Celebrity chef Atul Kochhar has been at the centre of international condemnation after he launched a spectacular attack against Muslims and their faith Islam in the aftermath of the Quantico controversy involving actor Priyanka Chopra.
Kochhar, who owns a restaurant in London catering to Muslim clientele and also runs a posh restaurant inside the JW Marriot hotel in Dubai, had said, “It’s sad to see that you have not respected the sentiments of Hindus who have been terrorised by Islam over 2000 years. Shame on you.”
Kochhar’s blistering attack against Islam had come in response to Priyanka’s apology on the story line of a recent episode of Quantico that hurt right-wing Hindutva groups in India. Priyanka had chosen to apologise even though she had no direct or indirect role in deciding the story line of her popular American TV drama.
As expected, Kochhar began to face incessant attack from Muslims and liberal non-Muslims alike, who termed the celebrity chef’s bigotry ‘appalling’ and ‘reprehensible.’ Many were quick to demand JW Marriot Marquis’s dissociation with a ‘racist’ celebrity, while others contacted Dubai Police and BBC in UK, where Kochhar had recently appeared as a guest on a reality show.
Realising the consequences of his bigotry and open racism, Kochhar was quick to apologise not for his bigotry, but for ‘factual inaccuracies.’ He wrote, “There is no justification for my tweet, a major error made in the heat of the moment on Sunday. I fully recognise my inaccuracies that Islam was founded around 1,400 years ago and I sincerely apologise. I am not Islamophobic, I deeply regret my comments that have offended many.”
Not convinced by his clarification, online users continued to register their protests by contacting the Dubai Police and JW Marriot. One Twitter user wrote, “Dear Dubai Police, this guy earns in Dubai while (he) defames Islam by saying it is a religion of terrorism.”
Saudi-based Arab News reported that social media laws were very strict in the UAE adding that online comments found to be spreading sectarian hate or racism, especially in connection with Islam and Muslims, were a criminal offence and Kochhar faced a real prospect of spending a long time in jail.
“The UAE’s anti-discriminatory law criminalizes all forms of discrimination on all grounds of religion, belief, sect, faith, creed, race, color, or ethnic origin,” lawyer Yamini Rajesh, the managing director of Yamini Rajesh Legal Consultancy was quoted by Arab News. Rajesh further added that anyone convicted of breaking the law could face imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of between 500,000 to 1 million dirhams.
Meanwhile, JW Marriot issued a second statement saying that they were ‘taking this matter very seriously and are currently reviewing the situation.’ This coupled with threats of being arrested by Dubai Police prompted Kochhar to issue a second apology. It read, ” I would like to apologise unreservedly to my Muslim friends, the Islamic community and everyone I have offended with my recent tweets. They were insensitive and wrong. My work and my restaurants are defined by a passion to unite cultures through food, love and understanding. I have let myself and my colleagues down. I am upset and sorry for the pain I have caused and ask for your forgiveness.”
Contrary to his expectation, not many were still convinced by his second apology. User Gautam Chopra wrote, “Nice effort, but you cannot unscramble a scrambled egg. This is an apology only to appease local audience & investors. It’s an apology which lacks ‘Sorry’. That you have shown your wicked ideology, the food that you make, will never taste the same again.”
Some users also dug out his past tweets as evidence to confirm his anti-Muslim bigotry. One user shared a tweet by Kochhar posted in September 2017, who appeared upset by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressing her concern for Rohingya refugees.
User Yeh Log on Twitter posted another past tweet of Kochhar showing just how upset he was with The Telegraph newspaper for carrying photos of Muslim children with the Indian national flags as part of the paper’s India independence Day feature.
— Yeh Log ! (@yehlog) June 12, 2018
User Sabina Basha wrote, “Not good enough, @atulkochhar. Apologise for saying Islam terrorised Hindus. Leave Dubai & ME.” “It feels like another vague apology. ‘I’m sorry you’re offended by my distasteful comments, I wish I had better security over my mouth to protect the dark secrets of my heart.’ Everyone deserves forgiveness but why do I remain unconvinced? Perhaps because it’s missing action.”
Kochhar is a resident of London, where the then Prime Minister David Cameron made Islamophobia a criminal offence at par with anti-Semitic crime in 2015. One wonders how Kochhar will wriggle his way out with his history of being a known hater of Islam and Muslims.