It is unacceptable that some hotels should place limits on the expression of the very diversity which appeals to the tourists who have gone beyond the stage of wanting just the 3-S: sun, sea and sand
The first thing to remember under all circumstances and by everybody is that we are no longer living in the days of slavery or of indentured labour, and that the racialised behaviours that were practised during those days are not acceptable in this day and age – and not ever, anywhere. They were exhibited as a form of control, of domination over those whose labour was, after all, what was sustaining the plantation economy literally at its very foundation – the soil whence sprung the sugarcane plants that they had to sow in the earth that they first prepared, tend to through the growing period, and afterwards harvest and feed into the factories.
It may be true that new technologies based on artificial intelligence will someday take over many jobs today being performed by human beings, but there are several sectors where a sizeable workforce will still be needed to perform a variety of tasks. The tourism industry is probably such a field where the human touch will always be of capital relevance as visitors come not only to relax, but also to discover what is different from their own ways of living and from their culture – which they can only do through first-hand contact with those who belong to a given culture. That is why every culture is rich in its own way, and encounters with different cultures and modes of living is considered as enriching, and opens minds and hearts.
Keeping an open mind
People with open minds and hearts always welcome the diversity that is at the base of our apparent, perceived differences, and this leads them to show acceptance and respect, which in turn upholds our common human dignity.
Anthropology as a serious discipline in all its facets – physical, social, cultural – would have been inexistent if the human species weren’t as diverse as it is, and a great number of dedicated men and women were not driven by the desire to travel the world and find out how others have peopled varied habitats, and explore their coping strategies to both learn therefrom and share experiences.
As we are a country whose economy depends heavily on the presence of tourists in our midst, for the stakeholders in that sector showing acceptance and respect, and upholding human dignity should be axiomatic. This should be more so in our times of globalisation, when businesses that regularly transact with overseas partners, or that wish to implant in foreign countries run initiation courses for their staff to familiarise themselves with the culture of the country they are dealing with, to better understand how to gain goodwill and facilitate deal making.
It is a plus point for any establishment when the tourists who frequent it – who coming as they do from the developed countries are sensitive to such matters — are aware that it upholds the rights and dignity of its workers, and that they are given the respect due to them. And it is well known that tourists show great interest in the various aspects of the lives of the people they meet, starting with hotel staff whom they interact with daily, and seek to genuinely understand (often to the tiniest detail) the food and dress habits, the arts and religious practices, cultural customs such as marriages, and so on and so forth. After all, a great many of us Mauritians keep travelling and are tourists too, and we do exactly the same thing with people we come across in countries where we visit.
It is therefore both surprising and unacceptable that some hotels should place limits on the expression of the very diversity which appeals to the tourists who have gone beyond the stage of wanting just the 3-S: sun, sea and sand. Many come for the ‘ethnic’ experience that they will carry as souvenir. After all, the 3-S can be found in many other resorts; what will be unique is the culture of the people they meet and often befriend for a lifetime in a number of cases. And the more that culture is different from theirs, the greater is their curiosity – and their interest in coming back because they may not have had the time to find out everything on a first visit. Isn’t our diversity therefore to be celebrated, something to be proud of?
« Where does this notion of ‘la question des signes religieux visibles’ come from? It became acute when fairly recently in Europe certain countries found themselves challenged by some Muslim women wanting to wear their head scarf or the whole body covering, abhaya, imported from climes where they had a raison-d’être but not, it was thought, elsewhere. These forms of dress were estimated to constitute a security risk in the public sphere, hence the concern. But to be politically correct in a context of failing ‘multiculturalism’ and other such -isms and not to appear discriminatory, some governments decided to ban what they called all ‘visible’ religious symbols… »
Finding a solution
Why, therefore, is La Residence hotel cutting the grass from under its own feet in imposing, without any apparent reason, its unlawful restrictions (vide below) on a certain category of its staff ?
