If a Nepali tourist in the Netherlands gets charged double price for a bus fare, this is illegal. Likewise if a Nepali tourist has to pay money to just walk along the main square in Amsterdam, whereas all Dutch people can roam about freely, this would be illegal. And isn’t that the way it is supposed to be?
Last week I travelled with my wife from Pokhara to Kathmandu by bus. At the ticket counter my anger at being discriminated in this country soars to new heights: I have to pay almost double price for sitting in the same bus. ‘Travel with a difference’ is what Greenline calls it. I am Dutch, my wife was born in Nepal, so we travel a lot to Nepal. I love your country but this discrimination is nagging at me. Mind you I am not entering a museum, nor going into any temple, I am just passing through, going from A to B, and I am being charged money for doing nothing more than walking around.
This dual pricing is everywhere and has become so accepted that people forget what it really is: pure and blatant discrimination. Discrimination according to the Oxford dictionary is ‘The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex’. So what form of discrimination are we facing here? In order to understand this we need to look at some of the justifications I come across when talking to Nepalis, government official etc.
‘It’s not discrimination, it is just because you have a different nationality.’ This remark of Greenline’s manager in Pokhara is so sad it actually becomes laughable. To differentiate according to nationality is of course pure discrimination and condemnable as it is. But if nationality is really the issue here then why do all the Nepalis who have moved abroad and taken on foreign citizenship still pay the Nepali price?
My wife still pays the Nepali bus price, the Nepali man next to us who actually holds an Australian passport pays the Nepali price. Perhaps it is language then or the fact that they see me as a tourist? But no, even if I speak fluent Nepali and hold a residential visa, Greenline refuses to sell me a ticket for ‘Nepali’ price.
‘Foreigners have more money and should therefore pay more for the same product or service.’ Now this I think is a tricky one. I don’t mind the local singing bowl shop keeper being opportunistic and asking a tourist a higher price for his product. Haggling is in this case part of the deal and most probably when the deal is concluded both are happy with its outcome. The tourist thinks it’s a great deal and the shopkeeper is happy that he got a little extra for his product. A win-win situation.
But again I don’t think wealth is really issue here. The Nepali-Australian man next to us owns three businesses and has about 50 employees…I think it’s very likely he has a lot more money to spend than I do. And I have several Nepali friends who own well running businesses here in Nepal, they certainly are wealthier than me and a lot wealthier than the average backpacker.
In most instances of ‘gora’ discrimination, the underlying factor seems to be racial: anyone who looks Nepali will get a Nepali price, anyone who looks like a foreigner will get the foreigner treatment. I am sure that in official dealings with the government a nationality check is done and one is discriminated against according to nationality rather than race. But in day-to-day life racial discrimination is the norm.
In the new Nepali Constitution, the provisions under Right to Equality clearly state that “The State shall not discriminate against citizens on grounds of religion, colour, caste, tribe, sex, sexual orientation, bodily condition, disability, status of health, marital status, pregnancy, financial status, origin, language or region, ideological conviction or any of these.”
‘Hurray!’ was my initial reaction, here it clearly says that discrimination according to race, language or wealth is not allowed. But a second closer look draws my attention to the word ‘citizen’. I am not a citizen of Nepal, nor will I probably ever be. Even if I hold a non-tourist visa, I am still not a citizen of Nepal. So according to the new Constitution discrimination of foreigners on any of the above mentioned grounds is perfectly legal and thus acceptable.
The constitution of my country has a different perspective on the application of equality: “All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.”
So if a Nepali tourist in the Netherlands gets charged double price for a bus fare, this is illegal. Likewise if a Nepali tourist has to pay money to just walk along the main square in Amsterdam, whereas all Dutch people can roam about freely, this would be illegal. And isn’t that the way it is supposed to be?
Exactly how far is Nepal going to take this milking of the tourist cash cow? ‘A guest is god’ is a motto I heard a lot in Nepal. Well I certainly felt that way 20 years ago when I came here the first time. Nowadays I feel more like a walking dollar who can be ripped off, double charged, cheated and discriminated against with the consent of, and even stimulated by, the Nepal government.
The fact that this discrimination is even approved of by the new Constitution is outright sad and frustrating. So dear Nepali government, please take your responsibility as defender of human rights, as promoter of equality and stop this overt discrimination against foreigners and treat us as equal human beings.