The mountainous town of Palitana is the world’s first vegetarian city, where the sale of meat and eggs, as well as animal slaughter are banned.
Boasting over 900 temples, Palitana, India is considered one of the holiest places for followers of Jainism, as it is the town where the religion’s first savior, Adinatha, is believed to have walked the hills.
Jainism is a religion of peace and non-violence, where the most fundamentalist followers carefully clear their path of insects as they walk, in order to not cause any harm.
Jainism teaches against the consumption of meat and eggs, but dairy consumption is allowed, despite also causing harm to animals.
While the areas nearby the town’s most holy sites were already declared meat-free zones, roughly 200 Jain monks decided that they would rather die than continue to tolerate the slaughter and consumption of animals anywhere in the town.
They went on a hunger strike in June 2014, threatening to starve themselves to death unless the government declared the town a meat-free zone.
To accomplish this “meat-free” status, the monks’ demands included a shutdown of more than 250 butcher shops, and a ban on ritual animal slaughter.
“Everyone in this world — whether animal or human being or a very small creature — has all been given the right to live by God,” said Virat Sagar Maharaj, a Jain monk.
“So who are we to take away that right from them? This has been written in the holy books of every religion, particularly in Jainism.”
Jainism is practiced by roughly 5 million Indians, a tiny fraction of India’s 1.3 billion population.
“Meat has always been easily available in this city, but it’s against the teaching of our religion,” says Sadhar Sagar, a Jain believer. “We always wanted a complete ban on non-vegetarian food in this holy site.”
The monks called off the hunger strike after politicians began considering legislation that would ban meat, much to the dismay of the town’s Muslim majority, which makes up about 25% of the population.
The government said they would hear out other perspectives, including the Muslims, who called the potential ban discriminatory as they consume meat and eggs and perform animal sacrifice.
In August 2014, the Gujarat government declared Palitana a meat-free zone, banning the sale of meat and eggs, as well as slaughter of animals in the town.
The ban was a blow to Muslims who called it a violation of their right to consume meat.
“There are so many people living in this city, and the majority of them are non-vegetarian,” said Muslim scholar Jehangir Miyan.
“Stopping them from eating a non-vegetarian diet is a violation of their rights. We have been living in this city for decades. It is wrong to suddenly put a ban on the whole city now.”
Others who work in the meat industry complained of the financial difficulty this law would cause.
“We have been stopped from selling anything in Palitana,” said fisherman Nishit Mehru.
“They shouldn’t have taken this one-sided decision. How will we survive if we are not allowed to sell fish? The government should not make decisions under pressure.”
While many feel the government has no place telling people what they can and cannot eat, and religion should not influence policy, Palitana is not the only place with a ban on meat.
The slaughter of animals is also outlawed in the small country of Bhutan, where Buddhist monks are influential in policy making.