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,"
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.