When I tell people I don't eat beef, I get mixed reactions. People that aren't South Asian look at me with confusion, but don't question it. It would be rude for them to ask without reason, so they don't.
On the other hand, Hindu Americans look at me suspiciously and nod their heads in disbelief. They automatically perceive me as a extremist. With my proclamation that I no longer eat beef, people put me in the same category of "Hindus" that have been murdering Muslims in India for eating beef.
I honestly wish people, both Hindu or not, would take the time to ask me WHY I don't eat beef rather than making assumptions.
Traditionally, Hindus don't eat beef. I am not a traditional person.
I grew up eating beef. Even though my parents would never cook at it home, we would frequently go eat it at restaurants. I once asked my parents why we eat beef. They simply explained that being immigrants in a country meant that we had to make changes in our diet based on what was available. They claimed that our lives were much easier because we didn't have any dietary restrictions.
I stopped eating beef my sophomore year of college. Why did I decide, after 20 years of eating beef, that I would no longer eat it?
My decision was two fold:
1. I studied abroad in Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country. Bangladeshis accommodated my Hindu diet needs without even asking. When I told them that I ate beef, they would laugh and say that's fine, but that it was their job as my host to make sure any potential dietary restrictions were met.
If people abroad were accommodating religious dietary restrictions, why couldn't people at home do the same?
2. I became best friends with a Muslim my sophomore year. She did not eat pork due to her religious beliefs and always got accommodated by restaurants, hosts, and the school cafeteria.
If people in the U.S. could respect a Muslims wishes to not eat pork, why could they not respect a Hindus wish to not eat beef?
As I thought about these two factors more and more, I made the final decision to give up eating beef. For me, this decision was not necessarily about my beliefs as a Hindu but more about my rights as a Hindu. As an American Hindu, I have the right to not eat beef. I have the right for people to accommodate me. I have the right to stand up for my religion.
Hindus have a very calm religion, and for that I am thankful. Many of the teachings focus on finding inner peace through yoga, meditation, and detachment from the material world. Unfortunately, the peace that Hindus preach often gets mixed with passivity. In the Gita, when Arjun mentions that he does not want to fight in the war, Krishna tells him that we must always fulfill our duties and stand up for what is right. Mixing these two teachings together, one can see that it is important to be peaceful while firmly asserting rights and beliefs.
I am now firm in not eating beef as a Hindu. I am hopeful that my efforts will help the rights and general public awareness of Hindus that have made the U.S. their home. I want to make this a better place for Hindus in any small way that I can.
Giving up beef is not right for everyone but I urge other Hindu Americans to stand up for their rights in their own ways.