Chunnu was a carpenter before the lockdown, Rafiq a scrap dealer and Mudassar had a roadside barber shop. After the lockdown, unable to do their traditional work, they overnight took to selling vegetables.
But they had not taken into account the communal virus which has over- taken the city of ‘Tehjeeb’ and ‘Tunde Kabab’. Many Hindus are now reluc- tant to buy from him, admits a bewildered Rafiq. They also make it clear that because he is a Muslim, he is not welcome to sell.
“They approach me with the greeting, ‘Ram, Ram’ and if I respond, they probe further about my caste,” he says with a wry smile.
Hindu vendors have started proclaiming their identity with ‘Hanuman Ji’s flag’ on their cart. “What do potato, onion or that matter fruits have to do with religion,” he asks, “I changed my occupation. Do I change my religion too?” Chunnu earned Rs 400- Rs 500 from the carpenter’s workshop, which had to be shut down after the lockdown.
“I stayed at home for a few days but when savings were running out, a friend advised that I start selling vegetables,” he confides. He now earns Rs 200 per day and pays Rs 50 as rent for the cart. “I am lucky to be earning something at least but I do not know for how long,” he reflects.
Rafiq, the scrap dealer, would go around purchasing old newspapers and other scrap including coolers and discarded machines. “I know these areas very well. I was in the scrap business for over 10 years. People knew me in these areas. But familiarity has not helped.
“Many Hindus hesitate to purchase fruits and vegetables from us. It is not that all Hindus are alike but some do ask for our names before purchasing vegetables. Some ask `Musalmaan hai kya’ before walking away,” says Mudassar.
Some video clips have gone viral asking vendors to come with their identi- ty cards. In another video people are shown discussing that they would patro- nise only Hindu vendors.
Senior journalist Saba Naqvi posted this video on social media
Ved Prakash Sachchan, state president of Antarashtriya Hindu Parishad (International Hindu Council) admits he is among those who had given a call, asking Hindus not to patronise Muslim traders and vendors. “Don’t we have Hindu traders?
We have seen videos of Muslims spitting on goods before selling them to customers. Forget about religion, this is also very unhygienic,” he says sanctimoniously.
There are other, saner Hindus who have made videos asking people not to communalise trade and business and not to divide the society. But fear of social sanction and militant elements and partly the aggressive resistance by the existing vendors seem to have swayed many.
Chunnu is not taking chances though. He wears an orange coloured ban- dana while Mudassar gives his name as Shiv, if anyone asks. The local police are unaware of the churning. “No one came to us with any complaint. We should get a complaint first before we can act,” the local police inspector said with a shrug.