Zomato delivery case: How a hungry man became India's new face of bigotry

Who: Earlier this week, Jabalpur resident Amit Shukla kicked up a storm on social media when he asked food delivery company Zomato to change his rider because the latter was not Hindu. Shukla is a business consultant who uses “Pandit” as a prefix and whose Twitter handle describes him as a nationalist and proud Hindu. Zomato describes the delivery executive assigned to him, Faiyaz, as someone who hopes to finish his higher education some day.

What: In a series of tweets, Shukla shared screenshots of his conversation with Zomato customer care where he brings up the Hindu holy month of shravan as the reason for not wanting his food delivered by a non-Hindu. When Zomato’s customer care stood their ground, Shukla threatened to call his lawyers. In response to Shukla’s complaint, Zomato’s official handle tweeted, “Food doesn’t have a religion. It is a religion.” The company’s founder Deepinder Goyal backed that with: “We are proud of the idea of India — and the diversity of our esteemed customers and partners. We aren’t sorry to lose any business that comes in the way of our values.” The company’s rival, Uber Eats India, declared their support for Zomato.

Where: Hashtags exhorting people to uninstall the Zomato and Uber Eats apps emerged from across the country. But, as many pointed out after seeing a screenshot of these alleged uninstalls, the app had been downloaded and removed immediately. Strange are the ways of professional social media boycotters. This is not the first time rabble-rousers have attempted to stir up intolerance from the comfort of their armchairs. In 2018, a man cancelled an Ola cab because the driver was Muslim and because he didn’t want to give money to “jihadi people”. Ola’s response was that they don’t discriminate between their drivers or customers on the basis of religion, caste or creed.

Shukla has clearly missed the memo on equality and decency, and also the one that explains that while the internet might be an infinite world, it’s also one where nothing is private. His old tweets have resurfaced to sully his image as a pious man. Notably, while he may have issues with a non-Hindu delivery executive, he’s perfectly comfortable demeaning both Hindu and non-Hindu women — he doesn’t discriminate between Priyanka Chopra and Taslima Nasreen.

Even as calls to uninstall Zomato continue, the company is also winning hearts. Congress leader P Chidambaram tweeted, “I have not ordered food so far, but I think I will do so now from Zomato.” While memes went into overdrive listing beloved things of non-Hindu origin, from biryanis to petrol, India’s law and order machinery stepped in too.

How: The Madhya Pradesh police took suo moto notice of the situation and announced their intention of taking preventive action against Shukla. The gentleman in the treacherous spotlight has been asked to give a written undertaking that he will not spread religious hatred. Amit Singh, the superintendent of police, Jabalpur, has told reporters that Shukla has been put under surveillance. If he tweets anything that is “against the ideals of the Constitution”, action will be taken against him. Shukla has now changed the privacy settings on his Twitter account to private.

A hungry man is said to be an angry man, one who can’t tell right from wrong. Shukla’s posts don’t make any reference to how long he’s been fasting. But one can’t help but wonder whether this brouhaha was simply his way of declaring his credentials as a “proud Hindu”, and whether being in the spotlight satiated his appetite when Zomato couldn’t.

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