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July 21st, 2011
04:22 PM ET

Hindu diners sue Indian restaurant for selling meat samosas

By Moni Basu and Chelsea Bailey, CNN

(CNN) - A small tray of vegetable samosas costs $35 at the Mughal Express restaurant. But one particular tray, sold to strict Hindu vegetarians, might end up costing the Edison, New Jersey, restaurant a whole lot more.

The Hindu customers said the restaurant served them meat samosas, harming them emotionally and spirituality. A state appellate court ruled Wednesday that they can sue for the cost of travel to India to purify their souls.

Two summers ago, Durgesh Gupta and Sharad Agrawal walked into the popular Mughal Express on Oak Tree Road, in the heart of Edison's Indian community, and ordered samosas. They were strict vegetarians, they said in making sure there was no meat in their order of the traditional Indian snack.

Gupta said a restaurant employee assured them that it did not make meat samosas, according to court documents. A half-hour later, the two men picked up a tray labeled "VEG samosas."

But after Gupta and his group of 16 people began eating the triangular deep-fried pastries, they grew concerned they were eating meat. When they went to return the uneaten samosas, the restaurant said it had made a mistake, court documents showed.

Yes, the vegetarians had consumed meat and believed they were complicit in inflicting death and injury to God's creatures.

They sued Mughal Express but a lower court deemed they did not have a case - until this week, when the appellate court reversed that decision.

What the 16 Hindus want is compensation for a trip to the Hindu holy town of Haridwar, India, where the Ganges begins its downward flow to the ocean. There, they want to take dips in the river and, by Hindu belief, cleanse their souls of sin.

And they want the restaurant to pay for it all.

K. Raja Bhattacharya, the lawyer for the vegetarian diners, and David Novack, an attorney representing the restaurant, both declined comment because the case is ongoing.

In 2002, McDonald's Corp. paid $10 million to Hindu, vegetarian and other groups in order to settle a lawsuit against the company for failing to disclose that beef flavoring was used in French fries.

The company began advertising the fries were vegetarian after they switched to vegetable oil to reduce cholesterol, but the fries contained small amounts of beef flavoring added at the processing plant.

But the McDonald’s case may have been more compelling because it was not just an isolated incident of accidental service of meat, said Suhag Shukla, legal council for the Hindu American Foundation.

The Mughal Express customers who sued thought it otherwise. An Indian restaurant should have been more sensitive to this issue, they argued.

Still, some Hindus felt the diners were taking things too far. They doubted whether there was any karmic debt associated with the consumption of meat.

Pradip Kothari, president of the Indo-American Cultural Society in Edison, suggested the diners could easily go to a temple to cleanse their souls.

Indian-Americans have much to be grateful for in America, he said, and the lawsuit takes advantage of a U.S. judicial system that has afforded them individual protections.

"I understand how they feel," Kothari said. "I myself am a Hindu. But this is hypocrisy of the law."

And of religion, he said. "If you are a true religious person, God teaches you to forgive."

He did not know the diners, he said, but they should be ashamed for bringing a bad name not just to Hindus but to the
Indian-American community.

As for Mughal Express, there were no non-vegetarian samosas on the online menu Thursday.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Food • Hinduism • New Jersey

soundoff (1,722 Responses)
  1. amy

    i am vegan and i spend my money in vegan restaurants. although one would THINK that indian food service would be more aware of the veg issue, mistakes definitely happen and veg'ns who want to stay pure should only go to vegetarian establishments.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • eastwest

      you are right!

      July 22, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  2. Maitreya

    As a Hindu with several relatives who are vegetarians, I can tell you that a real vegetarian in India is very careful about his or her source of food, what it is cooked in and how it is prepared. Any knife used to cut meat or fish, and any utensil used to cook them, are kept separate, and is never used to cook vegetarian food. They also never eat at restaurants because of the fear of contamination – unless they live in a completely vegetarian city like Haridwar or Hrishikesh. They think it is better to be safe than be sorry. If these NJ people eat at restaurants, they are not strict vegetarians, and at the back of their minds they know that at some point in their lives in the US, they have unknowlingly ingested meat products. Where sprinkling some Ganges water over their body would have purified their dark and devious souls, they are being spiteful and unforgiving – not how we define a Hindu. I am ashamed at their behaviour, their pretense at being a devout vegetarian and of how they are taking advantage of a small business when the economy is so bad. If they were so fastidous about their vegetarianism, they should have had their meals prepared at a Hindu vegetarian caterer, many of whom do business in their neighborhood.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Sava

