Today was a difficult day. I had to get up after a mere 4 hours of sleep-something I haven’t done in the last couple of months. So I was tired, and annoyed, and just not in a sunshine mood.
A friend and I were walking through Colaba Causeway looking at earrings and chains. Neither of us like shopping, and hence it was a task after the stress at work. It was around 1.30 in the afternoon, and the humidity or the ache in our legs did not help at all. We had already walked the entire length of the Causeway arches, annoyed by the exorbitant prices quoted by the shopkeepers there.
It started out with pity. We knew the shopkeepers were already asking white foreigners at least 5 times more the money than they were their Indian counterparts. But we let it go, because that’s what they’ve been doing since time immemorial. And even if we stopped one, there’d be at least a thousand foreign shoppers a day. It was a pity that the lack of MRP could fool innocent people, and those with the power (of pricing) abuse it based on skin color and language and other related aspects completely unrelated to the product itself.
However, what we witnessed today boiled my blood. I wanted to actually start a fight in the middle of a market with two men who were cheating the very people who are the reason their “business” works -clearly victims:
There were two people- a man and a woman, both obviously not Indian, and did not speak Hindi, the conversational language of the country. They were being held by two men- dressed in a shirt and pants, with a red tikka on their foreheads. The couple kept saying they weren’t interested in whatever they had to offer, but these two priests held their hands and tied a thread around their wrists and put some flowers into their shopping bags. Then they asked for money. I’m not sure how much these two handed them, but it was definitely more than ₹500. This thing costs maybe ₹10 in a temple. What’s worse? There were at least 50 people standing around them, witnessing whatever was going on and said not a word! A group did squirm a bit, but like us, couldn’t say anything. After they were done, we went in and told them that they were cheated out of money and they told us they were really not interested in any of it, but the priests were really persuasive and they took a lot of money from them.
Let me tell you- this is a marketplace, not by any means affiliated to any religious institutions! Why were there priests cheating on innocent people forcing them to buy things they weren’t interested in? And why were there so many people just watching?
After we talked to the couple we saw the priests doing the same thing to another couple. A shopkeeper actually had the guts to come tell me if there is anything wrong! As if pointing out blatant cheating by people in the name of God was nothing, but it was my fault for warning them against it!
It was without doubt the most humiliated I’ve ever been- about my country and the people in it. They talk about Bystander Effect and today I saw it happen. And acting against the majority did not make me feel any good, because they were cheated! And those priests got away with it. I’m sure they made more money today than 90% of my city makes in a month!
I have no conclusions to this! I cannot think of whose fault it is. Just the priests? Or us Bystanders? We let it happen, and did not tackle these cheaters! Since when has religion been a product to be sold at a common marketplace? Maybe it’s the atheist in me speaking, but today religion has only served to distress, instead of de-stressing, me and the other parties involved in some or other ways. And, I simply cannot understand it- link it to my sheer fury, or my helplessness, or the hours I’ve spent learning about religion and stereotypes.