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 that is home to roughly 200 million Muslims.

The controversy started on Wednesday when a Hindu customer, in this now-deleted tweet directed at 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 that “Food doesn’t have a religion.”

The company’s founder, Deepinder Goyal, also tweeted in defense of pluralism:


While Zomato was hailed by some for its stance against bigotry, hashtags promoting a boycott of Zomato became a top Twitter trend in India.

Hindu Nationalists Rail Against Halal Meat and Zomato

Some Hindu extremists then tried to portray the company as hypocritical because of its accommodation of Muslim dietary laws. 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.

Right-wing Hindus accused Zomato of “bigotry,” appeasing Muslims while treating Hindus as “second class citizens,” and making fun of the Hindu religion.

The debate wasn’t confined to Twitter only. Extremists started leaving one-star reviews for the app on Google Play and Apple Store, according to the 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 spread within the Zomato company itself. Some of its deliverymen in the state of West Bengal protested against having to transport beef and pork items. Separate investigations by 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 and amplifies Hindu nationalist groups. 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 a relatively new phenomenon in India, though some Hindu diaspora groups in Australia protested in 2017 against India’s national air carrier offering it on their inflight menu.

Halal Meat is a New Islamophobic Dog Whistle in India

The push against halal meat in India is just the latest Islamophobic dog whistle generated by Hindutva extremists to deepen the country’s religious fault lines and unite 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.

Urooj Tarar covers South Asia and pivot states for Globely News. She previously worked for the English-language edition of Daily Pakistan.


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