Video Editor: Vishal Kumar
A protest by a number of Zomato delivery executives in West Bengal’s Howrah, against delivering beef and pork products, grabbed national headlines recently. The food delivery app’s riders claim that doing so ‘hurt their religious sentiments.’
A closer inspection of the matter, however, betrays the political colouring behind the protests and reveals certain glaring discrepancies:
- BJP affiliations of those instrumental in organising the protest
- Misinformation spread about a particular restaurant, which is owned by a Muslim family
- The selective targeting of Zomato and not other food delivery apps like Swiggy and Uber Eats
- Protesters admitting that the strike is part of the retaliation against Zomato’s “food has no religion” tweet
Sanjiv Kumar Shukla, local BJP leader and party secretary for Uttar Howrah, who has been part of the protest by the Zomato delivery executives, has no qualms in admitting, “This protest is a reaction to Zomato’s tweet.”
Zomato CEO’s Letter to Staff
In an email to his staff, Zomato founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal has asserted that the protest in Howrah has “nothing to do with food or religion or beliefs” and that it is “conflating meaningful work and livelihood opportunities with false outrage about religion and personal food choices.”
Goyal also stated, “We took a look in our order database and there were zero orders from local homes for any item containing pork in the last three months in that entire area. There was one order of a food item containing beef but the customer cancelled that order before it was executed, let alone delivered. While I wanted to give you the facts about what was ordered—or not ordered by households in that area—that is actually besides the point.” He further asked his employees at Zomato to “ignore the noise and not get distracted.”
BJP Links to Protest
Seated inside the house of a young BJP worker named Vishal Jaiswal, in Howrah’s Odiapara – who also owns a small space nearby that serves as a local BJP office – this reporter met 34-year-old Sanjiv Kumar Shukla.
The locals describe Shukla, and a man named Bajrang Nath Verma, as the people behind the Zomato strike.
Shukla introduces himself as the BJP secretary for Uttar Howrah and then proceeds to call Verma on his phone.
Verma, as it turns out, has been working with Zomato for the last 14 months and is one of the delivery executives leading the protest. He is also, by his own admission, a BJP worker of many years.
On being asked if the strike is politically motivated, both Shukla and Verma say it isn’t about the BJP and that it is just happenstance that some of the people leading the movement are affiliated with the party.
In the picture below, released by news agency ANI, Shukla can be seen in a white shirt, as part of the group protesting against Zomato.
During our conversation, too, Shukla got a call from one of the protesting Zomato delivery executives who apparently told him that the protesters were being called to meet the police.
It was Shukla who then instructed the protesters over phone to not go and meet the police at the moment, displaying the command and leadership he has over the delivery personnel on strike.
In fact, throughout the time this reporter was with them, it was Shukla, the local BJP leader, who called the shots and instructed Verma, the delivery executive and party worker.
Targeted Backlash Against Zomato
On asking Shukla and Verma about what prompted the protest, it becomes clear that one of the key motivations was to target Zomato, for having posted a tweet against communal bigotry.
“By posting that tweet (about food having no religion), Zomato made itself a target for no reason,” says Shukla.
He was referring to Zomato’s 31 July tweet, posted in response to a man who did not want a Muslim delivery executive and had asked for a Hindu rider instead.
“Zomato had tweeted a few days back, ‘Food has no religion’. But we want to tell Zomato that food may have no religion, but people do. Our objection is that pork cannot be delivered by Muslims and beef cannot be delivered by Hindus, as it hurts their religious sentiments. The company needs to figure out a way to ensure this.”Sanjiv Kumar Shukla, local BJP leader
But there are other food delivery apps, like Swiggy, Uber Eats etc, which also have restaurants that serve beef and pork. Why protest only against Zomato?
“It’s because of what they tweeted,” says Shukla.
Zomato’s tweet, posted on 31 July, was not directed at any religion and merely countered the bigotry displayed by one user named Amit Shukla.
The company was, however, subjected to vicious trolling online and mass down-voting of its application in the app store, because a certain section of users claimed that the company’s response was “anti-Hindu”.
The protesting Zomato delivery personnel say they began raising their demands from 3 August.
In a state where serving both beef and pork is legal, and restaurants and food delivery apps have been doing so for a long time, it is no coincidence that the protests started soon after the Twitter controversy around secularism and bigotry.
Misinformation About ‘New Real Hotel’
Verma and Shukla both claim that another reason behind the protest was that a new restaurant, named ‘New Real’ on Belilious Road in Howrah, was to start serving and delivering beef on Zomato soon.
“There was no place in Howrah where you would get beef or pork. Such an outlet is about to open in Howrah. The delivery executives feel that they will be forced to carry beef dishes and that they will be penalised if they don’t... that’s why we are protesting in advance.”Sanjiv Kumar Shukla, local BJP leader
The same claim was echoed, word for word, by Verma. But while there is a restaurant by that name in the locality, here are some facts about it that don’t match the claims made by the protesting Zomato delivery personnel.
There is an existing branch of New Real Hotel on Belilious Road, owned by the family of a man named Mohd Aslam, which has been serving beef for a long time.
The restaurant itself is more than five years old. The menu card mentions multiple beef dishes. Further, the New Real Hotel is available on both Zomato and Swiggy already.
It is true that Aslam is opening a new branch of the restaurant in the same locality. But, this still doesn’t explain the following:
- There are already restaurants in the locality that serve beef and pork that are available on both Zomato and Swiggy. Why then are the delivery personnel on strike, falsely claiming that the reason for their protest is that ‘New Real Hotel’ will be the first restaurant in the area to provide beef dishes for delivery?
- Also, despite the restaurant having an existing branch for years that serves beef, which is available on both Zomato and Swiggy, how is it that all the anger is only directed at Zomato?
These discrepancies further prove that the strike is serving as a means of backlash against Zomato.
The Payout Issue
Verma claims that around 80 Zomato delivery executives have joined the protest. The beef and pork issue isn’t the only thing that has got these Zomato workers together. The other core demands include the shrinking payout the riders receive per order.
The Zomato delivery personnel claim that the payout per order has gone down from Rs 70 to Rs 25. Now, they are demanding employee rights as well as a hike in payout fees.
Zomato, meanwhile, argues that with the volume of orders increasing, the delivery partners still end up earning more on average. But the delivery personnel insist that they are not getting adequate remuneration.
How has Zomato responded to the demands, of not making Hindu riders deliver beef dishes and Muslim riders deliver pork dishes?
In a statement, Zomato said: “In a country as diverse as India, it is impossible to ensure that vegetarian and non-vegetarian preferences are factored into delivery logistics. Delivery partners are unequivocally made to understand the practical nature of the job as they choose to enter the workforce. All our partners understand this fully. There is a small group of partners in Howrah who have raised concerns and we are looking to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.”
The delivery personnel claim that officials from Zomato are expected to meet them and discuss the matter on 16 August.
West Bengal Minister and TMC MLA from Howrah, Rajib Banerjee, has reportedly spoken in favour of the protesting delivery personnel.
"I too feel that the organisation performing such act should think about their action once again. They should not force any sect to go against the rules of their religion. This is very wrong. We had no idea about such actions. Since we have been approached, we shall surely take action against such deeds," Banerjee said, as per a India Today report.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)