Jul 14, 2005

Gujarat's Legacy and Jains

In a recent post on Sepia Mutiny, blogger Abhi mentioned the violent roots of communalism and bigotry that are deep in the soil of Gujarat. One commenter took issue, and while I don't have enough information on history (though this article helps), I would also say that Gujarat has also been a center for the Jain community, which focuses on the central tenets of non-violence and acceptance of many viewpoints.

However, it seems that most active Jain adherents focus on overcoming personal evils and senses rather than societal ills. Or in an interesting extension of their strict vegetarianism, in the recent generation there is an almost activist mentality concerning animal rights/seva (although it was this commitment more than a millennia ago that helped to convert Hindus from their wanton carnivorism to vegetarianism).

I find that to be admirable, but strangely missing the point of social justice, which is so much more interesting to me, and still justifiably in line with the tenets of non-violence. Structural, institutional, and systemic violence against people and peoples exists, and operating as individuals in a world that treats us as members of a group seems like a very American, non-human rights focused, thing to do.

When I raised this point at a JAINA conference, I was told that Jains believe in detachment from world affairs and even relationships, with the ultimate goal of reaching moksh and ending the cycle of reincarnation. But if this is the case, then why are they getting so involved in promoting vegetarianism and saving animals, especially in India? I would love to see more Jains take up liberation struggles, or at least issues like capital punishment, political prisoners, hate speech, or a whole list of other issues that fit within an expanded interpretation of ahimsa.

Perhaps then, Gujarati Jains can offer an alternative to the "Gandhi: Man, Myth, or Monster?", and Hindu-Muslim riots/conflicts/ conflagrations that overpower any debate about Gujarat's contributions to the nation and to the world, and the place of Jainism within the the pan-ethnic rubric of "Gujarati."

As a side note, while looking up references for this post, I found this interesting take on vegetarianism and Islam that includes an analysis of Jainism, as well as a brief summary of the meat-eating history of Hinduism. On another flip of the coin, here is a Jain scholar looking at some basic tenets of Islam. I wish we would hear more of this discourse than the divisive, useless rancor that people take up immediately without thinking about their professed beliefs.


someone else said...

You realize that one fo the really virulent Hindtuva sites (Hindu Unity, I think) has a link to a Muslim vegetarian site too.

Rage said...

I don't, but it's okay. It's not supporting anything on my post, just something I came across. Live and let (animals) live. Or whatever. Just don't feed me any jello shots.