Eight-in-ten Indians limit meat in their diets, and four-in-ten consider themselves vegetarian: Survey

The vast majority of Indian adults (81%) follow some restrictions on meat in their diet. However, most Indians do not abstain from meat altogether – only 39% describe themselves as “vegetarian,” as per a new Pew Research Center survey.

According to the report, most widely practiced religions of India have dietary laws and traditions. For instance, Hindu texts often praise vegetarianism, and they may also avoid eating beef because cows are traditionally viewed as sacred. Whereas Muslim teachings, prohibit pork.

The vast majority of adults (81%) follow few restrictions on meat in their diet, including avoiding from eating certain meats, not eating meat on certain days, or both. However, most of them do not refrain from meat altogether – only 39% describe themselves as “vegetarian.”

Among India’s six largest religious groups, some are much more likely than others to refrain from meat. While the vast majority of Jains say they are vegetarian (92%), compared with just 8% Muslims and 10% Christians, Hindus fall in between 44%.

Even among groups with low rates of vegetarianism, many Indian adults restrict their meat consumption with roughly two-thirds of Muslims (67%) and Christians (66%) avoid meat in some way, such as refraining from eating certain meats, not eating meat on certain days, or both. Among Hindus, in addition to the 44% who are vegetarian, another 39% follow some other restriction on meat consumption, according to a new survey.

Several Jains, along with meat, do not consume root vegetables such as garlic and onions to avoid destroying the entire plant, which is seen as a form of violence in Jain theology.

The survey shows that among Hindus and Sikhs, nearly one-in-five say they do not eat root vegetables (21% and 18%, respectively). Hindu vegetarians are evenly divided between those who eat root vegetables and those who do not.

Fasting is another common dietary practice in India. Atleast three-quarters of Indians overall (77%) fast, including about eight-in-ten or more among Muslims (85%), Jains (84%) and Hindus (79%). Smaller majorities of Christians and Buddhists fast (64% and 61%, respectively), while Sikhs are the least likely to fast (28%), according to Pew Research Centre Survey.

These religious dietary traditions not only impact the day-to-day lives of Indians, but also influence concepts of religious identity and belonging.

Moreover, Indians are more likely to say that following dietary restrictions is a requirement for religious identity than to say that belief in God and prayer are essential. About 72% of Hindus say someone cannot be Hindu if they eat beef, but fewer express the same sentiment about someone who does not believe in God (49%) or never prays (48%).

Among Muslims, Sikhs and Jains, even greater shares say that following dietary rules is essential to religious identity: 77% of Muslims say a person cannot be Muslim if they eat pork, compared with smaller shares who say this about a person who does not believe in God (60%) or never prays (67%).

More than eight-in-ten Sikhs (82%) and Jains (85%) say that a person cannot be truly a member of their religion if they consume beef. Buddhists are split on the issue, with about half expressing that someone cannot be a Buddhist if they eat beef according to the research.

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