By Ashok Kumar
Sydney, 01 March, 2017
Air India appears to be dragged into an unnecessary controversy over serving Halal meal to its passengers. A community organisation claiming support of various other bodies has written to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju, and also Indian High Commissioner to Australia Dr. A.M. Gondane and Indian Consulate in Sydney accusing Air India of serving Halal meals to its Hindu passengers on its flights.
The campaigners want Air India to label Hindu non-Veg meals as “Non-Halal”, in the similar pattern as “Moslem” meals state that it is “Halal”. They seem to be oblivious to the practice by businesses everywhere to label Halal food items with the word “Halal”, but use no label, on the items which are not Halal. The IST is not aware of any airline labelling non-veg meals, which are not of Halal type as “non-Halal”.
This correspondent spoke with various Indian Australian Community members and various travel agents. All laughed it off, and said, “if it is not labelled Halal, then it means, by default, that it is non-Halal. Why there is this controversy and what’s the agenda?” All felt that if the campaigners had a problem, they should have contacted Air India offices first.
Following this controversy, the Air India Public Relations Officer Mr. GP Rao told Times of India that they have been serving ‘Halal’ meat only when requested by a passenger. Otherwise, the non-vegetarian food was normally ‘non-Halal’. It is common sense that unless specified the meat by default is non-Halal. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/hindu-sikh-bodies-write-to-pm-on-halal-meat-in-ai/articleshow/57134905.cms
Moslems have a right to have Halal meals just as non-Moslems have a right to have non-Halal meals. Air India is actually doing a great service by providing meals catering to various distinct religious groups. It serves Hindu meal (Non-veg) HNML for Hindus, Kosher meals KSML for Jews, Jain meal JNML for Jains, Moslem meal MOML for Moslems and vegetarian meal VGML for non-meat eaters. It also has Asian Veg meal AVML for Non-Indian Asians.
Many people this correspondent has spoken with feel that some of these groups are using Air India as a punching bag for their ill-feeling against Air India, because Air India is India’s national carrier and owned by Government of India.
The main campaigner, Mr Bawa Singh Jagdev of the National Sikh Council of Australia told SBS Punjabi that Air India is forcing the dietary preference of Muslims on all other passengers, which appears to be based on no objective evidence. Mr. Jagdev claimed endorsement of his views by various community organisations like, Hindu Council of Australia (HCA), Punjabi Council of Australia (PCA), Sri Guru Ravi Dass Sabha, United Indian Associations, Gujarati Samaj of NSW, GOPIO and Nepalese Australian Association. Ironically, many of them denied that they ever consented to support the issue.
The IST had e mailed to all organisations mentioned above. While Mr Bawa Singh Jagdev chose to attack this correspondent with a lengthy and irrelevant response, some others are yet to respond at the time of writing this report.
Mr. Prabhjot Sandhu, an Executive Committee member of Punjabi Council of Australia said,” I, being one of the executive members can confirm that this matter was never ever discussed in the Executive Committee. Punjabi Council of Australia is a democratic organisation and all policy decisions are made with opinion of majority members. If any of our members consented to this campaign, they may have consented in general and in their individual capacity. I would urge you to ask the campaigner about evidence of support by PCA on this issue.”
Mr. Rajwant Singh, another leader of Punjabi Council of Australia in his e mail wrote, “Punjabi Council of Australia has not released any such statement. We have clarified the same on SBS website. We don’t want to enter into any debate on this issue as we feel people’s eating choices are their individual choices. Anyone not sure about the food being offered should opt for vegetarian meals.”
Mr. Noel Lal, Executive Vice President of GOPIO International categorically said in his e mail that “GOPIO is not supporting this (campaign).” He confirmed that he received an email from Mr Jagdev, but did not see any merit in this and refused to support.
Former GOPIO member, Ms. Lucky Singh, who is with another faction of GOPIO denied to have given consent for inclusion of GOPIO’s name in the Halal meals controversy. In her email to this office, she said,” I Have NOTHING to do with the GOPIO as I’m NOT A MEMBER of this organisation since last 4 years. So the question doesn’t arise of giving ANY consent to ANYONE.”
Many in the Indian Australian community feel that there is an attempt to give communal colour to the whole controversy. They feel it is a totally unwarranted controversy, based on no fact or basis.
President of Federation of Indian Associations 0f NSW and Sydney Cardiologist, Dr Yadu Singh said in his blog that these allegations have been levelled for cheap publicity.
“Where does it say that Hindu non-veg or general non-veg meal in Air India has Halal meat?”
“I travelled with Air India recently and enquired about it as a matter of curiosity. My meal was of my preferred non-Halal type. Air India does serve Halal food to those who request it (like other airlines), and there is nothing wrong in it, but does not thrust it on the throats of anybody else,” he said in a statement.
SBS Punjabi quoted him “I have spoken with the main campaigner, and I have direct knowledge that some of the associations quoted in the article have not even agreed to have their names there. Their names were added to give the campaign a serious look.”
Following is the link to sbs punjabi report http://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/punjabi/en/article/2017/02/15/australian-hindus-sikhs-furious-over-only-%E2%80%98halal%E2%80%99-food-air-india-flights
The IST has sent several email reminders to Hindu Council of Australia (Dr Nihal Agar, Mr Sanjiv Bhakri, Mr Ashwani Sharma, Mr Bhagwat Chauhan), United Indian Associations (John Kennedy, Jaydatt Nayak, Dr Nagamma Prakash, Ms Sue Advani, Mr Suresh Gowda, Mr Sunil Ranadive), Gujarati Samaj of NSW (Mr Jaydatt Nayak) and others, seeking their response to following questions, but no response has yet arrived.
The IST has been contacted by community members expressing their annoyance and concerns against groups like UIA, Gujarati Samaj of NSW, Nepalese Australian Association and Hindu Council of Australia whose leaders have joined an anti-Air India campaign, which appears to be a surrogate punching bag for a campaign against India, either willingly or unwillingly.
About the author
Mr. Ashok Kumar is an accomplished journalist with over 36 years’ experience in various capacities in the profession. He has worked in some of the leading national dailies of India including, The Hindustan Times as a Chief Sub-editor and at the Fairfax Community Newspapers in Australia as reporter-cum sub-editor at Blacktown Sun. He had a brief stint at the University of Western Sydney as a tutor in journalism.