Freedom is a much misunderstood word because we take the ‘free’ from this word to sometimes do what is unthinkable and undoable. This is when the word changes form and takes the form of anarchy, though not everything unthinkable and undoable is anarchy. Pope John Paul II once remarked that ‘freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought’. Thus we are not free to flout traffic rules saying, ‘I have the freedom to walk or drive wherever I want to, whenever.’
I watch freedom getting transformed into minor forms of anarchy every other day on Delhi roads (and this must be the case on other roads in other cities in other countries too, I’m sure) when we brazenly drive on footpaths because we are in a hurry to reach somewhere and the traffic is dense and moving too slowly. We are certainly not ‘free’ to do this, or are we?
Take the case of Sonali Shetty, a writer from Dehradun, who claims to have had her freedom to feed street children in Shiv Sagar restaurant in CP in Delhi quite literally mauled by the management. The Delhi Dy CM tweeted, ‘This is typical colonial mindset. Can’t be tolerated. Have ordered DM New Delhi to enquire & report within 24 hours.’ Sisodia also called the act of her being turned out as ‘inhumane’, and added, ‘If the allegations are proven to be true, then we will revoke the licence of the restaurant and take action.’ The Indian Express reports that ‘the CCTV footage of the restaurant was examined and the children could be seen sitting at the table for about an hour-and-a-half without service.’
Right of admission reserved
The hospitality industry does have the clause of keeping the right of admission reserved as their business thrives on image. There have been enough cases where people in chappals were not allowed to enter a fine dining space… or people not in the proper dress being turned back. Indians were not allowed to enter certain exclusive clubs during British rule. Blacks were once denied the right to even walk on certain roads or enter the whites-only localities in the United States. However, most of these obnoxious rules are dead now and so race, religion, and nationality are not valid reasons to deny entry, though we must remember that running a restaurant or a hotel is all about the transaction of money for a service rendered. So what needs to be examined in this case is if Sonali expected the restaurant to feed the children for free. If yes, the restaurant management had all the right not only to deny service but to also ask them to leave.
Sonali does have the right and the freedom to order food online and feed as many street children as she wants. She also has the right to seek intervention by the right authorities if she and her guests were turned out despite having the intention to pay for the food they ordered.
However, if we all start exercising the right to sit on a dharna for every minor inconsistency, there will be anarchy all around. After all, haven’t we been inconvenienced by the frequent dharnas of our CM? Disturbing public peace and disrupting the normal flow of routine isn’t something that we need to encourage… and I say this because there are umpteen examples where this was done to garner nothing but cheap publicity. It is well within my rights to click pictures of anyone flouting any rule and sending them to the administrators for action. The right to protest has an uncanny inclination to be closely linked to cheap publicity as well.
Whenever protests and publicity shake hands, anarchy wins. Yes, this does happen all the time. Our politicians do it, our actors and actresses do it, our activists do it, and even writers can do it… yes, they can always resort to a publicly visible protest to get some attention from the media. Thus creating a controversy to attract the electorate, get people interested to jack up box-office collections, or intrigue readers to go and buy a book are not plots that are new anymore.
Let me also add here that a board that says ‘OPEN’ in front of stores, hotels, and restaurants, simply represents an offer to enter into an unwritten contract for a presumed fiscal transaction that may or may not really take place. The offer is not an invitation to enter and create a ruckus that is intended to send other patrons out in a hurry… and if this is what happens, the owners have the right to ask the culprits to leave.
Finally, what the management of Shiv Sagar probably never realised is the opportunity that was knocking at their door. They could have embraced the street children, clicked pictures and instagrammed or tweeted smiling faces of poverty enjoying their hospitality. They forgot that marketing is not so much about sales as it is about creating a favourable image in the minds of current and potential patrons. The sad truth is that poverty today works well as caption that has the power to push anyone through the clutter of our social matrix and straight into the words of kowtowing headlines.
What really matters is that we, the public, need to be aware of the thin line that makes freedom quite different from anarchy.
13 June 2016