Kings were purely vegetarian

IndiaLess Hindu vegetarian

Pradeep Modi sits in the cool interior of his local pub in Mumbai. The restaurant, which is recommended as "purely vegetarian", is full. An elderly waiter, covered in sweat, spreads a fresh banana leaf for every newcomer. In the middle he places a large portion of rice. A young waiter follows. He pours seasoned lentil puree and a ladle of pea curry next to Pradeep Modi's rice. A third person will soon be serving up yoghurt and vegetables pickled in spices and oil, while another colleague is waiting to deliver his flatbreads to the man. Pradeep Modi raises his right hand in defense - thank you, enough for now!

"Hindus should be vegetarian as much as possible, but even Brahmins no longer adhere to it these days. Meat is also on the table in my family. I, on the other hand, live vegetarian. I haven't touched a bite of meat for ten years."

Pradeep Modi lived for a while in the state of Gujarat, the home of Mahatma Gandhi, for professional reasons. With his ideal of ahimsa, non-violence, the ascetic and moral teacher also brought vegetarianism to the fore. Impressed by Gandhi's ethical principles, Pradeep Modi made a U-turn: the bank manager became a vegetarian.

Most of the vegetarians still live in Gujarat. Because this is where Mahatma Gandhi's ideas are particularly present to this day, says the anthropologist Professor Vinesh Srivastha from Delhi:

"We Indians are familiar with the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi, but for many of my compatriots the whole thing is now just theory. In Gujarat, Gandhi's ideals are most likely to be practiced."

In the culture of the West, influenced by Christianity, man is considered to be the ruler of a nature whose creatures are subject to him. He can eat animals or choose not to eat meat for health, environmental or ethical reasons.

In the Hindu religions, on the other hand, all living beings are considered animated. Their existence is interlinked, their interaction has an impact on the fate of the individual, both in this life and in subsequent forms of existence. Everyone is responsible for what they do. Anyone who knowingly causes suffering has abused his responsibility and leaves permanent traces on his cosmic passport.

Only a third of the Hindus in India are vegetarians

The so-called "Hinduism" actually comprises different religions, which often differ in scriptures, teachings and rituals. There is no duty to be vegetarian in the Hindu religions. In sum, however, vegetarianism is ethically ranked higher. Because killing animals creates suffering, pollutes the believer and diminishes his bond with the divine. However, far fewer Hindus are vegetarian than is usually assumed. The student Nirja Patel from Mumbai:

"For my mother, for example - a strict vegetarian - it is sacrilege to kill a living being. Other vegetarians eat fish. I don't know exactly how many Hindus go without meat here, but I think there must be some!"

It is estimated that one third of the Hindus living in India are vegetarians. Downward trend. In the meantime, every major fast food chain has branches in India's metropolises. And here the meat dominates the menu. Middle and upper class families in particular regularly enjoy this offer. In a globalized world, for example, computer specialists come back home - and bring eating habits with them from abroad. Fast food restaurants are particularly frequented by young customers. You are critical of the traditions.

There are also numerous exceptions to the supposed rule that Hindus do not eat meat. "Hindu ascetics often enough literally eat everything," says the religious scholar Professor Frank Neubert from the University of Bern.

Hindu ascetics eating (Volker Preu├čer / IMAGO)

"Particularly radical groups of ascetics no longer care about social conventions and they show that they have renounced the entire physical and social world. For them, diet rules are completely irrelevant and they feed on everything to maintain their bodies appears physically edible. "

Many Indian tribal communities, which together make up around eight percent of the population, maintain Hindu traditions - and eat meat. The tribe members kill rats, birds or snakes - and they don't stop at cows either.

While some hunt their own meat, others have to do without: Poor people all over India often rarely eat meat dishes, mainly because vegetables and legumes are significantly cheaper.

The Indians are divided on the "meat question"

For members of the middle and upper castes, emphasizes student Nirja Patel, this aspect is of course less relevant. The potpourri is big. It ranges from traditionalists to part-time vegetarians to meat lovers like herself. But for the sake of peace, she makes compromises every now and then:

"Although I usually eat meat regularly, I just can't do this to my mother on certain religious festivals. So then I do without it. I lived a vegetarian for six months. But that's about it."

Even the gods keep asking for meat. Goats, lambs, chickens or buffalo are regularly ritually sacrificed to some Hindu deities. The animals are publicly slaughtered in the temples and consecrated to the god or goddess in order to give the blessed food to believers, priests and poor people for consumption. The later consumption of the sacrificial animals is not only permitted, it is even elevated to a sacred act.

Pradeep Modi shudders at the thought of such a feast. The bank manager enjoys a mango ice cream dessert mixed with cardamom, nuts and rose water in his regular restaurant. In any case, it is better to be vegetarian, he emphasizes again - for ethical reasons, but also so as not to offend.

"In the south of the country, in Kerala, there are relatively many Muslims. They eat a lot of meat, including beef. In some areas, this means that the outnumbered Hindus are adapting to it. But you would do well not to do so in public because otherwise they would get beatings from other Hindus for it. "

Nirja Patel, on the other hand, does not eat beef, but as a meat eater she is well known to have bad comments from Orthodox fellow believers:

"Actually, I was born with completely different principles. But I am cosmopolitan and at some point I made a conscious decision not to be vegetarian anymore. I will not let that be taken from me. And one thing is certain: It is not my eating behavior, that determines whether I'm a good person. "