NEW DELHI – India's parliament erupted in anger on Wednesday after television footage showed a Hindu lawmaker apparently trying to force-feed a Muslim man during the fasting month of Ramazan.
Opposition Congress MPs launched raucous protests in the parliament, saying the lawmaker had violated the man's religious beliefs by aggressively trying to shove a chapati or piece of bread in his mouth. “It is absolutely reprehensible and should be condemned in the strongest possible manner,” Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari later told reporters.
The lawmaker is from the Shiv Sena, a key ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party which swept to power at May elections. The incident is likely to fan concern among Muslims and other religious minorities over Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The footage, aired on national television, showed a group of Shiv Sena lawmakers confronting a catering supervisor last Thursday in New Delhi.
The lawmakers were complaining about the quality of food offered at a guest house for officials from the state of Maharashtra, where Shiv Sena is based. The footage showed lawmaker Rajan Baburao Vichare attempting several times to push the bread into the supervisor’s mouth as a crowd gathered.
Vichare said he was not trying to break the supervisor's religious fast. Instead he was trying to demonstrate that the chapatis being served were too hard. “This was only a protest against the quality of food and other arrangements at the Maharashtra Sadan (guest house) where all the important dignitaries come and stay,” Vichare told Headlines Today news channel.
"The canteen management here is in a bad state. The chapatis they made didn't even break, the quality of vegetables and pulses is bad. Making this a religious issue doesn't make sense," he said. The catering company's general manager said the supervisor had been deeply pained and hurt over the incident as religious sentiments were attached.
The manager said the lawmakers had marched into the dining hall last week flanked by television crews and threw kitchen items around. “They also issued physical threats to the kitchen and service staff while using highly objectionable language,” the manager said in an email to a Maharashtra government official, which was obtained by the Indian Express newspaper.
Shiv Sena, which has a history of intimidation and creating unrest against minorities, won 18 seats at the election and is now the sixth biggest party in the parliament.