Transcript: Rama Ganesan, Veganism and Hinduism: The Disconnections

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[Slide] Rama Ganesan:  Veganism and Hinduism: The Disconnections

Rama Ganesan [RG] “Good evening, everybody.  The title of my talk is, ‘Veganism and Hinduism: The Disconnections’ and then I gave it a little .. subtitle, ‘The vegan-washing of Hinduism’.

“My name is Rama, and I want to say a little bit about myself.

[Audience: ‘Uh, sorry .. can you make it full screen?’]

“Oh, it’s not full screen – you know, it needs to be full screen .. because .. I’ve got all kinds of animations .. OK, it would be good with sound .. Yeah, OK .. Yeah, so .. so, I introduced myself, as I say, my name is Rama .. I .. I came from a vegetarian culture .. OK .. I’ve eaten vegetarian all my life, and I was taught its .. that eating animals is disgusting .. is it OK for me to walk?  I guess I shouldn’t be walking.

[Audience: ‘Yes, go ahead!’]

” .. OK .. [laughs] … maybe I should stop moving .. yeah .. it’s disgusting .. and, not particularly because we cared about ’em, it’s just ’cause it’s disgusting .. oh, milk is OK, milk is pure and white, milk is fine, OK .. and even eggs are OK .. but, yeah, vegetarian all my life. .. My social position is, kinda, the upper strata of the Hindu .. what .. pyramid, I guess .. so I was born into .. into a Brahmin background, OK.  All great, it’s wonderful, right?

“So I’m not going to even look [covers face with hand], but I’m sure some of you here … maybe not, but  .. some of you here .. you’re vegan, and you think .. you’re almost a Hindu, or maybe a Buddhist, or a Jain even, maybe you do yoga, and India’s the land of vegetarianism and ahimsa .. and maybe some of you think that.  And that is kind of what I am going to be talking about ..

[Slide: Vegan-washing of Hinduism]

“OK .. alright .. so .. the vegan-washing of Hinduism, no?  So, what this slide is about, is, I’m just going to tell you what the take-away is in case people don’t listen to any of the rest of my talk …

[Audience: Laughs]

“So .. what is wrong with ahimsa? OK. And the ‘Orientalist’ vision of India, and I know Orientalism has a big ‘O’ .. what is wrong .. I’m going to talk about that .. I don’t know about you, but if I go to my Facebook, and I look and see how many of my friends, like ‘friends’ who have the name ‘Ahimsa’, I would say about 50?  And I don’t accept all the friends who ask me to ‘friend’ them, either.

“And who is responsible for this colonial vision?  Who controls this narrative about India, OK? So .. yeah – it’s colonial .. so .. I’m going to show the next slide .. so, yeah, we had British .. colonisation for two hundred years .. and .. yeah .. so, the Europeans .. they made a story about India.  It was very convenient for them.  But then again, who is controlling the narrative? Well, I thought, yes, oh, it’s white folks who are doing this, but actually .. it isn’t .. it’s .. me! I’m doing it.  Us!  We’re doing it.  The people from India who are .. controlling the narrative are the upper castes, OK.  Because the other .. other castes, they don’t get to talk to you – they don’t have a platform.  I’ve got this platform, and I get to talk to you about this.  They don’t have a platform.  The view we have of India is not right.  And it’s not going to help veganism.

“I’m going to talk a little bit about the current situation in India.  Beef ban, OK.  So what that means is, cows are not supposed to be slaughtered.  It’s illegal to slaughter cows.  Yay, right? … No.  No, there are consequences. No. It’s for people, and for the cows and the other animals.  So, what are the implications .. for the vegan movement?

“OK, don’t valorise Indian vegetarianism, Hinduism, ahimsa, or even Buddhism, or Jainism .. don’t give it a great value, don’t put it on a pedestal, think it’s something wonderful, because it’s not going to help.

“(Oops, I’m sorry, no, I didn’t …)

Do not valorise Gandhian principles.  Gandhi was a castist.  Everybody in our movement wants to .. say Gandhi is the .. the example for us to follow, for instance.  No. I’ll tell you why not, I’ll tell you why not.

