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‘This is a Jihad’: Ayesha Mumtaz on bringing to heel Lahore’s restaurant ‘mafia’

This article was originally posted in Newsweek

Benazir Shah

Ayesha Mumtaz2

No one seems particularly shocked when the notorious Ayesha Mumtaz arrives for a surprise inspection of a roadside barbeque joint in Lahore’s Johar Town. Surrounded by three food safety officers and one Elite Force guard, she sweeps into the kitchen and immediately hones in on the stove—which is set up next to an open sewer. “You couldn’t find a better place to cook?” she asks a worker. “Where is the owner?”

A burly man, at least a foot taller than Mumtaz, steps forward and in a guarded tone tells her the concrete slab covering the gutter is broken. An accompanying waiter chimes in by claiming it will be fixed tomorrow. She cuts him off. “I did not ask you.” Moving deeper into the “kitchen”, Mumtaz orders the owner to open the freezer. Her face narrows in anger. Using her cellphone, she photographs all visible violations—a dirty freezer, no soap at sinks, poor hygiene of food handlers, improper storage of meat and dairy, proximity to sewage.

At least 50 people—customers and employees alike—are now watching the proceedings, following the 38-year-old civil servant’s every move. Playing to her audience, Mumtaz scolds the owner: “If your patrons knew what you were feeding them, they wouldn’t even spit on your food.” Finding that he has no food license, Mumtaz’s staff shutters the business. Pointing at his serving tables, which encroach on public space, she jokes with her team: “He should thank his stars I’m not in the City District Government anymore, or I would’ve bulldozed this place.” It’s unlikely the demolition would’ve gone any faster than Mumtaz’s incursion; she inspected, documented and shut down the restaurant within 28 minutes. Continue reading

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