY, 2.

9th February 1957

My dear Mr. Diem,

We hasten to congratulate you on securing a beautiful wife looking like an Indian Punjabi girl, having the same gift as you have with two would-be master Diems. Since the marriage is to take place in Spring 1957, we also send you our heartfelt greetings and blessings for a very happy wedded life.

I am further glad that your letter under reply holds out a promise to come over to India, now not one but all four on the occasion of the World Congress. Please extend our cordial invitations to Mrs. Diem and the two young friends.

You are perfectly right in your observation that misguided humanity still thinks of war even while trying for universal peace. I think the lead given by Indian politicians in this respect holds out the hope of establishing universal peace on the principle of non-violence. It is only after this change is achieved that the nations of the world would be rational.

We now realise the wisdom in the postponement of the World Vegetarian Congress to November 9th, as everything in the international field would have been settled by that time. May I know the probable time when you would be in our midst, as your presence here will help us a great deal in organizing the Congress?

May God bless you, your wife, and the two sons.

Yours sincerely,


letter march 26th

TELEGRAMS: "DUMBFRIEND," BOMBAY
ALL INDIA ANIMAL WELFARE ASSOCIATION
TELEPHONE: 22271
15TH WORLD VEGETARIAN CONGRESS - INDIA
ALL INDIA RECEPTION COMMITTEE

PATRON-IN-CHIEF: Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President, Republic of India
PRESIDENT, RECEPTION COMMITTEE: Padmabhushan Mrs. Rukmini Devi Arundale, M.P.
GENERAL ORGANISER: SHRI J. N. MANKAR
SPONSORED BY: The International Vegetarian Union - London
PRESIDENT: Madame Clarence Gasque

BOMBAY HUMANITARIAN LEAGUE
PRESIDENT: Shri Ganapatishanker N. Desai
149, Shroee Bazar, Bombay
26th March 1959

My dear Mr. Diem and three counterparts,

I was so happy to receive your letter dated 8th February 1959 and particularly to read that you have three counterparts of Mr. Diem. May God make them fully in the likeness of their family. Do send us a photograph, as I do not remember ever having seen a picture of you.

I am glad you liked the souvenir of the 15th World Vegetarian Congress. It was all God's help that brought about the success of the Congress and the unique publication as well. We will procure one for you and send the same to you.

Yes, you must fulfill your promise to return to India after you have earned. Now that you have earned both physically and financially, you must one day look up your old friends.

I think I never wrote to you about the consoling private resolution which our friend Mrs. Mehra (Vakil) peacefully obtained two years ago. She is now married to Shri Dinglaw Malegamvala, a nice cultural middle-aged man of 40. They are now both culturally and physically united and are happy. The Animal Welfare Association is growing, and our friends here remember you frequently.

Please convey my loving regards to your wife and my love to your kiddies.

Yours sincerely,

 

To know more about the 15th World Vegetarian Congress click here >>

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