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In India, The World's First Vegetarian City

After monks went on a hunger strike to push for a citywide ban on animal slaughter, the local government declared Palitana a meat-free zone. But the city's Muslims are not happy.

A cityscape of Palitana
A cityscape of Palitana
Shuriah Niazi

PALITANA — Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world and preaches a path of non-violence towards all living beings. In India, about 5 million people practice it.

"Everyone in this world — whether animal or human being or a very small creature — has all been given the right to live by God," says 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."

The mountainous town of Palitana in the state of Gujarat is home to one of Jain's holiest sites, and many residents don't want any kind of killing happening here. Recently, 200 Jain monks began a hunger strike, threatening to fast until death until the town was declared an entirely vegetarian zone.

"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."

They have gotten their wish. On Aug. 14, the Gujarat government declared Palitana a "meat-free zone." They instituted a complete ban on the sale of meat and eggs and have also outlawed the slaughter of animals within the town's limits.

It's a victory for vegetarians, but bad for business for others. Fishermen such as Nishit Mehru have had to stop working entirely. "We have been stopped from selling anything in Palitana," he says. "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."

On behalf of other fishermen, Valjibhai Mithapura took the issue to the state's high court, which has called on the state government to explain the ban put in place locally. It will then make a decision about whether this regulation is legal. Gujarat is ruled by the Hindu nationalist BJP party, whose leader is Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The population of Palitana is 65,000 and about 25% of them are Muslim. Local Muslim religious scholar Syed Jehangir Miyan disagrees with the ban. "There are so many people living in this city, and the majority of them are non-vegetarian," he says. "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."

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