New Delhi: Talib Hussain, a restaurant owner in Sambhal, Uttar Pradesh, has alleged that he was visited by a “group of 15 policemen” Saturday and asked to keep his eatery, Mehak Restaurant on Munsif Road, shut for three days.
Less than a month ago, on 3 July, Hussain had been arrested by the Sambhal police after being accused of selling chicken wrapped in newspapers bearing images of Hindu deities.
Hussain has now claimed that the policemen gave no reason to him for this verbal order of shutting his eatery, but added that he believed it is linked to the procession of Lord Kalki scheduled to be held in the city on 2 and 3 August.
Released on bail about 10 days ago, Hussain had resumed work but decided to not cook or sell non-vegetarian food since some Hindu communities don’t consume meat in the month of monsoon (sawan), which starts mid-July and lasts a month.
Ajay Kumar Tyagi, senior sub-inspector, Sambhal Kotwali Police Station, under whom the Munsif Road area falls, has denied that he visited Mehak restaurant, and told ThePrint that the order might have come from his seniors.
“In the month of Kanwariyas, non-vegetarian restaurants are shut in the city, but there is no order to shut vegetarian restaurants. I did not go to the restaurant,” he said.
Kanwariyas are the participants in the annual Kanwar Yatra procession undertaken by Shiva devotees during the monsoon.
The Sambhal Kotwali Police Station is located less than a kilometre from Mehak restaurant.
Last month, Tyagi had been the one to arrest Hussain and had claimed that the restaurant owner had attacked him with a knife while being taken into custody.
Hussain also said that his was the only restaurant to receive such an order. “When the police came to my shop, I told them that I’m only selling vegetarian food. This is the first time in 25 years that I have stopped serving non-vegetarian food in the sawan month. But this year, due to my arrest, I decided to not invite more trouble,” said Hussain.
ThePrint reached Tyagi’s senior, Sambhal station house officer (SHO), Omkar Singh, by phone, but no response was received by the time this report was published.
Sambhal is said to be the birthplace of Lord Kalki — believed to be the 10th and last avatar of Lord Vishnu — and sees an annual procession celebrating his birth, organised each year by the Hindu organisation Shri Kalki Sena (Nishkalank Dal).
Arrangements for the two-day celebration are made for about 20,000 devotees coming in from across the country, the organisers told ThePrint. “Police will be posted at the entire route of the procession, on the terraces, and monitoring will also be done via drone cameras,” said Gagan Varshney, national general secretary, Shri Kalki Sena.
The procession will also pass through the lane where Hussain’s restaurant is located — also a Muslim-dominated area.
“The order to shut our restaurant has been given for communal reasons,” alleged Tabish, Hussain’s son.
After Hussain’s arrest in July, some Hindu organisations, claiming to be vigilantes, had alleged that Hussain deliberately sold the chicken in newspapers with Hindu deities’ images. His family, however, had said that the charges against him were false and added that they only pack rotis, which are dry, in old newspapers.
Hussain was booked under sections 295A (deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings of any community), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race place of birth, residence), 307 (attempt to commit murder) and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging their duties).
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)