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‘Pure veg fleet’: How Indian food app Zomato sparked a caste, purity debate

Delivery workers worry that vegetarian-only fleets today could pave the way for caste-based delivery systems tomorrow.

Rajesh Jatavad*, a delivery rider for Zomato, a food delivery app in southern India, is worried about his full name being displayed for customers on the platform – because his last name reveals that he belongs to a marginalised caste.

More privileged communities among India’s caste system historically considered castes like Jatavad’s “untouchables”.

Jatavad’s worry is based on lived experience. “It is easy for others to identify my caste from my surname. Some of the customers, after reading my surname from the app, they won’t allow me near them, or even [allow me to] hand over the food packet. They will tell me to place it down and then leave,” Rajesh told Al Jazeera.

Then, in mid-March, his employer announced a decision that threatens to make Jatavad’s already perilous daily struggle against caste biases even tougher.

On March 19, Deepinder Goyal, CEO of Zomato, declared on social media platform X that the company was launching a “Pure Veg Mode along with a Pure Veg Fleet on Zomato, for customers who have a 100% vegetarian dietary preference.”

“India has the largest percentage of vegetarians in the world, and one of the most important feedback we’ve gotten from them is that they are very particular about how their food is cooked, and how their food is handled,” he wrote.

The Pure Veg Mode allows customers to pick from curated list of restaurants that serve only vegetarian food and excludes eateries that serve any meat or fish. The Pure Veg Fleet, Goyal announced, would consist of riders who will only carry food from Pure Veg Mode restaurants.

And in the future, Goyal wrote, the company plans to