(Image Credit: Creative Commons)
Over the past two days, social media has been set alight by an incident involving an Indian family on vacation in Bali. Twitter timelines are flooded with a video approximately two and a half minutes in length depicting hotel staff removing objects (including hair driers & hangers) that were apparently ‘pilfered’ by the family. The chastised family can been seen pleading with the Indonesian hotel staff, who in turn are threatening to call the police. In the midst of this unpleasant haranguing, the guests can be heard repeatedly offering to ‘pay’ for the stuff taken from the hotels, and more.
This video, which makes for some obviously unpleasant viewing has triggered a vociferous debate where the revered and the reviled have pitchforked themselves into the fray offering their own take on the incident. The very fact that a deliberation has been spawned to discuss, debate and decide upon whether the family in question and the hoteliers – the two sparring protagonists in the unsavoury fracas – were in the right or wrong, bears monument to the diverging mindsets possessed by society on framing what constitutes right and the defining what is wrong.
On the one spectrum we have the likes of Ms. Sai Swaroopa, noted author and content writer who posted the following emotional tweet:
While the above logic is flawed on multiple counts, even assuming for the sake of argument, that Ms. Swaroopa is correct, it behooves the question as to why steal something which is to begin with “stupid” and of neither consequence nor worth. Further, boycotting a country or the hotel situated within its territorial jurisdiction is not a solution for preventing this kind of unfortunate episodes. Moreover it is not that the hotel in Bali is going to be rendered bankrupt without an influx of visitors from India.
Against those batting for the family, stand a section that is baying for the offender’s blood. According to the more aggressive opinion, the “shame”, and “disgrace” foisted upon the image of an entire nation requires punishment of a stringent nature. While television host and actor Mini Mathur found the escapade of the family nauseating, yet another Twitterati called for a public naming and shaming of those involved:
Some extremely inventive people also chose to bring into the whole picture a racial angle arguing that if the pilferage was to have been either attempted or pulled off by a non-Indian or even a non Asian family, the hotel staff would not even have deemed it a utilitarian use of their time bothering to check! This interesting although arguable view was given further teeth by a tweet shared by Mr. Harsh Goenka, Chairman of the RPG Group of enterprises. The tweet made reference to an extremely racist notice addressed by a Swiss hotel in Gstaad “specifically to guests from India” on the rules of etiquette to be followed at the buffet tables:
At the time of this writing, it is reliably learnt that the Hotel has tendered an apology – as it should rightfully have done a long time back. In an article published by the web site travelskills.com and titled “Which Nationality Steals Most From Hotels”, it is comforting for an Indian to note that India does not make the list of the top 10 usual suspects. Even though the article is dated 8th June, 2015, there is no need to suspect that India would have made an astonishing ascent leaping over the rungs of this ladder of infamy!
In the defense of the service providers it would be an injustice if it is not mentioned that most of the times, it is the servicing personnel who bear the brunt of the rants and raves of ‘unsatisfied’ and ‘disgruntled’ customers. Social media becomes a platform of convenience for highlighting in an unsparing manner the inadequacies, intransigence and insouciance of the hosts towards their guests. Hence when a guest becomes either abusive or engages in an inappropriate act such as the one in question here, it is “payback” time!
All of which brings us to this most important and urgent question of what can be done to ameliorate or even reverse this regressive practice of impulsive pocketing of seemingly trivial stuff, although in the current instance, some of the materials stuffed into briefcases ranged beyond toiletries alone. It is not that the people who engage in such practices come from deprived or under privileged backgrounds. Spending significant sums of money to fly, sail or drive across countries and even continents, incurring -or even splurging – material sums on accommodation, recreation and entertainment, the tourists cannot scour for sympathy that has at its spine monetary constraints. In fact, a man in the video in question can be heard loudly proclaiming possessing or owning a sum of Rs.50 lakhs. If this was to be the case then where was the need to indulge in such a shameful and totally avoidable act?
Irrespective of nationality or background, it is qualitative traits and attributes such as perception and upbringing that matter. Unless the concept of “whatever is rightfully not ours should not remain with us and should never be our preserve” gets drummed into collective brains from a young age, such incidents would continue to recur. More over measures such as counselling for travelers prior to their embarkation to a new geography and imparting of particular codes of conduct that are more a necessity than de riguer by authorities such as the visa processing staff at airports, ports and land clearing stations would greatly assist as well. While all these may sound like fundamental tenets of common sense, one would be surprised to note how uncommon common sense can be at times! Best of all, curricula in schools and colleges should include a segment on global etiquette and behaviour. While this measure should not be construed as ad implemented in a fashion neither regimental nor canonical, it should serve the basic purpose of equipping travelers to fully assimilate the philosophy of thinking global but acting local.
Finally coming back to the current issue under discussion, the last thing we ought to be doing as responsible citizens is circulating the inglorious video without discretion, thereby making it go viral. Naming and Shaming is not the solution at all and in fact such an act may have tragic and unimaginable consequences. The video also has two young girls looking on in a bemused fashion. The trauma which they would be (if they have not already) undergoing as a result of the societal stigma associated with the entire episode should not also be discounted. The stain of humiliation might lead the humiliated to undertake measures that are impulsive, spontaneous, unthinking and quite often tragic.
Hence let us just stop debating over this entire incident and move on. There are a thousand other more pressing issues that require our collective imagination and concerted action.