      This is EXACTLY what I was going to say. I Am Vaishnava myself and also Veg.
      They do not even have to go to the Ganges, Just sprinkling some of its water on themselves would do and all temples keep some on hand.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Chuck L

      Thank you!! Well said. Now the State of NJ should counter sue for wasting tax payer's money.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Daughter of a strict Hindu Vegetarian

      Excellent post Maitreya. Although we were all raised in the U.S., my mother is a very strict Hindu vegetarian; separate cooking utensils, fasting 3 days a week, the whole 9. My dad even cooks all meat dishes in a kitchen built separately from the main house. She will not eat at restaurants, not even to order a vegan dish because she doesn't trust it. She won't really eat at someone else's house unless they're aware of her devotion to our religion and make a point to inform her and other vegetarians that their meals were made prior to any meat dishes being prepared. My mom knows she can only control her immediate choices and should she accidentally eat meat such as what happened in this case that it's not the end of the world! She knows God will forgive her and anyone who deliberately served her the food.

      The people in this story are deplorable and bad Hindus in my opinion. And seriously, how much did they tuck away before they realized it was meat?! The smell alone should have been suspect. Heck, the first hint of grease on their palates should have made them spit out the food. Perhaps they're suing to purify their souls of their OWN guilt at having enjoyed the food and not stopping soon enough.

      And before anyone thinks Hindus such as my mom are backwards, non-English speaking un-Americans that should return to their country of origin, let me say that my mom is an AMERICAN career woman with great respect for our country and people of all faiths. She gladly hand-made the baptismal gown for my daughter because I married a Catholic and we wished for our child to be baptised. In her mind, God is God is God. It's faith that's important and there's already too much of that lost in this world.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  3. Human

    These bums give all vegetarians a bad name. One bite into the samosa should have alerted them that those were not vegetarian. Being them back and get the vegetarian ones. SO HOW DO HINDUS CLEANSE THE FILTH OF YOUR MINDS – dip in the dirty river Ganges won't fix that!

    July 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  4. U'Waana M'Deek

    So they want a trip to India to cleanse themselves in the holy river...are they planning on crapping in it to rid themselves of the meat?

    Religion is truely the root of all evil.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Gabbar Singh

      Religion and god are the biggest lie and business invented by man. Period.

      July 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  5. YayMeat

    Oh come off it. it's not like the restaraunt intentionally fed you meat and tried to cover it up. I'm certain they were apologetic, explained that it was a mistake, and stated the meal was on the house. It's not like the chefs were in the back saying "Hey, let's dirty up the souls of all Hindi customers who request vegitarian meals and slip meat in whatever they order."

    July 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  6. The End of the World

    Welcome to the new world order....Mistakes, accidents, and errors are now outlawed... You must be perfect at all times or be sued into the ground till you have nothing, by lawyers who now are the rulers of everything. Lawyers don't care who wins this case, they get paid either way. The government will now write a 200 page law so this never happens again, and no more innocent people have to mistakenly eat meat and be cursed forever into the seven circles of hell; unless they get a big cash settlement, then God will forgive them for eating meat accidentally. Cash = Heaven.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  7. Mark

    ALTERNATE SOLUTIONS:

    1. 16 one-way tickets. If this is that important, they can pay their own way back.
    2. The restaurant should arrange to have 16 gallons of Ganges River water shipped to New Jersey. It can't be any more polluted that what you find at the Shore.
    3. 16 1lb boxes of Ex-Lax or Metamucil. That should clean the meat out of them, and they will have time to pray while they are on the ceramic altar.

    Seriously folks. I can see suing for some type of penalty. But there is a line in the sand that defines common sense and this is so far beyond the line as to rule out any chance of sense. Remember the judge who sued for millions when the dry cleaner lost his "lucky" pants?

    July 22, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  8. zzzz

    real dumb. we have nose. cant they smell meat before they ate? Or nowadays veggies smells like meat. or they do not have nose.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  9. Sunil

    I am religious and respect everyone's belief but asking for India trip for cleansing is definitely cheap. It also undermines the Hindu belief that god is everywhere. Again your soul is clean, so biting into something you don't eat, does not corrupt your religious following. So please for the sake of that almighty take back your lawsuit and forget what happened. That itself is your good karma.
    Your faith should not be blind and do not give a wrong impression about Hinduism. So go to a local temple nearby and pray. Didn't you guys have built temples in the US, so you don't have to go India? So why now?

