‘Halal’ food that mostly caters to the religious and dietary needs of Muslims has erupted controversy in Kerala, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanding for a ban on the food and the boards saying “halal” outside the eateries in the state. BJP state general secretary of Kerala, P. Sudheer, equated halal food with ‘triple talaq’ and stated that it as a “social evil”.
“The BJP does not believe that halal is a religious practice and doesn’t think that even Islamic scholars would back it. By giving a religious facade for halal, extremist organisations are trying to implement a communal agenda in Kerala society,” he said. Claiming that there is a sudden spurt in halal boards in the state, Sudheer said, “If this is being done on behalf of the religion, scholars should be ready to rectify it.”
BJP state president K. Surendran also backed Sudheer’s claim and noted that the “halal phenomenon” in Kerala is “neither accidental nor innocent”. Claiming that the halal culture is promoted by extremists to cause communal tension, Surendran said, “Certain religious extremists are behind promoting halal culture. Those forces want to divide people of Kerala and foment tension in society. There is a clear agenda behind spreading halal culture.”
The demands of banning halal food and boards outside eateries come in the wake of claims on internet that Muslims spit on the food to make it halal. Former Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) president S.J.R. Kumar had also filed a petition before the Kerala High Court last week alleging that halal-certified jaggery was used at Sabarimala temple for preparing prasadam.
“It is highly disheartening to see that the food materials prepared following the rituals and religious practices of another religion with its certification is accepted as food material for the preparation of Naivedyam/Prasada in a Hindu temple having its own rituals and customs,” mentioned Kumar in the petition, adding, “Muslim religious scholars have been proclaiming publicly that saliva is a necessary ingredient for certifying halal in the preparation of food materials.”
Dismissing the allegation, Travancore Devaswom Board chief and senior CPI (M) leader K. Ananthagopan said, “In 2018, a Maharashtra-based company supplied jaggery for Sabarimala. The firm was engaged in exporting jaggery and these export bags mentioned halal certification. As those bags were found to be of inferior quality, we hadn’t used that supply at the temple. The allegation is baseless and we will take legal action.”
With the controversy and social media claims adversely affecting small restaurants and eateries in Kerala, the Kerala Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHRA) has sought the intervention of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan into the matter. The hoteliers have demanded for legal action under cyber laws against the “spit food” and “spit-free food” narratives spread on social media platforms, which got intensified because of its political overturn.
Stating that the calls for bans and online campaigns are adding to the distress of the hoteliers amidst the pandemic, KHRA general secretary G. Jayapal said, “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.” He added, “We request legal action against those who are poisoning the sector by creating enmity and hatred between religious groups for political gain.”
KHRA further claimed that “smear campaign” against manthrichoothal – a ritualistic blowing onto the food to bless it – is detrimental for the businesses of small eateries owned by Muslim hoteliers. They also noted that the ritual is limited to only certain religious gatherings, and it is not a mandatory norm for all Muslims while preparing food.
KHRA president Moideen Kutty Haji said, “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.” He added, “I hope the campaign will eventually fail among the educated people in Kerala society.”
The Imam of Palayam Juma Masjid in Thiruvananthapuram, V.P. Suhaib Moulavi said that the issue is being exploited by vested interests. “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. 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,” he said.
However, Food Safety Commissioner V.R. Vinod said that no complaint has been lodged for spitting or blowing on 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 said.