AMONG THE FEW things that raise the heckles of your columnist, whose roots go back to Kerala and Malayalam, is Hindi chauvinism and this despite him having, as brought up in Mumbai, spoken the language all his life. Perhaps it is the irritating idea, so firmly fixated in so many heartland brains, that Hindi is the national language and, therefore, superior. Or, that it is at the core of what being an Indian after Independence means because one modern nation should have one language. Napoleon, for example, forced one strain of French down his country’s throat to unify it but India did equally well without such coercion. In fact, the reason for its smooth unity is probably the deliberate tiptoe around language dominance.
The ignorant confidence of Hindi speakers is a common spectacle and while the rest of the non-Hindi speaking world doesn’t really care, in the south, especially Tamil Nadu, this issue takes its most sensitive form. And so, one would expect a fallback when a Zomato customer care executive refused to give a refund to a Tamil Nadu customer because she, due to her inability to understand Tamil, couldn’t confirm from a restaurant that the order had a dish missing. To add insult to injury, she told the customer that Hindi was the national language and therefore, by inference, it was her right to be understood when she tried to communicate with the restaurant. The customer promptly uploaded screenshots of the chat on Twitter. It promptly went viral. Zomato promptly fired her because Tamil Nadu is after all a big market and, to make it worse, its main competitor Swiggy is a south Indian venture. Here, this story should have ended except that Zomato then reinstated the customer care executive back. And your columnist, despite his irritation at the original sin, thinks Zomato was not just right but has set a salutary precedent.
Social media shaming and its consequences are blind to due process or context. Indeed, it is an article of faith that what you see must be taken as the entire and only truth with the guillotine coming down once and for all. Especially for corporates, which are paranoid about image, the human cost of killing a career based on what social media feels is second nature. That Zomato actually showed a heart is both surprising and courageous. Its founder, Deepinder Goyal, gave his reasons on Twitter for why the person was reinstated and it is a tutorial for every company that bends over backwards to appease online mobs. Goyal said that the mistake was not malicious but stemmed from ignorance, and you don’t sack young people at the beginning of their careers for it and, in addition, this does not merit becoming a national issue. “The level of tolerance and chill in our country needs to be way higher than it is nowadays,” he wrote. Because that is all that it was—a misunderstanding over a food bill garnished with some lack of general knowledge.