An entire town in Gujarat trying to earn the ‘vegetarian-only zone’ status?

An entire town in Gujarat trying to earn the ‘vegetarian-only zone’ status?
An entire town in Gujarat trying to earn the ‘vegetarian-only zone’ status?
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The News Minute | October 13, 2014 | 06:28 pm IST

A small town tucked away in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district is mulling over demands for declaring the entire town a ‘vegetarian only zone by banning the sale of meat, fish and eggs in the town.

The municipality in Palitana in Gujarat, a major pilgrimage centre for Jains, has over the last couple of months been burdened with demands of declaring the ‘holy’ town to a complete ‘vegetarian-only zone’.

In June this year, around 200 monks went on a hunger strike for four days demanding that non-vegetarian food should not be permitted for sale in the pilgrim town.

Some media reports suggested that the ban had already been implemented in the town shortly after.

TNM spoke to Pravinbhai Khodabhai Solanki, the Collector of Bhavnagar district who said that the issue was being discussed by the town’s local body and the ban hasn’t been made official yet.

“The ban is not official yet. The sale of non-vegetarian food is allowed in the town at present. The Palitana Municipality has invited objections to the proposal of banning sale of non-vegetarian food items in the town. It has received 2,000 plus objections till now”, he said.

Explaining the steps taken before such a proposal is even considered for a legal sanction by courts, Mr Solanki said that the issue right now is in the stage of hearing.

After hearing all the sides to the argument, including those for the ban and those against it, the Palitana municipality will then send its decision to the courts for approval which has the final say in deciding whether to giving the proposal a legal sanction or quash it.

The demand for such a ban has been received with a lot of criticisms by fishermen, whose livelihoods are at stake, and by a few other communities who find the ban discriminatory.

Those involved in the meat, fish and egg and related businesses feel that the step taken by authorities was a ‘one sided decision’, and asserted that the ‘government should not make decisions under pressure’.

Muslims form around 20 per cent of Palitana’s over 45,000 population. Non-vegetarian food is a part of their, as well as of several other communities, diet and rituals, and they claim such a ban is a restriction on their fundamental rights.

Jain monks on the other hand justify their demands saying it is against their religion to kill animal.

“Palitana is like the Mecca or Kashi of Jains. It’s not merely about preventing people from eating non-veg food. Our movement is based on the concept of Jeevdaya and is primarily against animal slaughter,” Virag Sagar Maharaj, a leading monk, told Outlook.

Several cases have been filed against the proposal, including a PIL. Since the proposal was mired in controversies from the very beginning, local authorities are taking time to ensure proper discussion on the issue and are also seeking legal opinion.

Palitana, which has numerous Jain temples, already has a ‘vegetarian only zone’ in the city. Meat is prohibited for sale or storage around ‘250-metre diameter on the either side of 2.5 km Taleti Raod in Palitana’ . This particular prohibition was officially declared by local officials in 1999, which remains intact till date, asserted Mr Solanki. Extending the ban to the entire town is a different matter altogether, he feels.

There have also been talks about Palitana becoming the country’s first vegetarian-only town if this ban were to be implemented by the court. Though not sure about the claims, Mr Solanki said that it could be true. “There are other places in India that prohibit meat sale, storage or transportation. A local gram panchayat has declared a village in Amarnath a vegetarian zone. The same is done in several ghats in Haridwar. But an entire town has not been declared a vegetarian zone anywhere”, said Mr Solanki.

Jains follow principles of non-violence which includes causing no harm to animals and insects. A report in The Independent states, “In Palitana, as elsewhere, devout Jains will often carry peacock feathers with them when they walk to sweep ants and insects from their path, so as not to harm them."

What is against the spirit of one community forms up the core of another. A tricky issue, to ban or to not is a question Palitana authorities seem to be struggling with at the moment.

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