Kashtamar is King!


We now have laws favouring us. So rise and stand up for your consumer rights, exhorts Nivedita Louis.

If someone could give a tough fight to Kumbakarna, it will be no other than our “Kashtamar” – our own selves. Right from 1980s, we have been woken up with “Jaago Grahak Jaago”, to no avail. We continue to sleep unperturbed by the din surrounding us.

All the business houses and service undertakings have that one ‘mantra’ displayed – the Gandhi quote on customer being the king and the ‘purpose’ behind the business. Having worked in one of the central government undertakings, I have come across the ‘attitude’ of the staff towards their hapless customers. Every time there is a quarrel, the ‘public’ point their fingers at the smiling Gandhi quote behind us and says, “I am the boss!” With the advent of What’sapp and Facebook, customers are now more educated. They now have gyan that milk is made of bleaching powder and water. They know ‘plastic rice’ is cheaper to ‘make’ and keep throwing balls of rice on the walls to check for availability of ‘plastic’. Thank Heavens, they said rice is plastic. I shudder to think what might happen if someone forwarded a message saying ‘new born babies are contaminated with plastic’. The entire neighborhood might have turned Kamsa with Krishnas!

There was much elation when the COPRA Act (Consumer Protection Act) was passed way back in 1986. Little did we imagine that COPRA would turn out to be a damp squib. Yet, the only cases that are easy to register these days are the consumer dispute cases. Don’t like your doctor? File a case. Don’t like your hair stylist? File a case. Cases are filed right, left and centre, putting the already burgeoning disputes redressal forums to tremendous pressure.

The very word ‘customer service’, I am reminded of the innumerable toll-free help lines that exist. The banking sector and insurance help lines do yeomen service. The standard reply from your banker for any account related help would be, “contact our toll free number”. The number is displayed at every nook and cranny of the bank, except those that are visible. You finally catch hold of the number and call, pressing 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 1, 0 and by the time you reach their customer relations executive, you would have lost half your fingers pressing the phone keys.

My call with my broadband service provider always looks like a technical call directly placed to the Silicon Valley. He commands me to “reboot” and I ask stunned…”what boot? I have only shoes, no boot”. When he further prods me to unfasten the Ethernet chord and switch off the router and ‘fire’ it back, I am bewildered at the number of cables extending in and out of the strange device. I go on “is this green one, the red one or the blue one” and by the time the poor fellow understands he is dealing with a ‘cyber- guru’, he loses his patience as fast as a balding man losing his hair.

Every time someone asks me to call ‘toll free’ number, I cringe. No sir, not again. The time we have to wait in ‘queue’ to get to the customer relations executive is longer than the one that was in front of Reliance store to get a Jio sim on its launch. Phew! Calling the telephone department? Ah…count yourself lucky if you are newly married. By the time your connection is through, you would probably be nursing your second child!

For the fear of losing out to competition, business houses manage to ‘settle’ disputes with customers by hook or by crook. As for the service sector, the only way of ‘settling’ disputes is the ink starved ‘apology letter’. Pull them to the disputes redressal forum, they elude it, skipping hearings and tendering ‘unconditional’ apologies.

The legal framework of COPRA is strong, so are all our laws. It is that ‘knowledge’ the customers must have of their rights, that is awfully lacking. The “Kashtamar” has to stand up and fight, rather than bear silently the treatment meted out to him. It is the indifference of the educated mass that keeps the rest of the country in dark. Time to actually rise up and ‘shine’!


Nivedita Louis

Nivedita Louis is a writer, blogger and social activist by choice. Bitten by the travel bug, and smitten by nature, she loves travelling and cooking. She blogs at www.cloudninetalks.blogspot.com.