“And if you want to represent people of Indian descent, please attempt to include lower caste people, and people from the Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim communities. .. Yeah.  Like I .. Yeah, you are not being representative if you don’t have a diverse panel.  You’re not getting the voices that you want to hear, you’re not getting marginalized people, if you only have people like me.  I know I’m .. not white. I’ve never passed for white, even in the dead of winter, it;s never happened, I’m not white, I’m a person of colour .. I’m a person of colour .. but I am the oppressor .. I’m personally the oppressor.

[Slide: Caste System began with Indo-Aryan Migration]

“So .. OK, you might have seen this. I’m going to go quickly over this, give a brief history – or a contested history – but you know,  I know the truth.  So .. there was .. India has certain so-called Indigenous people.  What do you mean by Indigenous, everyone came out of Africa, but anyway .. We had certain Indigenous people .. about, between three and four thousand years ago, the people from the Steppes .. (over here .. over there) migrated into India, and .. it wasn’t really a very violent invasion, they just came in there and they settled and the caste system began with the Indo-Aryan migration.  They are called Indo-Aryans .. so  .. OK .. they came from the North, the North-West.  So, right now, India is a mix of all these different kinds of people .. OK .. other invasions occurred over the millennia, significant ones were the Muslim conquest in the Middle Ages, and, of course, the British rule. So .. it’s .. yeah .. we had .. colonialism .. but you know, we had all kinds of other invasions and migrations that happened over millennia.

[Slide: What is the caste system?]

“So .. what is the caste system? .. Here is a picture about .. stratification of Indian society. .. You can see .. four main ones right here .. so .. and .. one at the bottom.  .. I’m going to .. what I’m going to do, is, start this and .. I’m going to have Sujatha Gidla mention it to you  .. for the ..  in the interests of time, cos she does a great job.  Sujatha Gidla is a writer and author of Dalit .. descent.  She is a Dalit .. so, she has written this book called ‘Ants Among Elephants’ which has been highly celebrated, and I think she is going to .. she is writing another one right now. And .. I’m going to let her explain

[Sujatha Gidla speaking on video: “The first time I knew that I was ‘inferior’ I probably was 18 months old.  I knew that we were ‘Untouchables’.  Untouchable literally means, actually untouchable, meaning that you cannot touch them. .. Caste is a forced occupation based on your birth. When I first came to America, people treated me equally.  In fact, even in the beginning, I used to feel ‘What if they touch me – they’ll be, you know, they will be polluted.’ One time even when a boyfriend of mine was eating from something that I had already touched, and he was going there, and I said ‘No, no, no, no  – stop, stop, stop – I touched it, I touched it’ and his heart broke, like, ‘You are not nothing in India any more’. Hindu is more or less is an ideological, religious prop for this social system that is caste. Rama, the Creator .. the Brahmins are supposed to have come from the forehead, and the Kshatriyas from the arms, Merchant caste from the thighs, Service caste from the legs – and Untouchables are not part of any of Rama the Creator.  What makes them Untouchable is, they are assigned hereditary duties that are considered filthy and menial by Indian society. Like, the hardest jobs are theirs and the filthiest jobs are given to them. Based on these different occupations, there are about, in my area, 52 different sub-castes within the Untouchability and my family is called Mallar.  Mallar means, ‘people who do agricultural labour’, and there are others who do like, removing dead animals, burning the dead – the people – and carrying away human char. My stories – my family’s stories – were not stories in India.  They were just life.  Your life is your caste, your caste is your life. At 26, I came to America where people know only skin colour.  Only in talking to some friends I’d met here did I realise that my stories, my family’s stories, are not stories of shame.  It is not healed, it is not healed. “]

RG: “I’m going to stop that right there.  So I am going to go back .. I think it gives you a very good idea of . of this caste system so what .. Miss Gidla was saying, she is like .. at the bottom, she’s the Dalit, which is even Outcaste, which is not .. you know .. it’s beyond the pale .. it’s not the first four, OK .. so .. what these are highly marginalized people and .. at the margins of society, and how many people are we talking about?  About 15% of India, so .. what .. 1.4 billion, OK, of India is .. and then we have 15% Dalits and then we have Adivasis, they are tribal populations which are supposed to be another ten to fifteen percent, so 30% of India is this marginalized population.  So, 30% of 1.4 billion is about 400 million people .. 400 million people .. so .. and then there’s this .. this row right here .. which is .. you know, they are as bad, as treated as badly .. some of them – and let’s talk about this set right here, the ‘top’ castes, the Savarnas, that’s supposed to be 30% .. 30% of India.  And the Brahmins, who are right on top, can you guess how .. what percentage they are?

