Indian food delivery app Zomato rehires sacked employee who triggered language debate

Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal defends company’s decision to reinstate the employee

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 21 October 2021 05:26
Indian food delivery app Zomato's ads face backlash online

Indian food delivery app Zomato reinstated an employee it sacked for asking a customer from a southern Indian state to “learn Hindi,” a language predominantly spoken in the north.

Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal came to the executive’s defence on Wednesday, saying the exchange was an “ignorant mistake” and not something the employee should have been fired for.

The customer from Tamil Nadu on Monday tweeted screenshots of a conversation he had had with an unidentified customer care agent.

The customer, identified by his Twitter handle @vikash67456607, had requested a refund because one of the food items he had ordered was missing.

“Customer care says amount can’t be refunded as I didn’t know Hindi. Also takes lesson that being an Indian I should know Hindi. Tagged me a liar as he didn’t know Tamil,” he wrote in a tweet, sharing the screenshots.

“Hindi is our national language. So it is very common that everybody should know Hindi little bit [sic],” the agent said, according to the screenshots posted by the user.

The exchange went viral, with hashtags such as #Reject_Zomato, #StopHindiImposition and #Hindi_Theriyathu_Poda [Tamil for “Don’t know Hindi. Get lost”], trending on Twitter.

The company’s initial response was to issue a public apology, stressing that it stood for diversity.

It apologised to the customer for the agent’s remarks, greeting him in Tamil. “Vanakkam Vikash, we apologise for our customer care agent’s behaviour,” it said in its apology.

“This customer care agent’s statement does not represent our company’s stance towards language and diversity,” the firm said.

“We have terminated the agent for their negligence towards our diverse culture. The termination is in line with our protocols, and the agent’s behaviour was clearly against the principles of sensitivity that we train our agents for on a regular basis,” said the statement from the company, in both English and Tamil.

The customer, in another tweet on Tuesday, requested the food delivery app to “reconsider on recruiting back the employee rather than terminating. I suggest to give them a proper training instead.”

Mr Goyal, a day later, defended his firm’s stance, saying in a Twitter thread that the “level of tolerance and chill in our country needs to be way higher than it is nowadays.”

Mr Goyal termed the employee’s comments to be an “ignorant mistake” and defended the reinstatement: “We should all tolerate each other’s imperfections. And appreciate each other’s language and regional sentiments,” he said.

“Tamil Nadu – we love you,” he added, in another tweet.

The customer’s complaint and Mr Goyal’s defence, however, have not gone down well with social media users, who have launched into a fiery countrywide debate over language.

“Hindi is official language for union government. Not National Language of India. If you are providing service in TN, your customer care executive should know Tamil. You provide service to customer and you are paid for that. Don’t teach customer to learn,” said one Twitter user.

“India is special because it has many people from different languages and cultures united together in a single country. If u can’t respect other languages or cultures, don’t call yourself as an Indian. #HindiIsNotNationalLanguage @zomato #Reject_Zomato,” tweeted another person.

Kanimozhi, a prominent leader from Tamil Nadu’s ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, weighed in on the language debate as well.

“Tamilians need no lesson on who is Indian. It’s not a must for customers to know Hindi/English. It should be mandatory for support centres to speak in the state’s language,” Ms Kanimozhi tweeted in Tamil.

India does not have any “national” languages, according to the country’s Constitution, the Eighth schedule of which lists 22 official languages that are recognised by the federal government. This list includes Tamil.

The debate over Hindi has been a controversial one in the southern Indian states, each of which has its own distinct language, traditions and culture. The states’ citizens, activists and leaders have often opposed what they have dubbed to be the imposition of the Hindi language on them.

Several right-wing activists, in turn, have pushed back, saying Hindi should be a part of the culture and languages across India.

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