BOMBAY EXILES ITS MEAT-EATERS

Rich vegetarians in Bombay are turning sections of their city into meat-free zones - to the indignation of meat eaters barred from living there. Housing complexes and whole neighborhoods in India's most cosmopolitan city are going vegetarian. Even on Malabar Hill, where foreigners and Indian millionaires live in mansions, some shops owners refuse to stock meat products. Bollywood stars also risk being drawn into the row. Mahima Choudhury, the actress who is such a staunch vegetarian, has done free promotions for the campaigning group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is appalled at the idea of banning meat eaters from flats. "I think people should live in harmony whatever their beliefs," she said last week. "I don't agree with meat eaters being kept out of apartment blocks because vegetarians don't want the smell of meat. You can't impose your views on other people."

Leading the stealthy enforcement of the meat fatwa are businessmen -diamond merchants, traders, industrialists and clothing exporters. Many are from Gujarat, where vegetarianism is common, or are Jains, vegans who do not even eat root vegetables such as onions, garlic and potatoes. For a long stretch of Marine Drive - Bombay's Champs Elysées - there are no restaurants serving meat, fish or eggs. Even Pizza Hut has gone vegetarian. This is not enough for the more radical vegetarians, however, who insist on the right to live among their kind.

Two years ago Jati Chedda, 32, moved into Ramkrupa Flats in south Bombay with her husband and was relieved to find the occupants of the 120 flats were all vegetarians. "We detest the smell of meat being cooked," she said. "Even omelettes give off a disgusting aroma. My relatives would avoid coming to my house if my neighbors were non-vegetarian."

Bhavesh Shah, a shopkeeper and a Jain, has thrown a cordon sanitaire around his housing complex in Breach Candy. "Our housing society asks new tenants to sign a declaration," he said. "If they're found cooking meat, they're thrown out." The Supreme Court has ruled that people who want to live in a community of "like-minded" people can prevent outsiders moving in. Sanjay Narang, a hotelier, was forced to close his restaurant after residents of the nearby vegetarian building spat at customers from balconies, threw nails at them and scratched their cars. They were particularly affronted that it was close to a Jain temple. "What they did was completely against Bombay's live and let live ethos," said Narang.

The only support for meat eaters comes from the regional Hindu nationalist party, the Shiv Sena. Hostile to Indians moving from other regions, it is indignant that "Bombay wallahs" who eat meat are being excluded from buildings by the Gujarati vegetarians. Last year a Shiv Sena group stormed vegetarian buildings demanding admission for meat eaters armed with Bombay duck, a strong-smelling dried fish. "People are free to choose their own lifestyle but imposing it on your neighbours is wrong," said Subhash Desai, a party spokesman.