[Audience: Three percent? (Indistinct)]

“Yeah. About 5 [%].  In South India, where I am from, it’s 2.5% .. two point five percent! .. OK .. so when you have a panel, and you know, they are Indians, they are all Brahmins, I m mean, whether that’s in India or in the USA .. are we representing India?  We’re not, we’re not! .. OK .. OK .. let’s move on .. so I just want to show you this picture …

[Slide: Image: A person and trees, in India, text: ‘We are told not to touch people lower in caste than us, so we don’t.’]

“It’s a .. a documentary called ‘India Untouched’ by StalinK. It .. is free for .. to watch on YouTube, and I .. recommend that you watch it.  ‘We are told not to touch people lower in caste than us, so we don’t.’ OK. So these people are ‘polluting’, we don’t touch them. In fact, you can’t  .. their shadow is not supposed to touch you .. and .. various other things which I don’t have time to go into.

[Slide: What is the caste system? “Reject Casteism” beside a diagram of the ‘pyramid’ of caste.  “Reject Speciesism” beside a diagram of the ‘pyramid’ of species.]

“So … what is the caste system?  Well, casteism and speciesism – they are the same, look at them .. I mean, not _the_ same .. but look .. I mean .. so .. before I was .. [points at the ‘pyramid’ of species] .. I learnt this pretty early, right? We learn to be speciesist very early, before I could even talk, I had speciesism in my head, so .. and before I could even talk, I had casteism in my head as well .. Yeah? I had them both in my head .. OK ..

[Slide: Text reads, “High-caste Hindus refrained from eating meat because they could afford a range of vegetables and dairy products. These were items Dalits could not afford, so they took their protein where they could find it, from the pigs they raised, in offal, and from cows, because beef was cheaper than mutton or chicken. The shastras say it was for (skinning dead cattle) that the Dalits became untouchable.”]

“So, these things … One of the reasons …

[Audience member: “I wanted to take a picture .. “]

“Oh, I’m sorry .. ”

[Previous slide]

[Audience member: “It’s alright ..”]

“I believe it’s .. I have it up on my page .. [indistinct] .. it’s widely available .. so, OK, so .. so, what is it about .. what’s it got to do with what we eat .. well, Dalits who are the poorest people, well they eat what’s thrown out and whatever is available, because you know the upper castes are drinking milk, and ‘cos that means lots of cows, and the cows die .. Dalits can’t afford the milk, so they have .. they eat the dead cows, and they skin the dead cows, and so they .. that’s part of the reason why they are polluting .. that’s why you can’t touch them and that’s why they are dirty and disgusting and you can’t look at them and all this kind of stuff, OK.

[Slide: “How India Eats. Vegetarian India a Myth? Survey Shows Over 70% of Indians Eat Non-veg, Telangana tops List.  HuffPost India 2016. According to the Sample Registration System (SRS) baseline survey released by the registrar general of India, 71 percent of Indians over the age of 15 are non-vegetarian.” Image: A map of India, with red & green concentric dots and rings over regions. Key: Red – Non-Vegetarians (in percent) Green – Vegetarians (in percent). Source: Union Government’s Sample registration System Baseline Survey 2014.]

“So .. OK .. I’m going to bust a few myths, OK .. India.  Are we vegetarians? Well, …29%. OK? So .. and when we .. and .. take a look at where I come from, which is the south of India, and …  then we’ve got like 2% of the people being vegetarians, that’s a little green spot in the middle.  OK. Two percent!  Now, when I say, what, 71% are non-vegetarians, what does that mean – are they eating the vast quantities of meat, eggs and dairy that .. that Americans are eating, 220 pounds per person this year?  No, not that – of course not – but if we’re talking about identity, OK, so if you gave this (purple) a cow burger, they’re going to eat it because they’re non-vegetarian, they don’t have a problem with that. So, you know, India, it’s not vegetarian ..

