This Bhutanese month (May 16 – June 13) is observed as Saga-Dawa, a holy month in the country. It is popularly or infamousely known as the time when the sale of meat items is banned in Bhutan. And it’s also an opportunity for us to put a light brake on our mighty meaty appetites. Consequently, restaurants are encouraged to serve their customers rich vegetarian meals during the period. Similar ban is also observed every first month of the Bhutanese calendar.
But going by what’s happening, the saga-dawa is a month long mandatory and government sanctioned holiday for the butchers and meat vendors. Being holy month does not really make a difference to the menus in the restaurants from rest of the months in the year.
Meat is available in all the restaurants and even small eateries ensure that their customers are served their favorite dishes. They’re only being wise and practical because if they don’t serve meat their customers would move to the restaurant next-door that serves meat. As simple as that. As a result, there is no incentive for our menus to go vegetarian, is there?
We are bombarded with many questions. If there is a month-long ban on the same of meat items in the country, from where are our hoteliers getting the meat? Are black markets in operation, away from the meat shops? Does it mean that the hotels illegally import it from across the border? Or more obviously, are people hoarding it in large quantity to last a month?
Meat ban in the country is a failed initiative unless we organize intensive and targeted sensitization activities that people truly understand why they are doing it and is therefore voluntary, but not restrictions. Hotels and restaurants are where we begin.
(The writer works with READ Bhutan)