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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. Thinker Eater

    Can they not order Ganga Jal (Water from the holy Ganga) by post. Also, Indian restaurants can keep such vessels (they are nice and sealed) handy just in case they are required. Either way this case is a precedent and "court of record", so in the future rather than charging customers insurance, they could just charge the cost of Ganga Jal.

    July 23, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  2. Raghz

    Please dnt start Sueing .... i know in a country where beef ,pork, chicken is popular ..we need to adjust . Sue means the Somasa price will be 2 $ plus insurance cost 100 $ == 102 $ ..Check the medical cost here
    .... treatment -10 $ + Saving doctor from Sueing - 275 $ . 🙁

    July 22, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  3. Amrullah Yousafzai in Mingora, Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP)

    Who needs Samosas when you can have gau jal, the best drink the world and the official national drink of the ugly black hanuman-faced HIV infected dravidian bhaRATi ramrams.

    Watch this video to see some black bhaRATis collecting gau jal......

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1_HMQJS5bY

    July 22, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • RS

      Well you are not comparing the cow urine with some people drinking hourse urine in medications in developed countries ... Also the person in the Video seemed like a Sanyasi or bachelor faithfull to doing service to humanity. He is not a terrorist or polygamy with many wifes ...:-)

      July 22, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  4. RS

    I feel the vegetarian's did not sue it properly or the lawer did not advise them properly. The damage the restaurant caused to the customer is huge in this case. They should have sued for compensation for insult and hurting the feeling of vegetarian customer in this case. Surely the damage is more than just the travel expense. The restuarant could have just given that amount with an apology. Not sure why restaurent is fighting the case. The customers are really asking for a petty compensation. It feels as if eating meet is mistake equivalent to just $1500 bucks. Also on the comment about some one taking the advantage of legal system here, well, the expectation on quality is more here. It does not come free. It comes with expense. Here businesses do not pay that money from their pocket, it comes from insurance again

    July 22, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • MM

      Thank RS. You put it in right words. What hurts me here is that owner himself is Hindu and Hindu know how strictly vegetarians follow the religion. In most of the parties or in need of eating out, vegatrian suffer every single day, just eat Salad, bread/butter etc. We go to Indian Restaurant with the trust that our religious trust will be honored! and if this happens, owner must be punished! this will also make others very careful about honoring diversity, which is the seed of America!

      July 22, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • RS

      when you go to indian non-vegetarian restaurant, you need to ask whether the fired items are fried in the same oil where meat items are fried with. Do not take it for granted. The samosas may not contain meat in it, but they might have fried in the same oil. In some of the indian restaurants even the Paneer is fried in the same oil where meat is fried when you order any paneer item. This is for the information of Vegetarians.

      July 22, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  5. AndyTheGameInventor

    The issue here is not whether the restaurant made a mistake but how much liability is reasonable for a mistake.

    True 1st-person story: I choose not to eat pork for religious reasons, and at a restaurant recently I took a bite of something that clearly tasted like a piece of bacon. The waiter confirmed that the chef added bacon to the dish, and apologized that it wasn't mentioned on the menu. I accepted the apology and left it at that.

    Now I won't suggest that my level of discomfort should set the standard and that anyone who is more upset than I was is being unreasonable. But should there be limitless liability regardless of the price paid? A restaurant has to deal with any liability for food poisoning, for example, and can work the insurance cost into their prices.

    In another true 1st-person account, my father returned from his first (and only) trip to China. This was in the days before digital photography – and the photo place accidentally destroyed all of his film – leaving him no photos. Yes, we were VERY upset at them – but would paying for a another trip to China for him and my mom be reasonable compensation? How about the salary they would have lost by taking such a second trip? Is that part of the loss? Should a photo developer put up a sign saying "local photos developped for $10/roll, international photos $50/roll?" because there is more risk. (All photo devlopers disclaimned responsibility beyond the cost of the unexposed film in those days).

    So in this case it seems to me that the restaurant should not be liable for the cost of a trip to India for 16 people, but should have to provide some compensation, perhaps a two free dinners for each affected person.

    July 22, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  6. Nabila

    I like samosas, veg non veg both.
    Yam. Yam.
    Please don't push it too hard I don't want the Resturants stop making it.

    July 22, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  7. JOSHI

    YES, THE CUSTOMERS ARE RIGHT. THEIR RELIGION FEELING AND SOUL IS HURT. THEY HAVE A CHOICE WHERE TO CLEANSE IT. GAGA BEING BEST PLACE TO CLEANSE THE SOUL, THE HINDUS ARE NOT AT ALL WRONG IN CLAIMING THIS. I AM ALSO WONDERING WHY SOME HINDUS IN STEAD OF SUPPORTING THIS CAUSE, CRITISE THEEI HINDU BROTHERS FOR TAKING THE ISSUE SO FAR. THE HOTEL OWNER WILL BE NOW MORE CAREFUL IN FUTURE.

    July 22, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  8. David Johnson

    WoW! This is sorta simple.

    There are no gods. If you need to be purified...take a shower.

    Cheers!

    July 22, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  9. SK

    If every time I did this, I would be retired! This has happened so many times even after telling the waitress that strict vegetarian and they have bought food with beef. Even my 10 year old doesn't eat anything without examining! So, the best thing to do is check yourself when you order from any restaurant. Now-a-days whether I eat at Indian or non-Indian restaurants, I don't take anything for granted even the Naan served in most Indian Restaurants have eggs in them. It's sad how Indian Restaurants are deviating from pure vegetarianism concept!

    That said, I don't see any hypocrisy in suing. If one case like this happens then the restaurants will abide. Look at McDonalds story, now every fast food restaurant displays the ingredients in their web site. So, law suits like this has to happen with limit of liability.