[Slide: Screenshot from Twitter “Malarăsculat @caselchris1 Indian corporate lunch convo: A: Is there non-veg for lunch today? B: Don’t know, I’m veg anyway A: Oh, you veg? B: Yeah, I’m brahmin A: Oh, I’m Dalit. I love non-veg, esp. beef A: *Eyes wide* Why u talk caste, I didn’t ask B: But u talked .. u said u were a .. no?”]

And then here’s another .. Tweets .. there’s a great Dalit community on Twitter and I try to follow them and this person’s name is Christina Dhanaraj Thomas and she’s saying, ‘Oh, it’s a funny conversation’.  So Person A, ‘Is there non-veg for lunch today?’ It’s happening in India, so it’s Indian vernacular, sort of. ‘Don’t know, I’m veg anyway’ ‘Oh, are you veg?’ ‘Oh, yes,, I’m a Brahmin’. Well, I’m here right. ‘Oh, I’m Dalit. I love non-veg, esp. beef’. So, this person, I think it’s Christina, she’s trying to provoke, ‘but you know, you might think I’m impure for eating beef, but you what, I’m gonna .. I’m gonna be impure, so there.’ OK? so that’s what she’s saying right there.

“Sorry for the picture ..

[Slide: People standing around the cut bodies of dead fish. Text:

– “Dominant groups have long justified their exercise of power over minorities or indigenous peoples by appealing to the ‘backward’ or ‘barbaric’ way they treat women, children or animals.

– “In these cases, we have racialized minorities being told that their practices are cruel.  The intention in highlighting these practices may be to improve the treatment of animals, but the effect may be to reproduce long-standing prejudices -.Kimlikca and Donaldson 2014.”]

” .. but I wanted .. so I want to bring .. what’s going on here? And I think .. I think the first slide that .. Julia had up looked at this .. this is Kimlikca and Donaldson. They .. what they’re saying .. Dominant groups .. OK .. they think about Indigenous groups that way, they’re ‘backward’ or they’re ‘barbaric’, they way the treat – in this case – animals .. and .. what we’re doing to these minorities mean their practices are cruel and what we’re trying to do  .. vegan .. what we’re .. vegan animal rights activists .. so what we’re actually trying to do is improve the treatment of animals but what we’re actually doing is .. reproducing long-standing prejudices and even .. and it can be seen that way.

[Slide: First pane Text: “‘Upper’ caste landlords or landladies put up boards which read ‘house rented only to vegetarians’. ‘Vegetarian’ is a synonym for ‘Brahmin’, and this expression is used to drive away all Dalitbahujans from their localities” – why I am not a Hindu, Kancha Ilaiah. Image caption: “House near VIT for rent VEGETARIANS only. Image: A nice house, with a tree.

Second Pane: Text: ‘Dr Karthik Navayan @Navayan An exclusive brahmin real estate venture. For members of the Brahmin community only. Yeah, yeah. There is no caste in India! Image: Laugh emoji. A newspaper advertisement.]

“Just a couple of examples of .. this is .. you know .. I go to YouTube, this is Bangalore, one of the places I live, you can look up Chennai, which is the other places .. you know, where my family lives and .. when they say, ‘upper caste landlords’, ‘they’re looking for vegetarians’, what does that mean? They’re saying, they don’t want any lower caste people. .. We only want the ‘pure’ vegetarians, right? .. That’s not veganism .. that’s not it, right?

“So, here’s another one, they’re saying, ‘Oh, we are going to make a whole community of Brahmins only, and this word ‘Satvik’ right there means pure .. pure food .. we don’t want any of the other folks.

[Slide: Text: “Why did the cow but not the buffalo become a sacred Hindu animal? The reason is simple: the buffalo is a black animal. Just as the Dravidians, a black people, were never granted any spiritual status, the buffalo as a black animal was allowed none. Brahminic Hindu literature projected Brahmins as bhudevatas (Gods on earth) and the cow as Gomata (the mother animal) as it was white as well as their staple food. For generation after generation Hindu scriptures venerated Brahmins among human beings and cows among animals.” Kancha Ilaiah in Buffalo Nationalism.  Image: A sketch of a white domesticated cow facing a grey buffalo cow, on grass.]