    It was not even the owner who served the food, but the genuine error of their employee. I am Hindu too. But one thing I know following any religion blindly without the logical thinking, makes your soul fundamentalist. Your home and heart itself is temple and you don't need to visit Kashi for any more cleansing. You need to clean your thoughts. Being vegetarian has nothing to do with religion. In the age, where Brahmins eating rare steaks, fish and meat, you and I know that this lawsuit is no more than a greedy nature of us humans. No wonder It was thrown out of window initially

    July 22, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Jade

      Well said. I have so much respect for you. Seems like you are as TRUE and HONEST as HINDUISM ITSELF.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Gabbar Singh

      We are human beings.Worst creature on the face of this earth.

      July 22, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  10. Paul

    I work at a large department store in the Men's Suits Department. Can i just tell you how these people really are? They purchase a suit and return it 2-3 days later for a full refund. Unfortunately the store policy states we have to take it back. Now my comment to you is they are very very cheap individuals. They wear the suit for a special ocassion and bring it back, not only with that "special odor" but they lie and say they did not wear it. Trust me, they wore it. Sickening.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • PaulMcCaffrey1978

      "These people"? Because ALL Indian people are like the penny-pinching IT workers who frequent your store? Do you realize that the Indians you deal with in this country on a daily basis represent a very specific subset of Indian people, namely, highly specialized and oftentimes narrow-minded engineers?

      White hypocrisy (n.) – when a white person does something undesirable, it is attributed to individual personality. When a non-white person does something undesirable, it is condemned as representative of the entire group.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Paul

      It is what it is. "These People" are cheap and want something for nothing PERIOD!

      July 22, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  11. rmarma

    the people suing have just become americanized in wanting something for nothing – the problem it seems is with the judge who agreed with the free vacation – bet it only took one bite to know it was meat – my wife and daughter are vegetarians and they usually open it up when in doubt – the other fifteen probably jumped on for the free trip – can they prove who ate what – maybe we can send them to that holy site jail to atone for the sin of ripping off restaurants

    July 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  12. J-Bird

    When they bathe they are washing off and killing God's creatures too... have they never stepped on an ant before?

    July 22, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  13. Pilgrim1

    Every time I take the milk carton out of the fridge, I smell the milk. Why? Because I once took a sip of bad milk.

    While the restaurant clearly made a mistake, it was just that ... a mistake. The dinners had an obligation to check the food before they ate it. If they failed to check, then they are not very observant of their faith!

    After all, all you have to do to check a samosa is to cut it in half and look inside!

    July 22, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  14. TF

    While I think the expense was rather high. As the world globalizes we need to be mindful about other traditions and religions. Especially for this case where Hindu's went to an Indian restaurant and carefully asked to have food with non-meat in it. You would think the restaurant owners would know about the importance to some Hindu's about eating meat, and be careful not to serve it.
    Say you are allergic to gluten. You go to a shop that is supposed to have gluten free products, you purchase a product double check to make sure it is gluten free and they all say Yes, it is gluten free. Then when you eat it you realize it isn't and you get sick.
    It is the same thing, the only difference is the illness is spiritual, if you believe in it or not isn't the issue, the victims are suffering.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  15. Pete

    Shut Up You Stink!

    July 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  16. Nadir

    Hello Mr. Patel: Now we know who these people are!!! That is what I was trying to identify. When you say Indian community what kind f people are included. The Indian community which participates to join the Indian Army or those who run Seven Elevens?

    July 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  17. fox

    We have became the land of tolerance to all people's sort of madness and extreme demands, at the same time that less and less true American values are respected. Restaurants make mistakes, just like when you order salad with thousand islands dressing and it comes with blue cheese. And now simple mistakes like this have to become a whole religious fight and cannot be forgiven? If you don't like our system go back to India! I am sure it is muuuuuuch cleaner and nicer than here! not really.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • NC

      fox:
      Why are you just blaming them? Lots of Americans sue over nothing.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  18. sp2011

    At least they did not sue for millions or some outrageous figure as is often the norm here in the US for "extreme mental agony" which is also a very subjective interpretation. They wanted payment for a trip to the Ganges, to take a dip, to purify their " soul" and this is consistent with their beliefs and practices. Even if you don't agree with the Ganges thing, their demands are far less outrageous than many of the frivolous lawsuits solely for money that we see here.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • NC

      Well said!

      July 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  19. San

    Looks like this is a scam by people who like to love to travel on others money. Check this link

    http://articles.latimes.com/1998/jan/24/local/me-11551

    If these people are so cautious about veg food, first reason, why do they go to a shop where they serve meet as well? There are lot of Indan food places where they serve strictly vegetarian food.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  20. NJ Resident

    I know these Indian guys live in NJ with 10+ guys live in one Apartment, coming here on H1B.

    Don't waste NJ state money, go back to INDIA, answer from call centers and be Veggie.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.