A Mint analysis of data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2005-06 and 2015-16 suggest that vegetarianism has been on the decline. With the share of meat-eaters across the country rising in the past decade, except in Rajasthan and Punjab.
Another study published by Indian researchers Balmurli Natrajan and Suraj Jacob suggests that only 23-37% of the population is vegetarian. In 2016, the national survey found that more than half of people aged between 15 and 34 eat meat whereas National Family Health Survey found that only 30% of women and 22% of men are vegetarian.
India has largely been associated with vegetarianism for decades, and that image still persists. With Hinduism as the largest populace in the country, amongst other religions, this idea of a strictly vegetarian country makes sense.
The ideas of Hinduism subscribe to stringently following a vegetarian lifestyle. Though some may argue that this isn't true, chicken and lamb are exceptions, that is only a recent development.
Based on the belief that we should cause minimal harm to any other living being, the vegetarian lifestyle came into being. Soon, due to immigrants and exposure to other cultures, non-vegetarian eating habits were adopted.
As times change, several Hindus across the country have abandoned this religious belief. But, a lot of Indians are still not comfortable with it publicly, in fact, Indians are said to under-report their meat consumption due to religious and cultural stigmas.
We all have those friends that are vegetarian at home but eat any animal outside the house, and these friends have a caused what is termed as "food - schizophrenia." Food Schizophrenia is applicable to those who are vegetarians at home but not among friends and colleagues.
Why Is This Such A Big Deal?
A nation that brands itself as a vegetarian country, is now statistically losing its title. And in a country where eating habits play political pawns, it raises a concern as to why we hide the statistics.
But the political concern is secondary, the primary concern is that of identity. Most people who follow the beliefs of vegetarianism, based on religion, may lose their sense of identity in the midst of this decline.
Since Hinduism is the largest population in India, many might find themselves lost from the traditional values of vegetarianism of the religion.
Veganism, which has blasted off in the West has its roots in the concern for the environment and nature. But, in India, like most other things, we base our vegetarianism on our religion, the decline of which threatens the identity of many.
In a time where you can claim to be a minority and get special rights, this identity crisis may lead to many more complications.
But this decline also highlights the small progress we've made as a country to try and break away from religious traditions and choose for ourselves.