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Mumbai Restaurant Forced to Pull Political Food Bills

Irked by a statement criticising the government that was being printed on a restaurant's bills and handed to customers, youth workers of India's ruling party stormed a Mumbai restaurant and filed an official complaint with the police. The restaurant was temporarily shut down.

On 22 July, 2013 about 30 to 35 workers of the Indian Youth Congress swarmed Aditi, a South Indian restaurant located in Parel, within Mumbai city, angry over a footnote added to bills that read:

As per UPA government, eating money (2G, Coal, CWG scam) is a necessity and eating food in an AC restaurant is a luxury!

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Twitpic image of the restaurant bill uploaded by Tweeter user S. S. S. (@ekdum_veda)

The message referred to the introduction of service tax on eating at air-conditioned restaurants by the central government that went into effect in April 2013, irking both restaurateurs and customers, who are paying the extra cost.

Shetty explained this unique protest in an interview to the Mid-Day:

I have my opinion and India being an independent country, I have the right to express my views.

Because of the government including all AC eateries in its purview for paying service tax, I suffered losses and I had to shut down the AC section of my restaurant altogether.

A non-cognisable complaint was lodged with police against Srinivas Shetty, the owner of the eatery, for defamation (Section 501 of Indian Penal Code) by the Youth Congress members. A spokesperson of the Congress party's youth wing claimed that their protest of the restaurant was peaceful and it was not them but the police that shut down the restaurant, after their complaint.

The eatery has been reopened after the owner promised police that he will no longer circulate these bills. Being Cynical blog reacted to the decision:

Brilliant chronicles, I must say. We will loot the nation till the last penny and at the same time we won’t allow anyone to talk about our loot at all.

Blogger Maheep Singh questioned why Indians have to pay tax on entertainment, luxury or leisure:

Is it because we are a poor nation and the ones who can afford entertainment should pay a tax?

Meera Damji (@MeeMeera): @sa_lil They’re open and have got rid of the line on the receipt. Image via Twitpic

Blogger SM wrote that the message was an excellent idea to protest against the government. However, Vidyut at AamJanata didn't consider the Aditi Restaurant's footnote as free speech. The blogger explained:

* Official stationery of a business is different from your personal blog or Twitter feed. It expresses the view of the business. If the view is one that makes a factually incorrect statement – however deserved the anger underlying it may be – then it is defamation. [..]

* This logic of writing whatever you want on your own bill does not work when a customer who has already eaten food has no way of avoiding your bill. You have a political statement to make, make it upfront.

The news was trending on Twitter. Here are some examples:

Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39), president of Janata Party tweets:

Journalist, political analyst and founder of open-magazine Indian Exponent Ishaan Mohan Bagga (@IndianExponent) comments:

Blogger and entrepreneur Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) says:

Blogger Atanu Dey (@atanudey) praises Aditi restaurant:

Political Commentor, blogger & writer Ashish kedia (@kediashish) says:

Damodar Shenoy (@itsdamslife) criticises the government:

Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) sums it in a few words:

Vidyut concludes:

If Congress workers attacked restaurant and forced it to close, they were wrong. If they only protested and cops shut down the restaurant, then I think Congress was well within their rights with their protest. Protest is a fundamental right in India anyway, regardless of how we treat protesters.

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