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Saturday, 11 May, 2002, 21:49 GMT 22:49 UK
India fashion 'goes vegetarian'
Indian demonstrators protest against western 'cultural encroachments'
The policy would reinforce India's nationalist forces
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By Jill McGivering
BBC correspondent in Delhi

Officials in India are considering categorising and labelling all cosmetics and personal hygiene products as vegetarian or non-vegetarian.

Indian vendor hawks vegetarian snacks
Vegetarian meals are very popular across India

The practicalities of implementing the idea are now being considered by a technical committee and the courts.

Many Hindus in India are strictly vegetarian for religious reasons - and some pro-Hindu political groups often express concern about non-vegetarian ingredients in food.

This concern is especially pronounced over products imported from the West.

Politicians are being coy about disclosing which ministry was the driving force behind this plan which is now being considered by health officials.

Political overtones

If approved, all personal hygiene products and cosmetics would be tested by officials, categorised as vegetarian and non-vegetarian and labelled accordingly.

Indian models strut on a Delhi catwalk
India's growing fashion industry could be badly hit

This would include a wide range of items, from toothpaste and soap to lipsticks, face powder and other beauty products.

One argument in favour of the plan is that consumers have the right to make an informed choice.

This is all the more important because India has such a large population of strict vegetarians, many for religious reasons.

But the Health Minister, CP Thakur, told the BBC he personally felt the ruling would have a very wide impact and a decision should not be taken lightly.

The effect on business, particularly on imports and exports, was still being assessed, he said.

He added that comprehensive testing and labelling would be quite expensive.

Vegetarian policy can assume political overtones in India.

Health matters

Some of its most vocal advocates are right-wing Hindu groups for whom it is a highly emotive issue.

Many right-wing Hindu organisations are also concerned about the impact of globalisation on India.

This is both in terms of damage to India's economy, which is still heavily protected, and a perceived threat to its culture.

A similar plan to categorise medicines in the same way was earlier rejected.

That was partly because of concerns that if critical drugs were classed as non-veg, strict vegetarians might be deterred from accepting them.

Officials say they expect to reach a final decision on this latest plan in a few months' time.

See also:

19 Feb 02 | Business
Indian fashion takes hold
27 Oct 01 | England
'Modern' face of Miss India
02 May 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
16 Aug 01 | South Asia
Indian fashion goes mainstream
04 May 01 | South Asia
No beef in McDonald's fries
27 Mar 01 | South Asia
Indian town chops meat
15 Feb 01 | South Asia
India to censor fashion TV
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