When you regularly travel in India with a mixed group – both Indian(s) and foreigner(s), you’ll discover that the tourist branch is not always prepared for this. My very first hostel in India, Broadlands in Chennai in 2008, was notorious for not allowing Indian guests to stay there. It had even been mentioned in earlier editions of the Lonely Planet, I discovered later and the local media kept reporting about it.
At the same time, a guest house in the same area, where my then colleague and friend, now boyfriend was staying, did not allow foreigners. They said that this required a police licence which they did not have.
Later I learnt that neither this guest house nor Broadlands are exceptions in India. Indian writers have mentioned it about other hotels in tourist destinations and I myself have encountered such hotels by travelling together with an Indian. They don’t always admit it – they would just all of a sudden say that they have no rooms, even if they were confirmed over email beforehand.
Just today, I called a hotel in Goa and after confirming availability and price, the receptionist told me that they don’t allow foreigners in this hotel. I guess foreigners in Goa might have a bad reputation for drugs and bikini’s, but still, isn’t this called discrimination? When I called the Tourism Department to report about it, all they said is that I should stay in one of their government hotels. Total indifference to my complaint.
How they expect Indians and foreigners to travel together, I don’t know. I guess they just don’t expect this to happen at all, as in my experience, walking around in a touristy place with an Indian, confuses the locals to the extend that they assume he is my guide. And tell him in Hindi to make me buy things. Or that I am his up-market prostitute, as was likely to be the case in Jamshedpur where all hotels refused us saying ‘no ladies’.
While some hotels don’t want foreigners, a couple in Indore is willing to pay to get a few foreign girls to attend their wedding in traditional dress. An add on en expat forum asked today for ’4 blond girls’, adding this to be ‘no dodgy job, but a respectable hostess job’ Flights and five star hotel is included for the blonds, apart from a good salary.
While the casting of excuse foreigners as extra’s in films and advertisements does not surprise me anymore here (though the fact that they get payed much more than Indian extra’s does as this goes beyond type casting and could be called discrimination as well, but this is another story), this is something new to me. I would have seriously considered to take the job if I did not already have fixed plans on that date, because I’m so curious to see what kind of people though, while planning their wedding: ‘we must have a few exotic blonds on our party and pay royally for it, to impress our guests’. The Indian villages of the European Great Exhibitions of the 19th century come to mind.
Indian culture is complicated. People keep pointing out the ‘colonial hangover’ etc and I’m sure there must be some kind of explanation, but the kind of superficial, prejudiced mentality I encounter sometimes really goes beyond me.