India Uncut

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Cabinet meetings on body odour

The International Herald Tribune reports:
The personal hygiene of Delhi's taxi drivers is an unusual topic for ministerial-level discussion, but recently it has been central to a government debate over how to lure more tourists to India.

Convinced that the body odors of many of the capital's drivers were far from inviting, the tourism minister, Renuka Chowdhury, has started an advertising campaign aimed at persuading those who work in the tourism sector to clean up their act.

Chowdhury is also quoted as saying:
I've been telling the drivers, "You must be clean, you must launder your clothes, you must wash your socks." I think I get away with it because I look so motherly.

Indeed. But being motherly is hardly enough. Tourists are not wary of India because of cabbies who don't bathe, but because of other deeper reasons, such as, to quote from the article, "infrastructure problems like potholed roads, restricted flights, shabby airports and dire hotel shortages". And India is culturally tourist-unfriendly. Consider this:
"Tourists have not been treated very well in the past," said Shyam Suri, secretary general of the Federation of Hotels and Restaurant Associations of India. A typical scam, he said, might be a taxi driver who tells a newcomer that there is a riot going on outside the hotel where he has reserved a room and who takes him to a smaller, seedier establishment instead, where the driver gets a cash commission.

Tourists, the article says, have been "dismayed at the way tour guides harassed them at national monuments, at overcharging by small-shop owners and at short-changing by taxi drivers." But is this something only tourists face? I get short-changed by cabbies all the time, even in Mumbai itself. And no respectable "small-shop owner" in India will pass up the chance to cheat a firang. Can this be changed? How can this be changed?

Soap will not be enough.

(Link via email from Sanjeev, aka Desi Poet.)
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