Stop targeting, discriminating against and attacking vendors and hawkers: National Hawker Federation

An attack on vendors is not only a violation of their dignity and basic rights, but also an unconscionable act on the part of our citizenry


As Muslim  hawkers and vendors continue to be intimidated and physically attacked in various parts of the country, the National Hawker Federation has put together a comprehensive list of demands to seek an end to the discrimination faced by vendors. As the Coronavirus lockdown is now in its second stage, so is the communal virus. Hate speech against Muslims and calls to target, harass, attack and boycott Muslim vendors have been doing rounds of social media and whatasapp. Some of these calls have been enacted on the streets by fanatics who see vendors, and small time businessmen, as easy targets. The bigots are carrying out their agenda of communalising the Covid pandemic across the country. Political leaders, have merely given lip service to the problem, but that is not enough to warn those indulging in such despicable acts.

It is a matter of record that scores of vendors have been targeted in the national capital Delhi, where they have been asked what religion they belong to, and if found to be Muslims, have been banned from entering residential colonies. Business and shops owned or run by Muslims have been boycotted even as they are selling essential items as allowed under the Coronavirus lockdown rules.

The federation says they have received first-hand complaints from many members of their collective, that hawkers were being profiled and surveilled, stopped, harassed, heckled and beaten up by vigilante groups who are acting with complete impunity.  “These incidents seem to have been spurred by a maelstrom of disinformation and propaganda campaigns being run by motivated agents and spread amongst people through social media,” said the federation in a statement addressed both to the authorities as well as the citizenry.

They point out as the nationwide lockdown had curtailed movement and access to basic necessities, it was the hawkers who have been a lifeline, reaching essential items to the people. They reminded fellow citizens that hawkers are a key part of the supply chains and “play a crucial role in improving last-mile access for millions of people every day.” 

The hawkers have been doing their work taking all precautions such as wearing masks and maintaining personal hygiene. “It is to their credit that they are continuing to their jobs in face of enormous personal risks, something that we all should be grateful about.” However, not everyone is grateful to the vendors, self-appointed vigilante groups with hate agendas are also becoming more active.

 “To target and attack them is not only a violation of their dignity and most basic rights but also an unconscionable act on the part of our citizenry” stated the federation, “It is extremely unfortunate that a section of our society, whose livelihood is completely dependent on their daily earnings, are being subjected to humiliation and violence in the middle of one of the most unprecedented and challenging public health crises facing the country.”

The Federation has said that,  “the protection of these hardworking people is of paramount concern. We owe it to these hardworking people, now more than ever, that they are allowed to carry out their small businesses without any fear or hindrance.”  

To ensure this happens, the federation has demanded the following:

  • Public campaign raising awareness on non discrimination of vendors: The Government, Union and State, should come out with strong messages that do not condone religion based discrimination especially in the time of a health and economic crisis in the country.
  • Progressive notifications and orders being released by the Government to facilitate essential service provision to all through fruit and vegetable street vendors/hawkers with all the safety and health precautions
  • Emphasising the valuable contribution of fruit and vegetable vendors during the COVID lockdown: Vendors hawking fruits, vegetables and other essential goods, are essential to the depleted food economy, not every home has access to a departmental grocery store. In this unprecedented scenario, to discriminate against Muslim vendors is an act of ignorance which should be punishable by law.  
  • The government should ensure minimising anti-Muslim and communal reporting of the COVID crisis in the media. 

The federation has called upon the political leadership, and law enforcement forces to ensure that incidents of intimidation, harassment, violence against hawkers and vendors are stopped. However, their biggest appeal is to fellow citizens to “realise the gravity of the situation,  and play a constructive role in helping the country tide over this crisis.”   

Meanwhile a ray of  hope shone as news of the law taking action against those who assaulted a  vegetable seller was reported by the Indian Express. Delhi Police have arrested one Praveen Babbar, a resident of southeast Delhi’s Badarpur Extension who had attacked the vegetable seller, Mohd Saleem, with a stick. In vigilante mode, Babbar was seen hitting the vendor, asking him for an identification proof and abusing him. The video had gone viral a few days ago and Babbar can be heard abusing the Muslim vendor, saying, “Tum logo ne jihad macha diya hai.”

According to the news report, police tracked down Babbar in response to a message on Twitter from the Cyber Cell. The IE cites DCP (South East) RP Meena saying, “A motorcycle can be seen in the video and the number plate is visible. It was traced to a resident of Molarband called Sudhanshu. He said the incident took place at Tajpur Road in Badarpur Extension and helped identify the accused as Babbar.” The accused has been booked under various sections of the IPC.

The attack happened on April 10 and IE spoke to the victim’s brother. “My brother came back home crying, scared and with a swollen arm. He told us a man with a stick had asked vegetable vendors to leave. He said that as soon as the man found his name, he hit him with a stick and his accomplice started making a video,” Mohd Dilshad, 23, a daily wager, told the IE reporter. “We are scared, we just want to go back home now. We don’t want to live in Delhi. We are hungry and we are being beaten,” Dilshad told IE.



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