EDISON, N.J. (RNS) A group of Hindus can sue an Edison restaurant for money to travel to India, where they say they must purify their souls after eating meat, a state appellate court panel ruled Monday (July 18).
The decision reinstates a lawsuit filed against Moghul Express, the restaurant that admitted it accidentally served meat-filled pastries to 16 Hindus whose religion forbids them from eating nonvegetarian food.

The diners said the mix-up has harmed them spiritually and monetarily, and that to cleanse themselves of their sin—even though it was committed unknowingly—they must participate in a purification ritual in the Ganges River.

“If you follow the scriptures, its definitely a huge cost,” said Mehul Thakkar, a spokesman for the Yogi Divine Society in nearby Lake Hiawatha, a nonprofit socioreligious organization that adheres to the principles of the Swaminarayan faith of Hinduism. “If they are very strict about it, there definitely is a fee involved.”

Thakkar, whose organization is not involved in the suit, declined to comment on the decision issued by Judges Dorothea Wefing, Edith Payne and Margaret Hayden.

He said the purification ceremony can last from three to 30 days, and that the cost of the trip, which can add up to thousands of dollars, is based on how much a participant can afford.

Hinduism, the third largest religion in the world and dominant in the Indian subcontinent, holds that meat consumption affects the purity of the soul and that those who eat meat cannot be with God after death.

Pradip (Peter) Kothari, president of the Indo-American Cultural Society in Edison, said he was unaware of the lawsuit but said he thought it should have been dismissed.

“This is a hypocrisy of religion and a hypocrisy of the law,” said Kothari, who conceded that he does not strictly observe the Hindu religion. “They can go to a temple here and ask God for forgiveness. God is not going to punish you for doing something unknowingly.”

For an India Day celebration in Edison on Aug. 10, 2009, the group placed an order for vegetarian samosas. The restaurant assured them it didn’t make the pastries with meat. Indeed, there was no meat-filled samosa on the restaurant’s appetizer menu, and the court’s decision said the tray of pastries given to the group was labeled vegetarian.

But soon after eating a few samosas, some in the group grew concerned the pastries might contain meat. According to the decision, the restaurant eventually acknowledged it had confused the order with one for meat-filled samosas and gave the group the nonvegetarian pastries.

The diners sued for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, consumer fraud, products liability and breach of express warranty. Last year, a lower court dismissed the allegations, and the diners appealed.

The appellate panel said the case could still go forward as a breach of express warranty claim because of the restaurant’s assurance that the group was getting vegetarian samosas.

K. Raja Bhattacharya, the lawyer for the diners, and David Novack, an attorney for the restaurant, both declined to comment while the case is pending.

(MaryAnn Spoto writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.)

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