BOOKS: Heads & Tails

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1998:

Heads & Tails
by Maneka Gandhi
People For Animals (A4 Maharani Bagh,
New Delhi 110 065, India), 1993.
184 pages, paperback; donate $20.

“I have always detested milk,”
Maneka opined in the first line of her first
syndicated column, entitled Milk, Meat and
Animal Violence. “My son too refused to
drink cow’s milk when he was weaned, and
was given, from the age of three months, a
liquidized mixture of lentil and vegetable,
which he loved. Most children hate milk,”
she continued. “As soon as a child reaches
the age to make decisions, the first thing to
go is that nauseating glass of milk.”

She could not have devised a more
provocative debut. It is an article of Hindu
faith and traditional Gandhian politics that the
cow is the Mother of India, and that milk is
the perfect food. But Maneka stood accusations
of blasphemy on their head by pointing
out the frequent abuse of cows and other
bovines in milk and meat production. Among
her primary sources she cited Laxmi Narain
Modi, one of the staunchest advocates of the
cattle-based rural Indian economy. If cattle
are sacred, Maneka and Modi both argue,
they should be treated kindly.
A collection of Maneka’s early
columns, Heads & Tails mingles expose with
polemic and pet care tips, all with an inimitable
Indian accent. Indians, she asserts, are
failing abominably to live up to a 3,000-yearold
tradition espousing consideration for animals.
She equates the failure with loss of
self-respect. Only when Indians live up to
their ancient ideals, she declares, can India
realize her latent greatness.
Jains, over the years, have felt and
resented her sting most often. Maneka
acknowledges that Jains lead the world in the
value their faith places on kindness toward
animals, and lead India in their involvement
in humane work, as well as other forms of
hands-on charity. But precisely because of
the Jain emphasis on kindness and charity,
Maneka becomes impatient when she sees
Jains nitpicking over points of dietary philosophy
and expending resources on giving each
other awards, instead of adopting homeless
animals and funding direct relief or prevention
of suffering. Her attacks are not on Jain
religion or culture, but rather on Pharisee-like
behavior by some especially prominent Jains,
who stress show instead of substance––and
she does seem to be having an effect, as a
movement emphasizing direct help for suffering
animals seems to be gathering momentum
within the Jain community. We met many
Jains who objected on the one hand to
Maneka’s public critiques, especially because
she is not herself a Jain, and on the other
hand privately conceded that she has goaded
Jains who had become complacent in their
Jainism in the right direction.
One influential Jain gave us Heads
& Tails. Two others offered it. And several
suggested that if only Maneka would say a
few more good things about Jains, among her
critiques, she could melt Jain hostility and
accomplish an unprecedented outpouring of
resources for the animal protection cause.
“We know Maneka is right,” one
Jain leader said. “The difficulty is in gracefully
admitting it. She needs to find a way to
give us room to turn and support her.”

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