Zomato, a food delivery application in India is being criticized by Hindu extremists for hosting restaurants that serve halal meat. The episode reflects the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim bigotry in India—a country home to roughly 200 million Muslims.
The controversy started on Wednesday when a Hindu customer, in a now-deleted tweet to Zomato, protested the assignment of a non-Hindu driver for his delivery order:
“Just cancelled an order on @ZomatoIN they allocated a non Hindu rider for my food they said they can’t change rider and can’t refund on cancellation I said you can’t force me to take a delivery I don’t want don’t refund just cancel.”
Zomato refused to change the deliveryman based on the customer’s request and tweeted in response:
The company’s founder, Deepinder Goyal, also tweeted in defense of pluralism:
While Zomato was hailed by some for its stance against bigotry, hashtags in support of some choose to support Shukla and soon #IStandWithAmit and #BoycottZomato became top Twitter trends on India.
Some Hindus then tried to portray the company as hypocritical because it accommodated the dietary concerns of Muslims. Ankur Singh, a Twitter user, posted screenshots of a Twitter exchange between Zomato and a Muslim customer, Wajid, who had complained about being served non-halal meat
The debate wasn’t confined to Twitter only and extremists started leaving one-star reviews for the app on Google Play and Apple Store, according to Indian news outlet NDTV.
A user who left a one-star review wrote, “This app is communalizing the Indian society and wrongly shaming Hindu religion with its current Hindu-only rider tweet.”
Some users claimed that Zomato favors halal meat over other types of meat, such as the jhatka meat consumed by Hindus and Sikhs.
Another user also left a similar response, “Shame on Zomato for questioning a Hindu’s belief and saying that food has no religion and then itself so sheepishly categorizing its non-veg as ‘halal’ and ‘ non-halal’. Whoa! now all of a sudden food has religion.why? ‘coz according to Zomato only muslims have a right to their food preference based.”
The backlash then grew to within the Zomato company with some of its deliverymen in the state of West Bengal protesting against having to transport beef and pork items. Separate investigations by two Indian news sites, Boom and The Quint, revealed that some of these employees leading the protests were affiliated with the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP. Their protest was covered by the Asian News International or ANI, which is strongly pro-BJP. Another Indian news site, Boom, found that some of the
Hindu extremists in India have pushed for bans on the production and consumption of beef. And they have even killed Muslims and others for allegedly consuming or transporting beef. But raging against halal meat is uncommon in India, though some diaspora groups in Australia did protest in 2017 against India’s national air carrier offering it on their inflight menu.
The push against halal meat in India is just the latest anti-Muslim dog whistle generated by Hindutva extremists to deepen the country’s religious fault lines and united Hindus based on a sense of victimhood and fear of Muslims. For example, Muslim men are regularly falsely accused of surreptitiously converting Hindu girls to Islam by wooing them. Hindutva extremists have invented a term for this: “love jihad.”
It’s a bull market for India’s sectarian entrepreneurs. Expect more of these dog whistles to emerge in the months and years that go by.