Halal row: Kerala hoteliers urge Pinarayi Vijayan CM to intervene

The ‘spit food’ and ‘spit-free food’ propaganda, widely shared on social media, has turned into a serious issue across the state because of its communal overtones.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM/KOCHI: With the “smear campaign” on halal food adversely affecting thousands of small restaurants and eateries across the state, hoteliers have sought the intervention of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on the issue. The Kerala Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHRA), which lodged a complaint with the chief minister on Sunday, wants legal action under cyber laws taken against those spreading false narratives against hotels and restaurants.

The ‘spit food’ and ‘spit-free food’ propaganda, widely shared on social media, has turned into a serious issue because of its communal overtones. “We received a response from the CM’s office stating that the complaint has been noted and forwarded to the state police chief for appropriate action,” KHRA general secretary G Jayapal. According to hoteliers, the boycott call and campaign against restaurants run by a section in the state have come as a double whammy for them in the time of the pandemic.

They allege that the cyber campaign over ‘manthrichoothal’ — a ritualistic blowing into the food to bless it — has caused a great deal of damage to the business of Muslim hoteliers, especially those running small eateries. While the practice is limited to religious gatherings of certain sub-sections, those behind the ‘campaign’ have alleged that it is a norm for all Muslims while preparing food.

“A little common sense would help you debunk this myth. Most of the eateries run by Muslims employ people of different religions. If such a practice existed, it would have come to public notice much earlier. Also, have you seen such a practice in the food preparation at Muslim households? This is a vile propaganda,” said KHRA president Moideen Kutty Haji. Haji said owners of small eateries are bearing the brunt of the campaign while major businesses are relatively unaffected. “I hope the campaign will eventually fail among the educated people in Kerala society,” Haji said. 

Take action against those spreading hatred: Hotel association

KHRA general secretary Jayapal said he has received calls from hotel owners from various parts of the state saying that a group is spreading rumours and asking people to avoid hotels and restaurants with ‘halal’ signboards because ‘spit food’ is being served.

The hotel and restaurant sector had incurred huge losses during the pandemic as only parcel services were allowed. It has only been a couple of months since the dine-in service resumed. “We request legal action against those who are poisoning the sector by creating enmity and hatred between religious groups for political gain,” said Jaypal.

The ignorance on halal food among non-Muslims is exploited by vested interests, said V P Suhaib Moulavi, Imam of Palayam Juma Masjid in Thiruvananthapuram.

“Halal food means permissible food adhering to Islamic law. Under this, there are certain conditions for the slaughtering of animals or poultry. There is no spitting or blowing involved in the practice,” he said. “The videos used by the hate campaigners are those of certain clerics. A widely circulated video showed a cleric blowing into the food during an Uroos ritual. Clerics like him are wrong.

The Prophet’s direction is against letting one’s breath come into contact with the food, let alone blowing air into it,” he said. Food Safety Commissioner V R Vinod said the department has not received any complaint of spitting or blowing air into the food. “The halal issue does not come under the purview of the department. Our mandate is the enforcement of regulations in the Food Safety Act,” he told TNIE.

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