Thursday, March 26, 2009
Bigotry Bedevils Silicon Valley's Indian Eatery
Tamil Hindu operators of Vaigai, a South Indian restaurant in Sunnyvale, CA, that serves the ever popular dosas, are facing charges of anti-Muslim bias brought by two Muslim cooks.
In a lawsuit filed in late January in Santa Clara County Superior Court, Abdul Rahuman, 44, and Nowsath Malik Shaw, 39, both of San Jose, allege they were harassed for being Muslim by Vaigai's two owners, a manager and a top chef — a violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News.
According to the complaint, restaurant personnel regularly used ethnic slurs such as "Thulakkan," a pejorative term for Muslims in Sri Lankan Tamil dialect, to harass the two Muslim cooks. Also according to the complaint, restaurant staff were encouraged to call the plaintiffs by names such as "Rajan" or "Nagraj" under the pretext of not wanting to upset customers who might stop patronizing the restaurant if they heard the men referred to by their Muslim names.
The complaint also states that the plaintiffs were forced to participate in a religious ceremony despite telling the owners it was against their Islamic beliefs. The complaint alleges that the restaurant owners insisted on their participation and proceeded to smear a powder on their foreheads, making the religious marking known as a "tilak."
Named in the complaint as defendants are: co-owners Vijay Anand (who also goes by Vijayanand Krishnan) and Shridar Nataraj, Manager Sudakar Jothinathan, and Chef Balaguru, whose first name is never mentioned.
"These incidents clearly violated the Muslim workers' rights and the treatment they received speaks of a level of intolerance that is deeply disturbing," said CAIR-SFBA Programs and Outreach Director Agnes Chong. "There is a need for communities to be respectful of similarities as well as differences of other faiths, and it is all the more important in the workplace."
As in many other Indian states, Tamil Nadu, the southern state the restaurant owners originally come from, has also seen instances of increasing bigotry and violence against Muslims in recent years. In a piece titled "Terrifying Testimonies", Indian writer Yoginder Sikand has documented cases of imprisonment on trumped up charges and police violence against Muslims in many parts of India. One of the cases he talks about is that of Yakoob Khan and his friend, Tamil Muslims in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Sikand writes as follows:
"27 year-old Yakoob Khan from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, was arrested at the age of 17, accused of being involved in the Coimbatore blasts in 1998, a charge that he vehemently denies. 'On the day of the blast I attended class at the Industrial Training Institute where I was enrolled, and when I was returning home I heard about the blasts'. In the wake of the blasts, the police went on a rampage, indiscriminately picking up Muslim youth. Some days later, Yakoob found himself in prison, where he was to spend almost the next ten years, much of it in solitary confinement in a small cage- like cell. 'I was accused of being in possession of explosive material, and of being associated with the Islamic group Al-Ummah, although I had never even heard its name.' In addition to routine torture, while in jail he was often abused for his religion. 'I would be beaten up if I wanted to say namaz. My torturers would tell me to face them while praying, rather than the Kaaba. They tore my Quran, and while beating me they would scream "Bharat Mata ki Jai"'. 'They ruined ten precious years of my life, my youth, falsely branding me as a terrorist', he says."
"Yakoob Khan's friend, 34 year-old Shiv Kumar, alias Abdul Hamid, is a Hindu convert to Islam. He eked out as livelihood selling old newspapers and utensils for recycling. He was accused of being involved in the Coimbatore blasts, a charge that he denies. The police forced him to sign a blank piece of paper which they later filled out themselves, threatening him that if he refused to do so they would arrest his family as well. He was remanded to the Coimbatore jail on the basis of this forced 'confession' and his repeated applications for bails were rejected. Because he was the sole earner in his family, his wife was forced to beg in order to survive. He was finally acquitted only recently, after almost ten years in incarceration. 'I was mercilessly tortured in prison. I was constantly told that if I had not become a Muslim and had remained a Hindu I would not have been beaten like this', he says."
The Mercury News quotes Mani Manivannan, former president of the Bay Area Tamil Manram, an association of 500 members who hail from Tamil Nadu as saying, "Tamil Nadu used to be one of the most secular states in the Indian union. They went out of their way to make sure people were treated the same. Muslims used to feel like full citizens."
Unfortunately, Manivannan added, the growing rift between Hindus and Muslims in India, has now spilled outside the country.
"That disease has spread to the U.S. as well," said Manivannan, a Hindu who had not heard about the case until called by the Mercury News. "Not a lot. But enough people get influenced by the news in India."
Still, Manivannan said there are plenty of Hindus and Muslims who get along. He pointed how everyone he knows, no matter their background, is extremely proud of AR Rahman, a Muslim from Tamil Nadu who made history by becoming the first Indian to win two Oscars for his music in the movie, "Slumdog Millionaire".
India's Guantanamos and Abu Ghraibs
Muslims--India's New Untouchables