“So, why is it the cow is sacred? You’ve heard in India, cow is sacred. Why is the cow sacred? Why isn’t the buffalo sacred? The buffalo is indigenous to India, and the buffalo ‘gives’ milk .. I know, we’re vegans, but .. ‘gives’ milk. Buffalo is also meat. So .. if.. if a cow feeds animals, and that’s why the cow is sacred, because that’s what they say, why isn’t the buffalo sacred? Well, because .. because the cow is what .. is what the .. colonizers brought with them: They brought cows and they brought horses, they were pastoralists, OK.   So the cow is identified with them, whereas the black buffalo is identified with the Indigenous people and that’s why the cow is sacred and not the buffalo.

[Slide: Text: “Does Hinduism even exist?

– Hindu wasn’t even used till 11th century CE

– Colonial views foisted a unified vision – on a large variety of practices

– European adoption of ‘Hindu’ for the purposes of Christian missionary conversion

– A variety of texts, a variety of practices, a whole pantheon of deities

– We have believed the views foisted on us by the colonial, Orientalist, romanticized vision]

“Now, what about Hinduism, does it even exist? Um, yeah .. obviously, it sort of exists, but what do we even .. it doesn’t ..  what does it really mean? Well, ‘Hindu’ wasn’t even .. used till the 11th century because that’s when the Muslims came and so when the Muslims came in, then they had to say who’s not a Muslim, and that’s .. so that’s when the Indus – the name, that’s where the ‘Hindu’ comes from – that’s when it started. And .. and then colonial views, people wanted to have this unified .. vision of what those people were, especially for .. missionary conversion .. so they put this .. they made this rainbow, this pantheon of religions and gods and put it all together and, and, and made it ‘Hindu’ and tried to make it into one thing, tried to fit into a form which doesn’t really exist because it’s all widely varying, all kinds of practices. And we – some of us in India, the majority – had, kind of, ‘drunk the Koolaid’, you know, we .. whatever .. that we have .. we begin to believe in it.

[Slide: What about Ahimsa?]

– All of the ancient works, Rig Veda on, describe animal sacrifices and list a large variety of animals which can be eaten

– There were discussions of ‘ahimsa’, or non-harming, but defined in various ways

– Vegetarianism in Brahmins may have begun in some areas in late 1st millennium, but no means in all areas

– But now, in general, vegetarianism is practiced by upper castes, but particularly the Brahmins

– Other caste Hindus eat most other animals except the ‘sacred cow’

– Avarnas eat all types of animals]

“So, what about Ahimsa? Well .. the Rig Veda, which is the first .. sacred text written about 1500 .. BCE .. talks about animal sacrifices, OK .. cows and horses and a variety of other animals .. yeah, so ‘ahimsa’ was there, but all the time, sacrifices were there, I mean .. what animals can be eaten? Pretty much every animal can be eaten, like, they talk about rhinosceros and alligator .. yeah .. What is .. what does .. ‘ahimsa’, what does it mean? Well, if you kill a cow for sacrificing, that’s ‘ahimsa’, because you’re killing it for sacrifice.  OK? So, if you kill a cow for a Brahmin, that’s ahimsa, you’re not violating any rules there. So the way that it’s been .. the way that it was defined in these old .. texts.

“OK. So .. they … Brahmins are vegetarians, yes it’s true, the reasons why that is, is … there are so many different ones, I couldn’t, I couldn’t find the consensus, so I don’t want to talk about that right now, it’s just too many. But if .. the fact is, it is true right now, vegetarianism is practiced by upper caste, particularly the Brahmins.

[Slide: Text: “What about non-violence, spirituality .. ?

– Religious violence is not alien to Hinduism, despite the modern myth that Hindus are by instinct and religion non-violent people.

– One suspects that the genesis of this myth was the in the romantic image of the past in some Orientalist scholarship, and the requirements of nationalism stressing the spiritual superiority of the Indian culture of which non-violence was treated as a component.

