Indian Railway massage offer rubs passengers up the wrong way

Passengers will be offered three classes of head-and-foot massage starting at 100 rupees. — AFP pic
Passengers will be offered three classes of head-and-foot massage starting at 100 rupees. — AFP pic

NEW DELHI, June 13 — A new Indian Railways offer to pamper passengers with massages on its trains has met with ridicule on social media and complaints from one MP that it contravened “Indian culture”.

Due to start later this month, passengers on 39 trains departing from central India will be offered three classes of head-and-foot massage starting at 100 rupees (US$1.50).

The “gold” service will see on-board masseurs use any “non-sticky or olive oil”, “diamond” customers will offer essential oils while the “platinum” offering, at 300 rupees, will be carried out with cream.

Indian Railways, which announced the project on the weekend, carries 25 million passengers every day and said it wants the initiative to generate additional income and offer comfort to passengers on long journeys.

But Shankar Lalwani from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said it was inappropriate to have strangers giving and receiving massages in the presence of women.

Women’s groups, Lalwani told AFP, “said it was improper to have such services in public places. I think it’s against the Indian culture”.

Lalwani, a newly elected MP from the central city of Indore, said he wrote a letter to Indian Railways calling for the initiative to be scrapped.

Many social media users were also unimpressed, saying the state-owned company’s focus should be elsewhere.

“Let railways focus on providing safe, reliable, fast transport instead of such pathetic, stupid, third rated ideas!,” one Twitter user said.

“Kindly focus on toilet cleaning. Massage is not a necessary issue but toilet is during Journey,” wrote another.

Built by India’s former British colonial rulers, the railway system is one of the world’s largest and is still the main means of long-distance travel in the huge country.

It operates more than 12,000 trains but suffers from underfunding and creaking infrastructure that has resulted in chronic safety and hygiene problems.

The government’s own corruption watchdog in 2017 labelled Indian Railways food “unfit for human consumption”, often containing recycled or expired food.

Last year, public confidence took another blow when a rail caterer was filmed making tea from toilet water.

Complaints about rats and cockroaches near onboard kitchens, and meals plagued with insects, are also commonplace. — AFP

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