Answer to Map #26

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Answer: This choropleth depicts the percentage of residents of each Indian state who identify as vegetarians.

The states with the highest percentage of vegetarians are found in the western part of the country. On this map, the darkest color indicates states with more than 65% vegetarians. These states are Rajasthan (73.2%), Haryana (68.5%), and Punjab (65.5%). The second darkest color indicates states with more than 45% vegetarians. Most of the states in eastern India have relatively few vegetarians. In Telangana, the state with the fewest vegetarians, only 1.2% of the population does not eat meat.

The data used to make this map comes from the Indian census. This data distinguishes between males and females without giving overall totals, so for convenience we have just used the male numbers (after all, as you learned from Map #10, there are more men than women in India anyway). The fact that India’s census asks about dietary habits indicates how seriously people in India take vegetarianism. Yet overall, only 28.4% of men and 29.3% of women identify as vegetarians. These numbers dwarf those of nearly every other country, but they are perhaps not as high as many people might expect.

Most vegetarians in India are Hindus—though in light of the numbers quoted above, it would certainly not be accurate to claim that all Indian Hindus are vegetarians. The overwhelming majority of non-Hindus in India eat meat. For example, India is home to about 170 million Muslims. On feast days, one important Islamic practice is the ritual slaughter of a cow for beef. Cow slaughter has been a point of contention between pious Muslims and pious Hindus in South Asia since long before the modern-day countries of India and Pakistan became independent in 1947. In recent years, this issue has become especially controversial, with Hindu-dominated legislatures passing legislation to ban cow slaughter. Currently, there are only eight Indian states that have no restrictions on this practice.

The responses to this week’s map indicated that many people have an incomplete understanding of religious demographics within India. We received many, many submissions guessing that the map showed the distribution of Muslims within the country. Presumably, people expected that, since Pakistan is a Muslim country, most Indian Muslims would live near Pakistan. In reality, this is not the case. First of all, it is important to remember that Bangladesh is also an overwhelmingly Muslim country (and one which was, at least initially, part of Pakistan). Second, the partition of India and Pakistan was accompanied by massive population transfers that moved Muslims in western India into Pakistan and Hindus in Pakistan into India. To help you visualize the actual distribution of Muslims in India, we have made a choropleth.

The second most popular incorrect answer was that this map represented the distribution of Hindi language speakers within the country. Currently, roughly 25% of Indians consider Hindi to be their native language. (This figure depends on what dialects of Hindi one chooses to count. A very generous definition of what constituted Hindi might result in a figure of slightly less than half the total population.) And, of course, many educated people throughout the country speak Hindi as a second, third, or even fourth language. There would definitely be some overlap between our map of vegetarians and a hypothetical map of native Hindi speakers, but there would also be a few easy ways to distinguish between the two. The simplest is to note that Gujarat and Punjab are two of the four most vegetarian states, but Gujarati and Punjabi are very common languages in those states.

In order to give hints that would guide you to the corret solution, we focused on current Indian politics. The BJP is often identified as a Hindu nationalist party. In recent years, BJP-dominated legislatures throughout India have passed legislation that reflects the policy priorities of deeply pious Hindus. One of the most controversial bits of legislation—referenced in Thursday’s hint—has been the banning of eggs from lunches in government-run schools. (In India, unlike the U.S., most vegetarians do not consume eggs) India is home to the most malnourished children of any country in the world, and many of those children rely on school lunches to get proper nutrition. Eggs are a cheap and extremely efficient source of protein. The dispute over eggs in lunches is often depicted as a conflict between social classes. Richer Indians can afford other sources of fat and protein, such as milk and ghee (clarified butter). Poorer Indians often do not have access to these products.

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