At A R Dastarkhan restaurant, a cloth banner welcomes all “yatris” to relish their “vegetarian biryani” and “vegetarian haleem”. Today is the last day of the 13-day Kanwar yatra and restaurants such as this one in the Ghantaghar locality of Meerut, who have turned vegetarian only to stay afloat, say their businesses have taken a hit.
“This year, the administration ordered all non-vegetarian restaurants to shut down for 13 days because of the Kanwar yatra. Till last year, we were asked to shut down only for a day, on Shivratri. So we decided to keep our restaurants open but not serve any non-vegetarian food,” says Abdul Rehman, 49, the owner of the restaurant.
He admits his business has taken a double hit — while not a single yatri has come to eat at his restaurant, his regular customers, who come for the mutton haleem and biryani, have stayed away too — leading to losses of Rs 15,000 a day.
“Most of our regular customers have gone back without eating since the restaurant has turned vegetarian. We usually have a huge crowd outside the restaurant, but since the official orders, we have not done much business,” he says.
Additional Superintendent of Police of Meerut City, Kumar Ran Vijay Singh, however, denies any such order asking restaurants to stop selling meat. “They did it of their own free will. That is the tradition — they shut the restaurants themselves. The restaurants have stopped selling meat for the last 3-4 days,” he claims.
A customer at the restaurant, Qamar Ali, 45, says the government’s crackdown is unfair. “Why not shut down thekas that sell alcohol? All the thekas along the highways are open. Is that okay? And eating meat is not? There is no logic to this,” Ali says, while eating the vegetarian haleem and biryani.
Another restaurant, the two-storeyed Al-Karim near Netaji Subhash Chandra Dwar in Ghantaghar, is waiting for the yatra to get over so they can get back to business. “We are losing around Rs 40,000 a day. Earlier, our daily sales would be around Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,0000, and now it has come to around Rs 10,000 a day. We have to pay rent, salaries to our workers,” says restaurant owner Mohammad Asif, 34. Around 3 pm, there are no customers in the restaurant.
Lazeez, a restaurant opposite Hashimpura locality in Meerut, did not take the route of turning vegetarian and has been shut for the last 13 days. “From next year, we will also keep the restaurant open and make some vegetarian dishes. That way, we won’t lose so much. This year, we lost at least Rs 20,000 a day. We haven’t paid our workers any money for the last 13 days,” says Musheer Alam, 38, who owns Lazeez.
A kanwar yatri on the Meerut bypass, Sumit Kumar, 22, says it is “understandable” that the authorities have ordered non-vegetarian restaurants to stop serving meat. “We undertake this yatra and our religious feelings would be hurt if restaurants serve meat,” he says.
Gopal Sharma, the Meerut vibhag mantri for VHP, says he welcomes “the steps taken by Muslim restaurant owners to turn vegetarian”. “Their ancestors were Hindu and hence they feel the need to welcome yatris. We are not opposed to such Muslims,” says Sharma over the phone.
Corporator from Ward No 73 in Meerut city’s Nauchandi area, Abdul Gaffar, said that the police have forcefully closed down restaurants and meat shops in the city.
“Police teams have gone to restaurants and told owners to not serve meat or shut their shop,” Gaffar said.
Another corporator from Meerut, who did not wish to be named, confirmed the police crackdown on meat-selling places in the city.
“Most restaurants selling non-veg were told to stay shut during the Kanwar yatra by the police. Most non-vegetarian restaurants and meat shops have had their shutters down for the last 13 days,” the corporator said.