A staunch Hindu nationalist politician has sparked anger in India after television footage showed him last week shoving a piece of bread into the mouth of a Muslim catering staffer observing the holy month of Ramadan.
The video clip showed Rajan Vichare, a member of the hardline nationalist group Rashtrawadi Shiv Sena, force-feeding Arshad Zubair, catering supervisor at the new Maharashtra Sadan, a government residency.
He was said to have been protesting over not being served Maharashtrian cuisine, cuisine of the Marathi people from the state of Maharashtra, the India Times reported on Wednesday.
The incident occurred on July 17 at the canteen of the Maharashtra Sadan, where about some 15 Shiv Sena parliamentary members held a meeting.
An official of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation on Thursday said it has decided to shut down the canteen, pending results of an investigation on the incident.
Vichare's action also drew the ire of opposition members of parliament, who said the politician had violated Zubair's religious beliefs by trying to shove into his mouth a chapatti, a piece of unleavened bread.
"It is absolutely reprehensible and should be condemned in the strongest possible manner," Agence France-Presse quoted Congress party spokesman Manish Tewaritold as saying.
Shiv Sena, a key ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata party, has earned a notorious reputation for promoting ethnic and religious unrest. The party won 18 seats during the May elections and is the sixth biggest party in parliament.
But Vichare defended himself, claiming he was not trying to break the man's fast but was merely showing how the food served to them was bad, like the chapatis that were too hard to eat.
Vichare further said that he had no idea about Zubair's religion and that the latter had no badge that could identify him.
"I respect all religions. The staffer was wearing a civil dress...I had no idea that he was Muslim," the India Times quoted Vichare as saying.
The Shiv Seva member also dissuaded political foes from making the incident as a religious issue. "It doesn't make sense," he said.
"This was only a protest against the quality of food and other arrangements at the Maharashtra Sadan where all the important dignitaries come and stay," he added, noting that the canteen was in a bad state.
In his complaint obtained by the Indian Express newspaper, Zubair said he was pained with the incident "as religious sentiments are concerned."
"All the guests along with media reporters and staff of Maharashtra Sadan got into kitchen where I was getting the orders prepared. They caught me and put the chapati into my mouth," recounted Zubair in his letter submitted to Resident Commissioner Bipin Mallick.
He noted, "Even then they inserted chapati in my mouth which caused my fast to break on the eve of [Ramadan]."