Over two months after the popular resto-pub chain Social launched its outlet in Goregaon’s Oberoi Mall, Watchdog Foundation, a group working ‘for the interests of Catholic Christians’, has filed a complaint with the Dindoshi police saying the décor of the pub was “blasphemous and hurt the religious sentiments of the Christian community”.
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A letter issued by the Watchdog Foundation Tuesday, addressed to the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, stated they “were shocked on noticing an outrageous depiction of various saints and religious items from the Holy Bible, which is nothing short of blasphemy to Christianity.” Following the complaint, an FIR has been filed against Social and its owner Riyaaz Amlani under Section 295 A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code.
“There are stain pictures of Saints with funny names written thereunder. The Bar area has a backdrop of a Tabernacle set up. Even the seating arrangement in the bar is that of church Pews. Even the messages inscribed on the benches are from Holy Bible. This Blasphemy is nothing but an act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence to a religious or holy persons or sacred things, which is sacred or inviolable,” the letter read.
The Foundation has demanded the removal of “all such religious articles”.
Following the letter, the Archdiocese of Bombay too released a press statement, demanding the closure of the restaurant “with cancellation of their trade licence, liquor permit, health licence, etc. till such time as the decor is changed”.
The restopub is owned by Amlani’s Impresario Hospitality, which has several popular F&B chains, such as Salt Water Cafe, apart from the various branches of Social across Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru.
Amlani Wednesday issued a statement explaining that the theme of the pub was not based on a church but makes a ‘satirical comment on the consumerist behaviour’ of people. He said, “Goregaon Social is a satirical statement against the ever-growing consumerism and advertising culture, where people are made to feel that they are inadequate and unhappy unless they buy more and more things. In no way is there an intent on the part of Social to hurt any religious sentiments. On the contrary, it’s a call to move away from the material and move towards spiritual. We are more than happy to engage with anyone who feels offended by the design and make rectifications to their satisfaction.”
By the time The Indian Express visited the Goregaon outlet on Wednesday morning, the paintings on the glass had been removed and some of the writings on the wall, which the complainants felt were mocking Bible verses, painted over.
The complainants, however, demand a closure of the restaurant and removal of all aspects of the décor that may bear resemblance to Christian iconography. “We are a peace-loving community and a minority. But we are being pushed into a corner by such acts,” said Nicholas Almeida of the Watchdog Foundation, pointing to a picture of a mini-refrigerator sponsored by the alcohol brand Jägermeister and bearing its logo, that is placed at the bar of the restaurant. “Take for instance this container. It is like a tabernacle, and they have placed alcohol inside it.”
When pointed out that the mini-refrigerator has the logo of the alcohol brand which has a cross as part of its design, Almeida said, “Then the owners should not keep such a refrigerator at all. We will protest against the brand as well.”
Amlani said he was willing to change everything ‘offensive’ and would not mind if the restaurant looked vastly different by the end of it. “All they need to do is come and tell us, we will have anything offensive removed,” he told The Indian Express.