Days after Mocambo denied entry to a driver for not being “properly dressed”, the city’s taxi unions have gone on a warpath against the premiere restaurant. The city’s taxi unions have declared that they will not take passengers to or from the restaurant. While some have cited the incident as an example of the way in which the city’s strong trade unions “harm business interests”, the trade unions themselves have argued differently.
The unions have argued that while the incident at Mocambo was one instance, drivers are often subjected to such cases of public humiliation and the treatment meted out to them is habitually elitist. One protester explained that most drivers in the city’s taxi fleets are migrants from Bihar, many of them first generation migrants attempting to make a living navigating through the city’s harrowing streets. “But we’re treated like servants, not service providers,” said the driver.
After a demonstration in front of the restaurant last Sunday, the Kolkata Taxi Operators’ Union (KTOU) and the Taxi Operators’ Coordination Committee (TOCC) said taxi drivers would continue to boycott the restaurant until the management issued a written apology to taxi driver Manish Tiwari. KTOU and TOCC are affiliated to the All India Trade Union Congress, the labour wing of the Communist Party.
While the Left-backed union claims that they constitute about 60% of the city’s taxi fleets – the TMC has disputed this. They, however, have not made a statement against the Left’s demand. As one senior TMC leader puts it, “Of course we support the demand to treat taxi drivers more humanely. For political reasons, we can’t support them openly. But I’m sure many drivers associated with us will answer their call, as a matter of principle.”
Mocambo is a 60-year-old, hallowed fine dining restaurant, associated with the glorious seventies in Kolkata, where along with other establishments on Park Street such as Moulin Rouge and Trincas combined live music and cabaret with signature dishes (deviled crabs being a particular favorite). Whether the taxi union hurts the restaurants actual footfall remains to be seen. The restaurant is, after all, well connected with the rest of the city and taxi drivers can hardly afford to boycott Park Street in its entirety. But the restaurant management has admitted that the incident has damaged their reputation.
Those who’ve rushed to the defense of the restaurant have argued that the establishment has the right to refuse to serve customers, while others have rued the inevitable politicisation of the incident (before the Left-backed union protest, there were several other protests by Left-back activist groups and the Congress).
Mocambo had initially remained quiet on the issue. But as the outrage continued, with many customers vowing to boycott the restaurant during the Durga Puja, they issued a statement saying, “Mocambo’s policy has always been and still is not to discriminate against any person on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to access to Mocambo. We are currently deeply scrutinizing the events that could have led to a bad experience for any of our esteemed patrons and in the light of a recent incident, an enquiry is being made and we assure you that follow up action will be taken on the revelation of the truth,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, the taxi drivers union claimed that such discrimination was hardly uncommon for them in Kolkata, a city which prides itself on being liberal. “Is the city liberal? I don’t think so. This is not the first time that a driver has been turned away. Because we work for hours in a day, stay outdoors, we can’t afford to have nice clothes on. But that doesn’t mean we’re less human than others. Even if we can afford it, we avoid fine dining restaurants. People will always raise their eyebrows and ask questions if a taxi driver enters a restaurant,” said Naval Kishore Srivastava, KTOU.