Indian firm's client rejects food delivery by non-Hindu

Zomato refuses to pander to customer's religious bias, sparking online debate

Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan has had the Zomato app on his phone for five years but had not used it, turning instead to other food delivery services like Swiggy and Uber Eats.

But the 38-year-old anaesthesiologist from Kochi has now switched to Zomato in an act of solidarity with the firm.

The gesture comes close on the heels of a zealous debate on Wednesday on Indian social media involving the firm after it refused to kowtow to an irate Hindu customer who refused to accept that food he had ordered would be delivered by a Muslim.

The customer, Mr Amit Shukla, cancelled the order and took to Twitter to express his feelings after Zomato refused to change the delivery person to someone better suited to his religious bias.

"Just cancelled an order on @ZomatoIN they allocated a non-hindu rider for my food they said they can't change rider and can't refund on cancellation I said you can't force me to take a delivery I don't want don't refund just cancel," he tweeted.

He had previously argued with a Zomato customer care executive, indicating that he did not need a delivery from a "Muslim fellow" in the Hindu month of Shraavan, when many Hindus fast and worship their deity, Lord Shiva.

Responding to Mr Shukla's tweet, Zomato shot off a taut nine-word public riposte which went viral. "Food doesn't have a religion. It is a religion," it tweeted back to the customer. The tweet has so far received more than 83,000 likes and close to 27,000 retweets.

The firm's position was reinforced by Mr Deepinder Goyal, its founder, who earned additional plaudits for adding on Twitter: "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."

For many despaired by an entrenched religious chasm in contemporary India, this was an inspiring act of defiance that marshalled many supporters like Dr Radhakrishnan. "Most businesses refuse to take a stand against racism and bigotry in India. It is, therefore, so refreshing to see someone who is actually able to say no, this is not okay," he told The Straits Times, adding that he has even subscribed to the firm's special delivery programme as a show of support.

He was joined by many others who stood by Zomato.

But this display of support has been countered by a fierce backlash against Zomato, with many choosing to deactivate their accounts on the food delivery app. #IStandWithAmit trended as critics questioned its policy to preach that food has no religion when it condones the practice of delivering halal food. "Why is @ZomatoIN delivering Halal? If they can specifically deliver meat slaughtered by a Muslim to Muslims, they can provide non-Muslim delivery boys too," said someone who simply goes by the @ArmchairPseph handle on Twitter.

This was countered by those who argued that eating halal is akin to eating vegetarian food - an individual's choice - but that rejecting food simply because of the identity of the delivery personnel is negative social discrimination.

The Zomato incident was reported from Jabalpur, and the debate continued to swirl online on Thursday morning with associated hashtags like #BoycottUberEats trending in India.

This is not the first time an Indian firm has had to deal with religious bigotry online. In June last year, telecom giant Airtel received a lot of flak after it replaced a Muslim support executive with a Hindu one after a customer refused to deal with a Muslim employee.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2019, with the headline 'Indian firm's client rejects food delivery by non-Hindu'. Print Edition | Subscribe