Is it discriminatory or looking after their own when Indians charge exponentially higher prices for foreigners than for residents to enter tourist destinations?
That's the question that Donnie, Blonde Kim and I debated with Prati and her sister, Priti, late into the night in Delhi after we returned from our whirlwind Taj Mahal trip (coming to you now from Darjeeling, by the by, which involved a cross-country flight and a car ride up a steep, treacherous and lushly beautiful road above the cloud line).
It cost 40 Rupees (less than $1) for Indians to enter the Taj Mahal, while foreigners each pay 750 Rs. (more than $15). Coming from the states, Donnie, Kim and I felt it discriminatory that different people are charged different amounts. In the U.S., we argued, we may have different rates for children, seniors and veterans, but it doesn't matter how rich or poor or what color folks are--any old person speaking any language and hailing from anyplace will pay the senior rate to enter a given attraction.
Prati and her sister argued that India is so dependent on tourism and its own population is so poor that it depends on foreign cash to bolster its economy, that tourists make so much more money than the average Indian per month that it's really no burden to pay more and that, even if it is morally wrong as we three Americans were claiming, it's how the system works.
I don't dispute the fact that Indian citizens are much poorer than people of many other nations, especially with the Rupee-dollar exchange rate working against them. But I maintain that it's logically flawed to say that all Americans (we focused on what we knew in our argument for why foreigners shouldn't be charged more) are wealthy. I'm not wealthy. My dollars go far here, but my return to the U.S. will mean a return to paying U.S. rates for everything. I'm just lucky. Most "poor" Americans would never get to come here at all with a variety of socioeconomic factors working against them. And the "Indians are poor" reasoning is a valid argument for instituting government-funded assistance programs or the like, but viewing cultural sites like the Taj Mahal is in no way necessary for existence. Tourists--Indian and foreign--make the effort to travel here to see and learn and, yes, to spend some money. And we should all be treated the same when we do.
I'm open to other viewpoints (Hi, Prati!) in the comments.