In 2014, roughly 200 Jain monks engaged in a hunger strike.Their goal: to have the holy city of Palitana, located in the Indian state of Gujarat, declared a “meat-free zone.” A central tenet of Jainism is ahimsa (nonviolence toward all creatures), and many Jains could no longer tolerate the slaughter of animals and sale of meat in a city where the religion’s first tirthankara (or savior, named Adinatha) is said to have walked the hills.
After weeks of peaceful protests, the government of Gujarat agreed to extend the existing “meat-free zone” to cover all of Palitana. The killing of animals and the sale of meat, fish, and eggs is now banned — much to the consternation of the Muslim majority, which comprises about 25 percent of the city’s population. With this decision, Palitana officially became the world’s first vegetarian city.
To the average secular-liberal onlooker, the Jains’ demand — and the government’s decision — must seem doubly anathema: not only did the government allow the Jains to impose their religious beliefs on the city’s minorities, but the ban also severely circumscribes the freedom of those who produce and sell non-vegetarian food to sustain their families.
But what if the ban, all of the religious mythology and superstition aside, actually is good policy? What if banning the slaughter and selling of meat is the right thing to do — not to respect religious tradition or sensibilities — but to prevent undue harm to the animals? More radically, what if Palitana is just the first place where such a ban is implemented? What if Palitana is the site of the beginning of a second abolitionism? Continue reading