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Gujarat highway food stall owners are jittery after the International Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal issued a new diktat asking “vigilant Hindus” to inform them if they see any buses stopping for snack breaks at Muslim-owned dhabas on the highways.
“Let us start this with the Saurashtra-Surat route first,” a man with a saffron scarf and teeka is seen saying in a video which has been widely circulated on WhatsApp groups and other social media. On Thursday, a Muslim eatery owner on the highway in Saurashtra said that a bus stopped as usual, but then three passengers started taking photographs of the eatery. “My eatery has a Hindu name. We do not serve non-vegetarian food. We do not even serve eggs or products containing eggs. None of my staff has a beard. In short, we are very liberal Muslims who don’t wear our religion on our sleeves. The name of my eatery is based on a local Hindu goddess. Every day, minimum 11 buses stop at my eatery. Today, none have. The driver of the bus is my friend and we give him a commission but the passengers some how found out that this is a Muslim-owned place and asked the driver to take them to a Hindu owned eatery nearby. “
The Muslim eatery owner was scared to give out his restaurant’s name and location. Ditto with two others near Bhavnagar, Amreli and Junagadh. But a palpable fear has circulated. Most Gujarat highway restaurants are owned by Cheliyas, a Muslim community. They serve vegetarian food only and the name of their restaurants are include ‘Bharat’, ‘Navbharat’, ‘NavGujarat’, ‘Tulsi’, ‘Kabir’, ‘Jaihind’, ‘Sarvodaya’, etc.
The International Vishwa Hindu Parishad, run by Hindu leader Pravin Togadia, who earlier led the Vishwa Hindu Parishad – an arm of the Sangh parivar – has posted this warning on social media and various WhatsApp groups, including those of the local media.
The warning, in Gujarati, states that if any “private luxury bus operator halts his bus on a dhaba run by Muslims would have to face the consequences”.
Confirming that his organisation has indeed come up with this notice, Raju Shevale, the secretary of the Surat unit of the International VHP, told Vibes of India, “The people in Gujarat are angry with the Muslims after the Kishan Bharwad murder. Muslim clerics are organising arms to kill Hindus in a larger conspiracy and people in Gujarat can see through it.”
Shevale claimed that the highway restaurants run by Muslims use the same vessels to cook veg and non-veg food and “in fact, we have reports that they spit in vegetarian food items before serving them to the people”.
He said some bus drivers also deliberately halted at eateries run by Muslims because they took a cut from the sales from their passengers.
Shevale said the International VHP even had meetings with the private luxury and Gujarat bus operators and their drivers. “We have conveyed to them that if they still continue to halt their vehicles at Muslim joints, they would have to pay the price for this. We will not be responsible for the damage they suffer because of this,” he told Vibes of India.
However, when contacted, Gujarat’s spokesperson for the International VHP Neeraj Vaghela dismissed this as a local issue. “This initiative is by the local unit of International VHP and not a state-level plan,” he said.
When approached, Surat Police Commissioner Ajay Tomar told Vibes of India, “I have not received any complaint or information about this. We will look into it if we get it.”
Activists demands action against “hate mongers”
Taking strong exception to a social media and poster campaign in Surat threatening bus operators against halting at highway eateries run by Muslims, a Gujarat-based human rights organisation has dashed off a letter to state DGP Ashish Bhatia to initiate action against such “hate mongers”. The letter by Mujahid Nafees, convenor of NGO Minority Coordination Committee, points out that the poster threatens the luxury bus operators and drivers that they may have to suffer damages to their vehicles if they made halts at any hotel, restaurant or dhaba run by the Muslims.
The NGO has requested the DGP to register an FIR against the people responsible for the threatening post and strict action against them.
“Sir, these types of posters being circulated on social media create fears among the people. Apprehending violence, people have started avoiding outstation bus travel. This will have a catalytic adverse impact on the businesses in the state,” the NGO wrote.
The organisation has drawn the attention of the DGP to the poster and video by Raju Shevale and Omprakash Shah, office-bearers of International VHP and International Bajrang Dal, who have issued the threats.
This article was originally published on Vibes of India.