Romila Tharpar, The Past as Present

Image: Cover of The New Indian Express newspaper, headline, ‘Is India Really A Spiritual Civilization?’, picture, a person by a boat full of flowers.]

“OK, so, what about non-violence, spirituality .. there is a famous .. historian, called Romila Tharpar, she says, ‘You know what .. what does that make any sense, non-violence? Religious violence is not alien to Hinduism, it’s not true, where did it come from that, this idea that we’re non-violent? Romantic image, Orientalist scholarship, and the requirements of nationalism, stressing the spiritual superiority of the Indian culture, something that we need to believe. This is an article that came out this month, you know it says, ‘Is India Really A Spiritual Civilization?’. It says, No.  OK, there are some spiritual ‘threads’ but they’re all .. we’re also very acquisitive, we’re very materialistic. OK, so this .. these are ideas that people _want_ to have about us, that even we want to have about us – it’s not true.

[Slide: Text: ‘What about Gandhi? Now I know, Gandhi has been a sacred cow for many activists. But not talking about the truth in order to protect personal attachments to his myth simply maintains false ideas about many core discussions that we urgently need to have between our movements. This includes conversations about non-violence, international solidarity, anti-blackness, and strategies to end caste oppression.’ Image: Cover from Medium article, headline, ‘Why It is Time to Dump Gandhi’,author Dalit Diva, ‘Fam. It’s real talk time. Beyond the “Be the change you want to see in the world” movement brand phenomenon”’, picture, a statue of M. K. Gandhi with the red circle and bar symbol superposed.]

“What about Gandhi? Right. Ohhh ,what a great symbol. Well, I recommend you take a look at this article by Thenmozhi Soundararajan on .. on Medium <> so it’s accessible, everybody can get it, and what she has done is really summarize a lot of things from different books and references, and does a really great job.  So please take a look at it. Gandhi was, let me summarize what she is saying that – and this is absolutely sure evidence for all this – Gandhi was anti-Black, he was a lawyer in South Africa and he said some pretty rude things about Black people; never changed throughout his life; he was a casteist, he wanted to abolish Untouchability but he was still casteist, as some people should be the latrine cleaners and that’s .. that’s what their kids should be forever, that’s the way it should be, that’s what he thought; and he was a misogynist; and so they take a look at that as well.  So what is Thenmozhi saying here, Soundararajan is saying, ‘I’m not talking about’ .. OK .. but .. ‘Not talking about the truth in order to protect personal attachments to his myth simply maintains false ideas about many core discussions that we urgently need to have between our movements.’

“OK, so .. I mean .. and Dalits and other people, you know: _They know!_ – they don’t like Gandhi! They don’t see him as a hero! So .. what are they going to think when .. when vegans, especially white vegans come along and say .. ‘You know what, Gandhi is our leader’.

[Audience laughs]

[Slide: Image: Arundhati Roy Text: ‘Other contemporary abominations like apartheid, racism, sexism, economic imperialism and religious fundamentalism have been politically and intellectually challenged at international forums. How is it that the practice of caste in India—one of the most brutal modes of hierarchical social organisation that human society has known—has managed to escape similar scrutiny and censure?

‘Perhaps because it has come to be so fused with Hinduism, and by extension with so much that is seen to be kind and good—mysticism, spiritualism, non-violence, tolerance, vegetarianism, Gandhi, yoga, backpackers, the Beatles—that, at least to outsiders, it seems impossible to pry it loose and try to understand it.’]

“This is … Arundhati Roy – she’s been _amazing_ in bringing a lot of this to the fore. No, and you might ask, ‘Oh, if this casteism is so bad as you say it is, Rama, well, how come we’ve never heard about it before?’ Yeah, how come we haven’t and, you know, she asked the same thing, ‘One of the most brutal modes of hierarchical social organisation that human society has known’, _how come_ people outside of India don’t know about it? You know, when you hear about things like apartheid, and racism, sexism – how come there’s no outrage? Well, she says, ‘Oh, it’s to do with – fused with – Hinduism, mysticism, spiritualism, non-violence, tolerance, vegetarianism, Gandhi .. backpackers .. here the Beatles’.

[Audience laughs]

“The Beatles and the backpackers ..

