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Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

From The Vegetarian (London), February 28, 1891:

Indian Vegetarians
Part IV.

After having known who are Vegetarians in India, and what they generally eat, the reader will be able to judge from the facts how hollow and baseless are the arguments advanced by some people regarding the weak constitutions of the Vegetarian Hindus.

One thing often said about the Indian Vegetarians is, that they are physically very feeble, and that, therefore, Vegetarianism is not compatible with bodily strength.

Now, if it can be proved that generally in India Vegetarians are as strong as, if not stronger than the Indian meat-eaters, and for that matter even Englishmen, and moreover, that where weakness exists it can be ascribed to many other reasons than that of non-flesh diet, the whole structure in which the above argument is based falls to the ground.

It must at the outset be admitted that the Hindus as a rule are notoriously weak ; but an unbiased person - a meat-eater - who knows India and her people even superficially will tell you that there are many other causes incessantly at work to account for the proverbial weakness. One of the most important, if not the most important one, is the wretched custom of infant marriages and its attendant evils. Generally children when they reach the great age of nine are burdened with the fetters of married life. In may cases they are married at a still younger age and in some cases they are betrothed while yet unborn. Thus one woman would promise to marry her child if male to another's if female, and vice versâ. Of course in the two latter cases consummation does not take place before they are ten or eleven years old. Cases are recorded in which a wife of twelve had a child by her husband of sixteen or seventeen. Will not these marriages tell upon the strongest of constitutions?

Now fancy how weak the progeny of such marriages must be. Then look at the cares such a couple have to undergo. Suppose a boy of eleven is married to a girl of about the same age. Thus at a time when the boy should be, and is, ignorant of what it is to be a husband, he has a wife forced on him. He is of course attending his school. In addition to the drudgery he has his child-wife to look after. He has not actually to maintain her, for in India a son when married does not necessarily separate from his parents unless he be at sixes and sevens with them ; but he has to do everything hsort of that. Then about six years after marriage he has a son, probably he has not yet finished his studies, and he has to think of earning money not only to maintain himself but his wife and child, for he cannot expect to pass his whole life with his father, and even granting that he may, he should certainly be expected to contribute something towards his wife's and his child's maintenance. Will not the mere knowledge of his duty prey upon his mind and thus undermine his health? Can one dare to say that this will not shatter a most robust constitution? But one may well argue that if that boy, in the above example, had eaten flesh-meat he would have kept stronger than he did. A reply to such an argument is to be found in those Kshtrya princes who in spite of their meat diet are very weak owing to debauchery.

Then the shepherd's of India afford a good example of how strong an Indian Vegetarian can be where other opposite agencies are not at work. An Indian shepherd is a finely built man of herculean constitution. He with his thick, strong cudgel, would be a match for any ordinary European with his sword. Cases are recorded of shepherds having killed or driven away tigers and lions with their cudgels. "But," said a friend one day, "this is an example of men living in the rude and natural state. In the present highly artificial state of society you require something more than mere cabbage and peas. Your shepherd lacks intelligence, he reads no books, etc., etc." The one and only answer to this was, and is, that the Vegetarian shepherd would be equal to, if not more than a match for a meat-eating shepherd. Thus there is a comparison between a Vegetarian of one class and a meat -eater of the same class. It is a comparison between strength and strength, and not between strength and strength plus intelligence, for my attempt at 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 inbodily 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-meat is that substitue?

Take the case of the Kshtryas, the so-called war-like race in India. They are of course 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. So long as Pruthuraj and Bhim and all their type - not to go to the olden times - are remmbered, 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 degenrated. The truly warlike people, among others, are the people of the North-western provinces, know as Bhayas. They subsist on wheat, pulse, and greens. They are the guardians of peace, they are largely employed in the native armies.

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

M. K. Gandhi.