I knew it for quite sometime. Foreigners, a derogatory term for non-Indians, are to pay higher entrance fees to visit the historical monuments of the country that is mostly maintained by ASI and tourism ministry. However, I got the shock of my life when we visited Qutub minar. I asked the man at the counter, “What am I to pay for my daughter-in-law, if she is an American citizen?” I had to pay Rs 250 for Shannon, my daughter-in-law, while for myself, Yamuna and Anand, the entrance charges were Rs 10 each. Similar had been the discriminatory entrance charges for Shannon at Red Fort in Delhi and Amber Fort in Jaipur too. Even the royal family of Jaipur has also become poor and greedy enough to emulate the government of India and charge Rs 200 for foreigners for the City Palace in Jaipur, when locals pay only Rs 20. Only the ticket is on a thick paper printed nicely with a photograph of the palace. But most discriminating was the charges at Taj Mahal. As pathkar (road tax), Shannon had to pay Rs 500 as Non-Indian (total being Rs 750), when for us the charges were Rs 15 each. And the Agra Development Authority gives a bottle of mineral water (500ml) and a shoe cover for free for Rs 750. Is it not a looting in plain word? At Sikandara, a young American at the ticket counter told me, ‘They don’t want us to return.’
Shouldn’t Anand feel embarrassed to tell Shannon that she comes under Indian definition of ‘foreigner’? Shouldn’t Shannon feel bad about it? Shouldn’t I feel guilty about it and apologize to Shannon for this act of government or ASI that I myself feel ashamed of?
I am sure when Emma grows and hears this story, she will hate to visit India, and Anand will have to face some embarrassing questions from her. What happens when my grandson, Keshav, visits these sites? Should he be considered a foreigner since he is an American citizen? I know the answer is No because he looks like me.
I don’t know if this discrimination is in knowledge of those in Indian government and minister of tourism, Ambika Soni, who matter and will make them consider it as wrong. Why can’t the authority realize that most of the so-called foreign visitors are students and from lower earning groups from countries other than developed ones? But perhaps I am trying to expect a little too much from the ‘babus’ of India. What is the purpose of this discrimination? Is it to dissuade foreigners from visiting Indian monuments? How much is the extra earning from this discriminatory charge? Is the practice followed in any other country? To best of my remembrance, I never paid higher entrance charges in any country that I visited nor was I asked to stand in a separate line since I was a “foreigner”. Left to me, I would never ever visit any monument or tourist site in any country if there were such discrimination.
In this age of globalizations and free trade, how can you charge the tourists in such discriminatory manner? I am sure it must be against the human rights too.
I strongly feel that the government must remove this discrimination and prove that it is really serious about the “India Incredible” slogan. If not, the authority must provide sufficiently differential facilities such as a good brochure or booklet about the monument as free to each so-called foreigner in his language. Further, it must provide official and trained guide instead of leaving the poor foreigners at the mercy of ignorant and mischievous guides who misinform and charge the opportunity price. I am sure that will help in building right image of the country and attract more tourists.
I suggest the authorities to use the word ‘Non-Indian’ wherever it still uses ‘foreigner’ and remove the filthy signage from the ticket countesr that make the visitors compare the discrimination.