The vegetarian town: They wouldn't hurt a fly but the
Jains upset Palitana with meat-free plea
Monks say that non-vegetarian food should not be
permitted for sale in Palitana, but Muslims say the
demands amount to discrimination
By Andrew Buncombe
Sunday, July 6, 2014
For hundreds of years, followers of the Jain religion
have been lured to the quiet town of Palitana. In the
adjoining hills of Shatrunjaya are located countless
sacred temples and it is said that every Jain should make
a pilgrimage to them once in their life.
But in recent weeks Palitana, located in the western
Indian state of Gujarat, has become the site of an
unlikely controversy after Jain monks launched a hunger
strike - threatening to fast unto death - and demanding
the town be declared a vegetarian zone.
The monks say that non-vegetarian food - in which they
include eggs - should not be permitted for sale or
storage anywhere in Palitana. They have also called for a
ban on the ritual slaughter of animals and want an
estimated 260 butchers' shops to be closed.
But local Muslims say the demands by the monks
discriminate against them. Most Muslims eat meat and eggs
as part of their diet and say it is essential they are
able to offer sacrifice during specific religious
The monks have for now called off their hunger strike
following an assurance by local politicians and officials
that the matter would be looked into promptly. But the
controversy has not gone away and the monks have said
they will restart the hunger strike if their demands are
not met. "Every religion has its own sacred places, what
you call holy cities or pilgrimage sites. Jains too, have
a lot of sacred places, but Palitana is the most
important," Virag Sagar Maharaj, the monk who is leading
the protests, told The Independent.
He claimed the founder of the Jain religion, Adinath, had
visited Palitana millions of times and climbed into the
hills. He added: "Now, with his divine presence here in
Palitana and that of several other Jain saints, how do
you expect us to tolerate violence in this city?"
Jainism is one of India's oldest religions and its
adherents today total about five million. Followers of
the religion are supposed to adopt a strictly vegetarian
diet that also excludes onions, garlic and root
vegetables. All are required to follow the principle of
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. In
India, Jains have the highest rate of literacy of any
religion and its members are often successful business
people and traders.
Officials say that Muslims are about 20-25 per cent of
Palitana's population of 65,000. Reports suggest that
there are also considerable numbers of non-Muslims who
would also like to eat meat if they were permitted to do
Leaders of the local Muslim community have held their own
meeting with officials to try and ensure meat-eating and
slaughter of animals is not banned in Palitana.
"If we don't offer sacrifice we will not remain Muslims,"
Razaq Ismail Saiyad, president of a Muslim association in
Palitana, told the Indian Express newspaper.
Efforts by the Jain community to have Palitana declared
hinsa-mukt, or violence-free, date back a number of
years. They have even offered financial compensation to
restaurants and food vendors who sell meat or eggs to
change their trade.
In 1999, local officials declared that a one-and-a-half
mile stretch of road leading towards the temples should
be made a vegetarian-only zone. Pravin Solanki, a
government official, said the municipal authority was
discussing whether to extend the zone. Mr Maharaj, the
monk, said local officials had given assurances they
would support his demand: "If this doesn't happen we will
sit on hunger strike."
Jai Maharaj, Jyotishi
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