New Delhi: Mahatma Gandhi might have been firmly opposed to idea of beef consumption, but preventing someone from eating the food they want was nothing less than an act of 'violence' for the political leader, reveals a new book.
In 'Gandhi's Search for the Perfect Diet', US-based historian Nico Slate quotes Gandhi as saying that despite his reservations about killing of cows, he 'freely' associated with meat eaters.
"It is generally known that I am a staunch vegetarian and food reformer, but it is not equally generally known that ahimsa extends as much to human beings as to lower animals and that I freely associate with meat-eaters," says the book quoting Gandhi.
Killing of cows, which Slate writes, was one of the most "divisive issues" in Gandhi's India, became a burning issue yet again in 2015 after 52-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched in Dadri over suspicion of cow slaughter.
Since then, several incidents of mob lynching over rumours of cow smuggling made it to the headlines including the killing of 55-year-old Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer who was murdered in Alwar in 2017 by a group of 200 cow vigilantes.
Gandhi, according to the book, beside rejecting the use of violence to protect cows also denounced the use of cow protection to "demonize Muslims".
"It is violence, not non-violence to prevent someone from eating the food he likes to eat ... Also, it is not religion but want of it, to kill a Muslim brother in order to save a cow," Gandhi had said.
The book observes that 'violent vegetarianism' was anathema to the Mahatma, who had publicly denounced activists for claiming that he "had prohibited the use of meat to any Hindus or Mussulmans".
He also lamented the forcible prohibitions on the consumption of meat and fish by a group of people, who he believed were "over-zealous vegetarians".
Gandhi's commitment, however, to tolerance did not prevent him from challenging his non-vegetarians friends to debate the ethics of their diets.
He believed that caring for cows could inspire a broader compassion for "the entire sub-human world" and suggested the use of 'courtesy' and satyagraha as means to convince beef-eaters to change their ways.
"He always used reason to appeal to non-vegetarians, while others invoked his name to support more coercive tactics," Slate said in the book.
Published by Orient BlackSwan, 'Gandhi's Search for the Perfect Diet' also sheds light on other important periods in Gandhi's life including his student years in London, his politicization as a young lawyer in South Africa, and the 1930 Salt March challenging British colonalism.