Mumbai exiles its meat eaters
By Amrit Dhillon, in Mumbai
The Sunday Times, UK
Sunday, May 29, 2005
Rich vegetarians in Mumbai are turning sections of their
city into meat-free zones – to the indignation of meat
eaters barred from living there.
Housing complexes and whole neighbourhoods 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
Bollywood stars also risk being drawn into the row.
Mahima Choudhury, the actress who is such a staunch
vegetarian she has done free promotions for the
campaigning group People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals, is appalled at the idea of banning meat eaters
“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
For a long stretch of Marine Drive – Mumbai’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 Mumbai 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 ing aroma. My relatives
would avoid coming to my house if my neighbours were non-
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 Mumbai’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
“Mumbai 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 Mumbai
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