The latest Hindutva strike on the streets is the banishment of non-vegetarian food from the highways and main roads to the alleys in some towns and cities. This has happened typically in Gujarat, considered the “laboratory” of Hindutva. Vendors selling non-vegetarian food have been targeted and told to shift to small roads not by the fringe elements of Hindutva, but by the civic authorities in four cities, including the state capital, Ahmedabad.
The stated ground for the eviction orders is that street food on the main roads is unhygienic and smelly. It is not known how such food becomes hygienic when it is sold on smaller roads. Smells have not been used till now as an absolute standard to judge food, and what’s bad-smelling food for one may be aromatic food for another. It is also a revelation that, like untouchables, there are now ‘unsmellables’ in the country.
It is clear that the drive is directed against Muslims, who have a large presence in the street food sector, especially in the case of non-vegetarian food. It is completely irrational to pick on non-vegetarian food for attack because it is not taboo for Hindus. The majority of the people in the country, including Hindus, are non-vegetarian by family habits or by choice. Culinary preferences and taboos cannot be imposed on people in any case.
Smell and hygiene are poor reasons for driving out non-vegetarian food because vegetarian food can be equally bad on these grounds. If poor hygiene is a reason for action, entire streets of eateries and restaurants may have to be emptied of them. Encroachment of public spaces was also given as a reason, as an afterthought. This, too, cannot apply to only vendors of non-vegetarian food. It has also been claimed that the action was taken on the basis of complaints from some residents. That is a vague and unverifiable ground and is one that can even be manufactured. Even if there are such complaints, there are weighty reasons to ignore such complaints.
Street food is custom for millions of people and shifting it to smaller roads will mean inconvenience and even its denial to many. Street food vending is the means of livelihood for a large number of people. The business often depends on the location, and dislocation may mean the death of the business. Government policies have supported and promoted street food businesses. The relocation drive is wrong and motivated.
The government should put a stop to it. That Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and the state BJP chief C R Paatil have spoken out against the drive is welcome. They must ensure that the civic authorities do not proceed with it.
This story first appeared on deccanherald.com