An India-themed cafe in Tottenham, north London, which offers ‘The Gandhi’ vegan breakfast on its menu, is facing heat from activists who say that it is glorifying the British empire and presents a “garish” colonial view of India, PTI reported.
A cafe chain called Blighty India Cafe, started by Chris Evans in 2013, celebrates the United Kingdom, and the Commonwealth. The name Blighty is traced back to the word “bilayat” and “bilayati” used in the Indian subcontinent during the Colonial times.
The cafe facing criticism is the second one set up by Blighty Commonwealth of Cafes, and takes inspiration from the “great Commonwealth powerhouse of India,” and seeks to showcase it through the decor, menu and atmosphere.
The cafe runs on the concept of sourcing coffee beans from the Commonwealth countries. “We are serious about coffee. We source our beans from Commonwealth countries — Rwanda, Kenya, India, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and Malawi — and roast them ourselves to ensure we are serving the highest quality drink possible,” says the company’s mission statement.
However, Labour Party activists, including Indian-origin Zainab Khan, have started an online petition that urges local Tottenham MP David Lammy to force the cafe to change its theme as “it insensitively evokes memory of the Empire.”
“It is adorned with Hindi and a neon Gandhi on the wall. The owners are not Indian, and the food is not Indian, but British with an Indian ‘twist’ – which frankly many Indians would find offensive. It is a garish colonial view of India, stereotyped and built for English consumption,” the petition says. The petition has supporters in Ewa Lefmann and Jasmine Davies, who claim that the cafe makes “many in the community feel uncomfortable”, Telegraph reported. The petition says Evans “has made little attempt to tastefully or sensitively celebrate India in its Tottenham branch.”
The petition comes a few months after a street art mural of Britain’s war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill outside the company’s first eatery, the Blighty UK Cafe in Finsbury Park, was vandalized.
The street art mural featured Churchill’s famous two-fingers’ victory sign pose alongside the slogan “double shot,” which stood for a double espresso coffee order. The mural had to be removed after it was repeatedly defaced with words such as “warmonger” and “imperialist.”
“We never imagined that Churchill or Gandhi would attract complaints. We thought they were both widely-liked and admired figures,” co-owner Chris Evans was quoted as saying in a PTI report.
“All we are doing is celebrating a true British hero in Churchill and the ties between Britain and Commonwealth countries through the mediums of coffee and food,” he said.
“The Churchill mural was just a bit of fun with the idea that he had two fingers up ordering a double espresso. Sadly, we had to get rid of it some months back after it was repeatedly vandalized,” Evans said. “It is simply silly to say we are celebrating British imperialism and colonialism. We are just an independent cafe chain put together by people who work hard to make it happen and yet people seem to want to bring politics into it to try and drag us down.”
Both his cafes in north London have signature dishes that are full English breakfast in three variants — the Winston as the traditional non-vegetarian version, the Clementine as a vegetarian option, and the Gandhi as “the only vegan full English breakfast we know of.” Evans wants to establish 52 such cafes in the United Kingdom.