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'How can people mock poverty in a country like India?'

By Shakya Mitra
June 22, 2016 12:51 IST
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Sonali Shetty took on a restaurant that denied admission to street children, says Shakya Mitra.

At New Delhi railway station

In the era of the Internet and 24x7 news, the journey from anonymity to fame could take just one stray incident. That's what happened on June 11, when Sonali Shetty, 37, decided to take on Shiv Sagar, a restaurant in Connaught Place in New Delhi.

Shetty, a former schoolteacher who lives in Dehradun, was in Delhi to celebrate the birthday of her husband, an army officer based there. Accompanying them was their nine-year-old son.

In the busy market she came across a group of street-children selling balloons, flowers and pencils. On an impulse, she decided to treat them to a meal. The Shetty family had planned to eat south Indian food, but the children wanted to have chole bhature. So they went to Shiv Sagar.

Shetty alleges that the restaurant refused to serve them and tried to push the children out.

The restaurant has denied this, saying Shetty wanted free food for them.

Still fuming, Shetty, who has since returned to Dehradun, says she was willing to pay for the meal, but the restaurant would hear none of it. "Why would I want free food when I was staying in a five-star hotel?" she says.

As the incident made news, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia reacted almost instantly saying that the restaurant's licence would be cancelled if it were found guilty. That triggered another round of speculation: Who was Sonali Shetty? An activist? Someone associated with the Aam Aadmi Party?

"I am not an activist. I am not associated with any NGO. And I am not with any political party," Shetty says. "I am an ordinary person completely shocked at having come into the limelight because of this incident."

Shetty holds a BEd degree from Patrician College, Dehradun, and was a teacher for about eight years. Now, she writes a blog and intends to pen a novel soon.

"How can people mock poverty in a country where 90 per cent of people are poor?" she fumes.

Outside the Shiv Sagar restaurant, a board reads: 'Right of Admission Reserved', implying that the restaurant has the discretion to deny entry to anyone.

Anurag Tomar, a Delhi-based consumer lawyer, says that this is a clear case of discrimination. According to Article 15 of the Constitution, no citizen can be denied access to a shop, hotel, public restaurant or place of entertainment.

"My husband fights at the border for the country. I am fighting this battle against inequality," Shetty says. "Even if I am to lose my life for this, it will be worth it."

A day after the incident, Shetty returned to Connaught Place and took the same group of street children for a meal to a McDonald's outlet five shops away from Shiv Sagar. McDonald too has a 'Right of Admission Reserved' board at the entrance, but the children were served.

"These decisions are a personal choice of a restaurant's management and there is no rule written in stone," says Karan Bhardwaj, the McDonald's manager at this particular outlet.

"What kind of a message does this send out: That a multinational brand has no problem in admitting street children, but an Indian restaurant does?" Shetty asks.

After an inquiry, ordered by Sisodia, the sub-divisional magistrate at Chanakyapuri has declared that the actions of Shiv Sagar restaurant violate the human rights and fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

For now, it is advantage Shetty.

Photograph: Kind Courtesy Vicky Roy

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Shakya Mitra
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