[Slide: Image: A sketch in blue of Dr Ambedkar. Text: “The old orthodox Hindu does not think that there is anything wrong in the observance of Untouchability.  To him it is a normal and natural thing. As such it neither calls for expiation nor explanation. The new modern Hindu realizes the wrong. But he is ashamed to discuss it in public for fear of letting the foreigner know that Hindu Civilization can be guilty of such a vicious and infamous system or social code as evidenced by Untouchability.” Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar]

“I love this, OK.  Dr Ambedkar is a .. social reformer .. an economist ..  lawyer .. politician from 19 .. you know, early, early twenty, 20th century, and he was – as I say – a reformer, and from the Dalit .. community himself. So, ‘The .. old orthodox Hindu does not think there is anything _wrong_ in the .. observance of Untouchability.  To him’ .. or them ..  ‘it is a normal and natural thing. As such it neither calls for expiation nor explanation.’ So I’m talking about maybe my grandparents. ‘The new modern Hindu realizes the wrong.’ That would be us, OK?  ‘But he’ .. they are .. ‘ashamed to discuss it in public for fear of letting the foreigner know that Hindu Civilization can be guilty of such a vicious and infamous system or social .. code as evidenced by Untouchability.’

“And I think that is brilliant.”

[Slide: Text: “What is Hinduvata?

– Means ‘Hindu-ness’

– Defines Indian culture in terms of Hindu values

– Current political party in power, BJP, is based on Hinduvata ideology

– Right wing Hindu nationalism, and claiming Hindu supremacy

– Discrimination against Muslims, and lower castes, Dalit/Adivasis]

“So, what about Hinduvata? So I’m going waay over .. Oh, I have a timer going, Oh no!, I’m over time. OK.

[Audience laughs]

“Means ‘Hindu-ness’ .. I’m going to go through it quickly .. Basically, we have a right-wing power of .. right-wing party in power, the BJP, Bharatiya Janata Party, it’s based on Hindutva ideology, which is about Hindu supremacy, OK? So, risk discrimination against Muslims, lower castes, Dalits, Adivasis and so on. Right, I’m going to skip past this . So, that’s how the beef ban started, what is the beef ban? The beef ban is to marginalize Muslims and Dalits who eat cows. India still hopes to be the top beef producer in the world, or among the top two or three. But they are lynching people in the streets – I’m going to go through this quickly – but, you know, people are being killed on suspicion of killing cows or eating beef in India right now.

“Well, this is not veganism. We don’t want to support the beef ban. Cows are still being killed, by the way – in enormous, enormous numbers.  This is a way to marginalize people further.

[Slide: Cheran Subramanian quote]

“I want to really read this quote, I wanted to get quotes from some people and what they feel.  So this is Cheran Subramanian, executive committee member of the Ambedkar King study circle, and they told me, I said what do you think about the beef ban, how do you feel about it. ‘I can answer the first part .. second how it has affected me’ .. not sure, but anyway, they say .. “I mean, I wasn’t consuming .. just after the ban and subsequent atrocities on Dalits and minorities made me re-think and re-evaluate my food choices, so I started eating beef as a counter-narrative and in fact I do consciously .. make .. do making effort so my kids also doesn’t have any sort of aversion based on some stupid preachings like I got it from grandparents and parents’.

“So, what .. what are they saying? OK, so you have a beef ban, and I know you’re trying to marginalize me, so I’m going to eat beef on purpose. So the beef ban doesn’t really work, even.

“So .. this is an extra slide, I’m sorry ..

[Slide: Anonymous quote]

“OK, so this slide is from another person who does not want to be identified, but they are a .. a Catholic, but not practicing. ‘I fully believe the ban was motivated by oppressive upper caste Hindu domination, opportunist business reasons, heck, I even remember there being a conference organized on how to push pork as the protein of choice way before the ban even happened. I’ll stick with the oppressive motives,  because that’s what I’m reacting to. As intrinsic as beef has been to my own idea of what constitutes food, and therefore the personal anger, I can’t even .. I can’t even with having to deal with what it means to have that happen to you as a Muslim.’ .. but this person is not .. ‘I am .. I’m afraid you won’t be able to get much more out of me because all that follows is incoherent anger, the kind you feel when someone says something both absolutely outrageous and obtuse.’

