This photo is making the rounds on social media, being shared as an example of discrimination against minorities.

The general reaction has been that of outrage at what is seemingly a blatant instance of segregation between communities at the Kulaura Railway Station in Sylhet.

In reality however, these tea stalls are simply a remnant of the colonial times when kitchens for Muslims and Hindus were separated.

Dhaka Tribune found the shops and interviewed the Hindu stall-owner Dilip Kumar Pal, who said, “Bhai, I have been running this stall since I was young. My father and uncles have run it from the days of the British raj. The stall next door is owned by my friend Nur Mia, whose father opened the stall. Our fathers added the religion to the stall name so people who felt the need for religious purity (shuchibayu) could have tea where they felt comfortable. But that does not mean it is true today. I get customers of all religions – all castes and creed.”

A facebook user claiming to be an eye-witness pointed out the mistake on an inflammatory post made using this photo.

Literature about the segregation of kitchens in colonial Bengal is widespread. Culinary Culture in Colonial India: A Cosmopolitan Platter and the Middle Class a book by Utsa Ray focuses on the eating habits of middle-class Bengal, and reviews existing literature. In Adarsha Hindu Hotel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, the protagonist gets the tender for a government-run Hindu hotel at the Ranaghat Railway Station in West Bengal. An outfit of the same name operates to this day in a street across the platform. In his 1966 book Rekhachitra, journalist Abul Fazal writes, “I once suffered from stomach trouble after eating chicken at a Hindu friend’s house. However, it is difficult to ascertain whether my illness was caused by bad cooking or the fact that the chicken was not a sacrificial meat. I came from a family of Maulavis (Islamic religious preachers). Hence this prejudice was not abnormal.”

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