TRN Bureau, Dallas: The key factor and the most neglected in understanding India’s hunger problem is the Hindu belief system and its effect on food production. Most people know of the “sacred cows” that roam free, eating tons of grain while nearby people starve. But a lesser-known and more sinister culprit is another animal protected by religious belief—the rat.
According to those who believe in reincarnation, the rat must be protected as a likely recipient for a reincarnated soul on its way up the ladder of spiritual evolution to Nirvana. Though many reject this and seek to poison rats, large-scale efforts of extermination have been thwarted by religious outcry. As one of India’s statesmen has said, “India’s problems will never cease until her religion changes.”
Rats eat or spoil 20 percent of India’s food grain every year. A recent survey in the wheat-growing district of Hapur in North India revealed an average of 10 rats per house.
Of one harvest of cereals in India, including maize, wheat, rice, millet and so on—a total of 134 million metric tons—the 20 percent loss from rats amounted to 26.8 million metric tons. The picture becomes more comprehensible by imagining a train of boxcars carrying that amount of grain. With each car holding about 82 metric tons, the train would contain 327,000 cars and stretch for 3,097 miles. The annual food grain loss in India would fill a train longer than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.
The devastating effects of the rat in India should make it an object of scorn. Instead, because of the spiritual blindness of the people, the rat is protected and in some places, like a temple (read Karni Mata Temple) 30 miles south of Bikaner in North India, even worshiped.
According to an article in the Indian Express, “Hundreds of rats, called ‘kabas’ by the devotees scurry around merrily in the large compound of the temple and sometimes even around the image of the goddess Karni Devi situated in a cave. The rats are fed on prasad offered by the devotee or by the temple management. Legend has it that the fortunes of the community are linked to that of the rats.
“One has to walk cautiously through the temple compound; for if a rat is crushed to death, it is not only considered a bad omen but may also invite severe punishment. One is considered lucky if a rat climbs over one’s shoulder. Better still to see a white rat.”