Hyderabad: “Hijab and Burkha-clad women are not allowed. If you still enter, it could be a problem,” remarked the bouncer of Sanctuary Bar and Kitchen, an upscale restaurant in Jubilee Hills to Zareen*, a 24-year-old resident of the city.
Zareen is among a group of Muslim women who have taken the issue to social media over the past few days. The women took to Instagram to share experiences of discrimination at the restaurant for wearing an abaya or a hijab. The women allege that this is regular practice at the restaurant as several accounts of such discrimination have surfaced.
In October 2020, Zareen’s friend and her then 19-year-old younger sister had decided to eat out at Sanctuary. After being reprimanded by the bouncer, the duo brushed aside the instance as a passing insult and went ahead to the restaurant where the staff continued to ignore them for 20 minutes straight.
It was only when Zareen, who was not wearing a hijab arrived, that they were served but the hostility lingered for the three of them. They were also prevented from taking photographs.
“My youngest sister cried later in the night as she had never been treated this way before.” said an upset Zareen who then proceeded to inform her sibling Kaunain* about the incident.
Zareen said that this is not just Islamophobic but also deeply sexist. We are customers and aren’t there to “look nice” for aesthetic purposes, she added.
“I tried to get people to talk about it but in 2020 no one seemed to care,” Kaunain and her sister told Siasat.com. However, on Saturday (November 13 of this year) Kaunain put up a story amidst growing criticism on social media against Sanctuary for its Islamophobic and sexist behaviour.
Despite repeated complaints and emails, Sanctuary Bar and Kitchen never responded to Kaunain’s concerns. “We wrote to the restaurant but were ignored. Even our reviews were taken down,” she adds.
“This happened on my birthday this year too,” wrote another Muslim woman in her Instagram post. “They literally asked my friends with hijab to leave so we later went to another place for dinner.”
In fact, an arbitrary perusal by this reporter revealed that at least six women have been at the receiving end of animosity when they went to the restaurant. While the restaurant is being condemned currently, the issue has prevailed for a long time, the women said.
When asked about the same, the manager of Sanctuary Bar and Kitchen, Sukumar said that there was no such issue. “Hijab clad women were allowed inside the restaurant but couldn’t sit in the courtyard as people consumed alcohol there and it was anyway prohibited in their religion,” he said.
He further added that “it doesn’t look nice.”
Accounts of harassment from Muslim women:
Local makeup artist Zeba* notes that her Muslim friend was asked to leave as she was unwilling to take her scarf off. Another digital creator, Fakhia*, also mentioned how the restaurant didn’t allow her friend to sit in the courtyard as she was wearing an abaya.
However, the issue is far from resolved as the restaurant cannot be held liable for this misconduct. Speaking to Siasat.com, Hyderabad-based lawyer Alay Razvi said that while it was unfortunate, there wasn’t a clear way of dealing with this.
“There is no legal precedent to prevent someone from entering an establishment and as such the restaurant is behaving in a ridiculous manner. However, unless one were to challenge the issue in criminal courts, there is little to hold restaurants accountable to, legally speaking.”
It is important to note that cases like this aren’t all that uncommon. In October, a restaurant in Mumbai denied entry to a woman for wearing a hijab, the video of which went viral on social media.
(* The names of all the women have been changed to protect their identity.)