    Regarding cleansing in Ganges and stuff, it's purely mental. If your heart is pure and you didn't mean harm then nothing done wrong. It's the intention behind action that is binding as Karma. Not the actions themselves.

    July 22, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  10. Veg

    If they are so strict why did they have to go to a restaurant that serves meat also . I know many veg,etarians who are stricter then I am and they go only to vegetarian restaurant . Even when they travel they carry home made food with them. The onus of maintaining your belief is on you and not on other people.
    Also did all sixteen take the bite at the same time? If not then why did not one of them warn the others. They are just looking for a free ride

    July 22, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  11. raj

    I am a Hindu and read this story while eating a grill cheese from In N Out...........huh wait its a Double Double?!?!?..........DAMN GOOD!

    July 22, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  12. Lets all Think

    Not in New Jersy

    July 22, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  13. Lets all Think

    I wonder if Mr. Gupta and his group of 16 people have a leather belt, shoes, wallet, purse, couch, seats in their cars…. I guess that would be fine

    And what about …. The Gray-Nicolls leather County 5.5-oz cricket ball offers you a club-quality, 4-piece design or any other leather covered cricket ball

    All of the cattle that were slaughter for in the name of the beloved world cup Cricket team India…. O.M.G.

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

    Well what about all of the other leather goods....

    July 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Niles

      Most leather good in India are made of animals that die of natural causes.

      July 22, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  14. Niles

    "It was an accident". "It was a mistake". OK...if ever a surgeon leaves a knife or a pair of scissors inside you by mistake, just accept his apology. Do not sue.

    July 22, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • DC

      You have to have damages. B-I-G difference in the damages in your examples. This lawsuit is preposterous.

      July 22, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Niles

      @DC – You will not get it as you are not thinking from an orthodox Hindu's perspective. There was damage done here.

      July 22, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  15. Lets all Think

    I want to know how such strict vegetarians get so darn fat.

    July 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • I thought

      Ever heard of cheese?

      July 22, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Veg

      The same way you do . Too many calories and not enough exercise

      July 22, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  16. SJA

    According to Hindu theology, if you cross the Ocean (Kala pani), you loose your religion. If those guys are so devoted Hindu. They should not have left India in the first place.

    July 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  17. Lets all Think

    Waterman I usually look at something before I shove it into my pie hole,

    I look at it, I smell it and then I cut into it, and guess what if it does not look like or smell like the thing that I ordered I surely would not eat it.

    It appears that these folks ate half of them before they discovered that something was wrong. Or was it that someone thought hey we can file a law suit and try to get something for nothing. How does $35.00 bucks work of food turn into a pilgrimage to the a river that is so holy that its countries inhabitants think nothing of dumping sewage, toxic waste, corpses, and God know what into the river.

    July 22, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  18. Lets all Think

    Waterman ... I would have an open mind try and then caulk it up to dumb luck. If there is no malicious intent then no harm no foul. This is America and not India how could a Hindu even walk by a place that is cooking beef, chicken, fish, dog, cat goat, rat or what ever when the vapors of the cooked foods is in the air if you are inhaling it you are eating it.

    July 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  19. I = rubber, U = glue

    Arguing that "What if it were something they were allergic too," does not apply to this case. In my opinion, one must prove negative results of the action to have a reasonable lawsuit, it is not about "What if's".

    It's easy to say "Here are my medical bills for making me eat something I'm allergic too, please pay for this." It is a little tougher to say "You made me eat broccolli, and i hate broccoli, now pay for my vacation."

    The way i see it, there was no physical harm done to these diners. That makes the case into "You have offended my beliefs." which is a much tougher case to win than "You put me in the hospital.."

    July 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  20. Prettygal

    hindus have respect for all living things. It is the way we are brought up. For thousands of years, hindus have been some of the most peaceful, well-behaved, people on the planet. We never colonized another people, we never invaded another nation to take it over, we never spread our religion ( you have to be born into it).... Yes, it is true, orthodox hindus do have a strict diet. So what? So do orthodox Jews, muslims, jains, and so on. When you go into a restaurant, especially an Indian restaurant, you expect that all necessary precautions will be taken.

    July 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Niles

      Agreed 100%.

      July 22, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • MM

      I agree with punishing restaurant, especially when its run by a Hindu. If this happen in India, owners could have faced serious troubles economically and/or physically for sure. However, I don't digest the visiting to India for purification part. That is certainly overkill or may be lawyers have suggested that its only way to punish economically... not sure. A Hindu, should/must know how it hurts to serve meet to a Hindu vegitarian. That's crystal clear.

      July 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Hari

      Dear Pretty whatever, There is no true vegetarian. Its only in your thoughts that you are a vegetarian, but in practice it is impossible. If you want to dwell in your vegetarian utopia, be happy there and please don't make an idiot of yourself by posting further about vegetarianism and how the restaurant might have violated the practice of these "fake vegetarians"

      July 22, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Kumar

      I would send the Hindu racists home, and let them cleanse with cow urine, which they consider as Ayurveda medicine. these backward retarded religious guys will never grow. they have worst antique brains that got arrested developmentally 2000 yrs ago.

      July 22, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Kumar

      You said: "I would send the Hindu racists home, and let them cleanse with cow urine, which they consider as Ayurveda medicine. these backward retarded religious guys will never grow."

      Yeah, not like the Catholics that "believe" they are eating the flesh and blood of their demigod. Glad Christians aren't backward.

      Cheers!

      July 22, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • AndyTheGameInventor

      Agreed, but as a non-orthodox Jew who did keep fairly Kosher for 20 years, during which time occassional mistakes were made, I never considered turning one into a federal case.

      July 22, 2011 at 8:25 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.