Vegetarianism by choice and compulsion
The Gujarat Assembly has just passed an amendment to the ‘Gujarat Animal Preservation Act’. When the amendment becomes the law, anyone found guilty of cow slaughter will be sent to life imprisonment. It remains to be seen whether the amended law is challenged in a court for being violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. That lies in the womb of the future. The Gujarat Chief Minister, Vijay Rupani, has said that he wants to make Gujarat a ‘vegetarian’ State. As a citizen of a democratic country he has every right to believe that making his State vegetarian will be good for the people. Again, as a citizen of a democratic country, he has every right to voice his belief publicly. But the moot question is, whether as Chief Minister, he can use State power to curb the right of the citizenry to choose their food. No citizen can be forced to eat non-veg food against his will. Can a citizen be forced to forgo non-veg food by the State? And if it does so, will it not be an assault on his fundamental right as defined and described in the Constitution?
It may be recalled that as far back as 1945, the Sapru report that incorporated the proposals of the Sapru Committee, described the fundamental rights of the proposed new Constitution as a standing warning to all “that what the Constitution demands and expects is perfect equality between one section of the community and another in the matter of political and civic rights, equality of liberty and security in the enjoyment of the freedom of religion, worship and the pursuit of the ordinary applications of life.” Is not the right to choose one’s food an ‘ordinary application of life’?
Building a prosperous India is the task of the entire Indian people, irrespective of their religion, caste or creed. Anything that brings in a division or discrimination between different sections of the people should be held as regressive and obstructing progress and prosperity. Food habits are purely personal and have nothing to do with the State. State intervention in this matter is entirely unwarranted and unjustified. Rupani’s statement that he wants to make Gujarat a vegetarian State implies State intervention. In the West also, there are people who profess and practise vegetarianism. In the 1890s, during his stay in England as a law student, Gandhi became a member of a vegan society. Gandhi was a life-long vegetarian. But he never spoke of imposing vegetarianism on the country. There are far more important and critical issues facing the country now than what people should eat. The misguided zeal to impose vegetarianism can only weaken the country.