“Now, this is actually a person whom I .. we have a lot in common with, but the way the things .. I mean, who might be an ally .. but the way that things are happening is not working that way.

[Slide: Anonymous quote]

“Oh, another quick one, I think – well, I asked this person, what do you think about the fact all of these Westerners, Americans, Europeans, whatever, are .. are connecting Hinduism and veganism together? ‘I think it’s a really bad connection to make, it’s strengthening a very toxic Hindu nationalist agenda’

[Slide: Devika Karna quote]

“Then I .. this is Devika Karnad, she’s from Cardiff, (is she from Cardiff?) and then I ..  then I asked her, ‘Why is it I can’t get the Dalits to talk about this?’, because I couldn’t, I couldn’t get enough quotes from them,  and she said, ‘Yes, I imagine they find it difficult, to accommodate the vegan perspective, when they’re arguing for freedom of choice but then the freedom of animals is not being considered, which is incredibly sad. I do believe that veganism of vegetarianism should not be forced upon anyone, which is what the Hinduvata is trying to do.’

[Slide: What are the implications for the vegan movement?]

“So what I’m going to do, I’m going to summarize: Do not valorize Indian vegetarianism, Hinduism, Ahimsa, or even Buddhism; Do not valorize Gandhian principles; Have a consistent anti-oppressive approach; If you want to represent people of Indian decent, please attempt to include lower caste and Muslim communities.

[Slide: Quotes from Dr Will Tuttle.]

“And I want to give you a few examples before I go.  This is Dr Tuttle, an email that was sent to me from 2017, OK. so he .. Dr Tuttle, who’s wonderful and I love him and he’s actually a friend of mine .. so he was shown around by somebody from the Sattvic Vegan Society. What does Sattvic mean? It means ‘pure’ and ‘unpolluted’, it’s a casteist word. We don’t want that associated with veganism, OK? And then,  ‘Oh, Indians will remember their roots’. No, Dr Tuttle,  oh, you have to do better, you have to do better.  There’s more to us – you don’t know what casteism is, you don’t know what’s going on, because all you’ve heard is narrative from the upper castes. OK.

[Slide: Image of Tobias with ‘Vegan-ish’ T-shirt, and screenshots from James Aspey & The Save Movement]

“Some other people recently – so slick – I mean, Tobias, I’ve never heard him talk about Hinduism before, but all of a sudden, he has a Hindu symbol, the Om symbol, and Ahimsa .. this is his page, and you know and then we have this bro attitude and Jain fasting and he’s going to give a talk on Ahimsa.  Oh, well, you know, maybe .. [laughs]

[RG & Audience laugh]

“OK, what about this, OK, Save Movement.  We love the Save Movement with .. I mean .. absolutely great intentions, but they follow Gandhian principles, and we know what some people think about that.

[Slide: Image of Dr Francione, and of VegNews story]

“.. Dr Francione .. he went to a Jain conference to speak about how could Jains be more Jain by being vegans. So, you know, you’ve got to give it to him, he does do his homework, I guess, Dr Francione ..

“And VegNews, and all these other news outlets, vegan news outlets, were so happy when the beef ban came along and I don’t know how Leo di Caprio got into it, oh we were all so happy., and .. No, No!

[Slide: Tweets]

“OK, I’m going to finish, I want to give you a couple, a few Tweets, that I think are really good, I’ve got so many, if I wasn’t so .. I would have got .. ‘How do you define freedom’, because Independence Day was August 15th, OK, so last month, ‘How do define freedom? What is your definition of Independence?  Would you call killing .. in the name of cow and caste, freedom? Can a country like India ever be free from caste discrimination?’

“This person is saying, ‘What are they trying to do, they are taking away our food, suppression and  under .. undernourishment of a population, a cold and cruel tactic, a cold trick and tactic.’

“And this guy, this person is saying, ‘What are you talking about? India is vegetarian in public, in private it loves it’s chicken.’ No, we’re not lying,  we were never .. we’re not vegetarian, OK.”



(Thank you to AC Baker for the transcript!)