The Hypocritical 'Sanskaari' Indian

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(by L Subramanyan)

The recent outpouring of public disgust at the behaviour of an Indian tourist family caught stealing from a hotel in Bali, Indonesia is symptomatic of the ugly Indian tourist that has been plaguing world destinations for a few decades now. It is not the first time that Indian tourists have been the target of scorn and neither will it be the last.

However, the anger and dismay that have flooded the social media is, to say the least, hypocritical. From the tweets and the memes that we have seen, reactions have ranged from disgust to shame to outright anger. The general reaction has been ‘how could they’?

And this is the hypocrisy. Nine out of ten Indians who travel consider it their god-given right to steal from the hotel. Many moons ago, one of my bosses used to swipe all the toiletries from the hotel he would check into with the logic ‘since I have paid for the room’. Another colleague of mine was charged by a hotelier ( in a 5-star hotel in Mumbai, no less) of having ‘stolen the minibar’… read it right, not ‘stealing from the minibar’ but ‘stealing the minibar’. This guy, who was hosting an event at the hotel, actually picked up the entire minibar, rolled it into a hotel sheet and loaded it along with other equipment once the event got over. When I asked the hotel to press charges and file a police complaint, the manager demurred- ‘No, no sir, you are regular clients and we do a lot of business with you’. The guy got away with just a rap on the knuckles from my boss.

What else do you expect from a country whose citizens are fed the ‘might is right’ line from their mother’s womb? Day after day, they see, encounter and experience this aspect of entitlement, be it a politician who goes about looting the exchequer as if it is his own property, or another politician, accused of rape and (surprisingly in jail), who is visited by yet another elected worthy to enquire if the former is well taken care of! What does one expect from its citizens who only obey the law under duress or even follow traffic lights only if a cop is watching (and not even that in Bangalore, where they are all ‘model’ cops, which means their job is only to stand as models at random places in the city)?

All those expressing outrage and shame are outraged and shamed because the culprits were caught, not because they stole. Had the family gotten away with all the ‘goodies’ this would have become another anecdote for the next ‘drinks get-together’, where the men will brag as to what all they stole and will be outdone by another who might have stolen something more, maybe a receptionist or two. We are upset with the Bali video because the family was caught and later even were shown ready to touch the feet of the hotel personnel to be allowed to go.

As a nation, we do not have any morals or integrity. We, who protest the loudest when an Indian tourist is subjected to selective check at airports, routinely subject some of our own citizens to racist abuse. Remember the abuse meted out to our fellow citizens from the north-east in Delhi and Bangalore? We routinely shame people of dark skin to the extent that some of our biggest film stars endorse skin-whitening products. We call each other bhaiyya (as a pejorative), katua, madrasi, mallu, chinki, ghati, pahadi, gujju and so on and so forth. We go around poisoning wells specifically designated for the lower castes since they dared to take their marriage processions through our streets. We slut-shame and body-shame all women, and worship all goddesses and manufacture more when we tire of the old ones.

We blame our politicians for the corruption and decay of values and do not protest when the same politician loots the country’s coffers. We are upset with Vijay Mallya, not because of what he is alleged to have done, but because he ‘got away’. Ditto for Nirav Modi. We wonder how a politician’s wealth has increased manifold since his election but never ‘ask’ him/her the question. We display our anger at what happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey (aka ‘Nirbhaya’), while whispering, ‘but what was she doing out at 9.30 at night with a boy?’

We praise our filmstars for their portrayal of patriotism in one film but do not condemn them when they dance on a basketball court harassing their desired girlfriend in the next. We shudder at the word ‘rape’ but laugh uproariously when a superstar makes a joke of ‘balaatkar’ in a movie, because ‘it’s just a movie yaar!’

This is our hypocrisy. And this is our ‘sanskaar’.

Oh, by the way, we also piously stone all those who are caught and pat ourselves on our backs because it’s ‘them’ and not ‘us’, forgetting that ‘they’ are a part of ‘us’.

As for the Bali family, they are back in India, getting ready for the next drinks get-together.