Mumbai, April 21: Vegetarians and non-vegetarians are locked in a bitter turf war in Mumbai.
Hundreds of upscale housing societies have slammed the gates shut on people who like their bombil (bombay duck), paplet (pomfret), surmai (another sea fish) and kombdi vade (spicy chicken).
In two out of three apartment buildings in localities such as Worli, Mulund, Borivli, Tardeo or Vile Parle, prospective buyers or tenants are grilled about their food habits. The non-vegetarians are either refused outright or told to pay an astronomical sum. Builders are even known to ask buyers to sign a certificate vouching for their vegetarianism.
With the food apartheid keeping Maharashtrians — most of whom, like Sachin Tendulkar, love their fried fish, meat and prawns — out of flats and neighbourhoods of their choice, the Shiv Sena has another sons-of-the-soil campaign in its hands.
“I don’t know about the Shiv Sena’s plans, but I don’t like what is happening in Mumbai,” says Abraham Date, who was turned away by a housing colony in Borivli because the owner said the “apartment has only vegetarians”.
In a flat he had rented earlier at Khar, Date was once confronted by the landlord who insisted on checking the kitchen.
“It was so embarrassing. The landlord said, ‘I have heard that you bring eggs inside,’ and started raiding my kitchen,” he recalls.
Tax consultant Sunil Samel, refused a flat in Ghatkopar a month ago, echoes him. “The owners just wouldn’t make any concessions,” he says. “I was trying to move out to a better locality but my non-vegetarianism came in the way.”
“This new trend is getting an anti-Maharashtrian colour and creating bad blood between people,” Samel adds.
The Sena has warned that it will deal with the discrimination “by the Gujaratis, Rajasthanis and Jains” in “the way we know”.
Sena leader Pramod Navalkar even raised the issue in the Legislative Council. “Maharashtrians, culturally and by tradition, are not very fond of vegetarian food. How can we change our food habits overnight just because some builder will not allow meat or fish to be cooked in his apartment'’’ he asks angrily.
But those enforcing the ban are unfazed. “If we don’t eat fish and meat, we would not like to live among those who do,” says Jayantibhai Shah, a Borivli builder. “We make it clear that non-vegetarians are not welcome in our apartments and that we prefer it that way.”
A BJP MLA, Mangal Prabhat Lodha, has gone on record saying vegetarians are more hygienic and that if there can be a South Indian and a Muslim area, why can’t there be a vegetarian zone'
But Shiv Sainiks have started identifying the exclusively vegetarian complexes and barging into them with packets of smelly dried fish.
“We will first gherao these builders and confront them, we will even try to persuade them to change their anti-Maharashtrian policy,” says South Mumbai Sena leader Bala Kalshekar. “If they don’t come around after that, we will set up fish and meat stalls right outside their buildings.’’