In a communique it has released, it maintains that ‘la direction de l’hôtel rappelle que l’établissement a toujours respecté la législation en vigueur dans le pays’. This is in contradiction with the position taken by the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations & Employment, and Training. In its communiqué, it indicated that it is taking legal action against the hotel ‘pour non-respect de l’article 4 de l’Employment Rights Act qui protège un employé contre toute forme de discrimination au travail’, despite it having been informed of the advice received from the State Law Office. This is indeed a very serious matter.
Let us see what further the communique from hotel La Residence says: ‘La question des signes religieux visibles est abordée, en conseillant la discrétion aux employés. Par exemple, le sindoor, le mangalsutra (alliance), ou le thali sont autorisés, mais pas le port du thika, cela dans le but de ne pas créer de discrimination entre les départements (indirect discrimination) puisque dans certains départements, tels qu’en cuisine ou au restaurant, le port du thika est contraire aux règles d’hygiène.’
We will pass over the wrong spelling of ‘tikka’. I recall having once read in an issue of a French magazine many years ago that ‘dans certains pays l’ignorance a un statut de valeur culturelle’. I never realised that one day a part of my country would fall in that category.
Where does this notion of ‘la question des signes religieux visibles’ come from? It became acute when fairly recently in Europe certain countries found themselves challenged by some Muslim women wanting to wear their head scarf or the whole body covering, abhaya, imported from climes where they had a raison-d’être but not, it was thought, elsewhere. These forms of dress were estimated to constitute a security risk in the public sphere, hence the concern. But to be politically correct in a context of failing ‘multiculturalism’ and other such -isms and not to appear discriminatory, some governments decided to ban what they called all ‘visible’ religious symbols, to the extent that British Airways went to the ridiculous extreme of dismissing a lady employee who had a cross in the neck chain she was wearing!! When I read about this, I remembered telling myself ‘Poor Jesus!’
Nadia Eweida, who complained that she suffered discrimination at work over her Christian beliefs, took her case to the European Court of Human Rights after British Airways made her stop wearing her white gold cross visibly. The Court ruled in January 2013 that Ms Eweida’s rights had been violated under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It said BA had not struck a fair balance between Ms Eweida’s religious beliefs and the company’s wish to “project a certain corporate image”. David Cameron, then Prime Minister, said he was “delighted” that the “principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld”, adding that people “shouldn’t suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs”.
But in Mauritius, where we have lived together for so long and sported our different religious symbols without any problem? Nor did Soolekha, the employee of La Residence face any issue apparently for a whole 14 years? And to boot, she works not in the kitchen, but in the sales department. So where’s the problem? With the tourists? Apparently not, according to reports in the media. It would be very surprising indeed if that were to be the case. Remember? – tourists are known to keep an open mind, indeed they welcome an opportunity to satisfy their curiosity.
As far as the tikka in the kitchen is concerned, why, if La Residence doesn’t know about a liquid form that can be applied like a varnish and poses no risk of coming off – like perhaps the stick-on type of tikka may – then it is herewith informed about this product. In a spirit of respecting its workforce, it could politely request those concerned to use that variety.
As regards the sindoor, where is the problem? In the kitchen? But don’t kitchen staff who are handling food items wear special caps?
No one who has seen a woman doing her hair and make-up (which means most men) would have failed to appreciate the exquisite feminity of the gesture. No less imbued with feminine grace are the acts of adorning the forehead with a tikka and applying sindoor in the hair parting, which can leave one in awe, given the refined symbolism associated with them.
There are so many weaknesses in the arguments advanced. But then the solutions too exist as we have seen. Instead of spending money to defend l’indéfendable, wouldn’t it be better, in a display of commonsense and a spirit of magnanimity, to apply the available solutions?
However, it is salutary that hotel La Residence, in its latest communique, has decided to maintain the status quo until the court’s determination.
* Published in print edition on 20 April 2018