What happened to Meghalaya's Tailin Lyngdoh, who was asked to leave the Delhi Golf Club for "looking like a maid", happens all the time.
The presumption of social order and the person's "proper place" dictates how they are spoken to, treated and shamed for no particular reason. People are expected to "know their station in life."
While a private club has rules and can impose certain dress codes, it is the crude and coarse manner in which the club officials conducted themselves that begs answers. What the equation is between "looking like a servant" and being barred from sitting at a table where she was an honoured guest is anyone's guess.
One does not have to conform to a physical type or attire. Even if he or she happens to be a domestic help and is invited as a guest, who are you to say otherwise?
In this case, the traditional Khasi dress, which is similar to the Sikkimese Bhaku, Burmese Longyi, the Thai chut thai or the sarong is completely valid as formal wear.
Imagine this lady sitting there. Being accosted by manager and a female executive. Their verbal arrogance a sledgehammer.
She looks like a maid, they said. Behold, the medieval mindset in 2017.
Not so long ago, the mere presence of this woman would collectively irk the so-called executive class. And we the people would tow the line, giving in to the club's conceit and hubris simply because that was the social order.
Lyngdoh had forgotten her place. She was being uppity.
This isn't a post-colonial hang up. Let's not use that old chestnut as an excuse for our social impropriety.
That's the way India was. Still is, to a large extent.
Many hosts would not even have brought her in. They'd simply leave her in the waiting area or to hover in the car park.
Now, for the heartening part: The times, they are a changing. This incident is another speed bump on that long, winding road to change. We are all — painfully slowly — becoming social equals. Rabid prejudice is being blunted. Good for her employers and hosts for standing up for her.
The very fact that this made news is progress and only underscores the new reality of equality.
But make no mistake. There's a long way to go.
Richard Waterman, a famous US lawyer and his Indian wife were staying at a Mumbai hotel. She was fair. Her cousin was dark. When Waterman and his wife's cousin were returning from the beach, they were stopped by hotel security. They would not let the cousin enter. Waterman threatened to sue the hotel for prejudice and made them apologise. When it comes to colour, we have a blind spot. When it comes to colour, we are a terrible, prejudiced people.
Accompany a friend or colleague with dark skin to a restaurant or public place. People will stare. There will be a not-so-subtle difference in the level of service.
Once, on a trip to Mumbai, I brought a package for a friend working in the Air India building. She sent her office assistant to collect it from my hotel, which was around the corner. I told the concierge to send the man to my room but they told me it was against hotel policy. So I got dressed and met him in the lobby.
I asked security why the man was stopped. After much hemming and hawing, the truth was revealed. The poor man had committed the three deadly sins: He did not speak English. He used the word 'sahib'. And worst of all, he confirmed his 'lowly status' by the virtue of his uniform. Horror of horrors!
I made the hotel apologise. I invited him to the coffee shop but he was far too embarrassed. He understood what had happened.
And that's the difference. Now, no one has to understand. No one.
Certainly not Lyngdoh.
Updated Date: Jun 28, 2017 13:51 PM