07/02/2015 8:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

'Madam, This Is India,' Said Pune McDonald's Employee To Me

Shaheena Attarwala

I was visiting Pune to attend the 5th Bharatiya Chhatra Sansad (BCS) at the MIT School of Government along with some friends. One night my friends and I went out for a walk and decided to buy coke floats from the McDonald's close by. As we exited the outlet with our floats, a street child told us that he'd like one too. I decided to oblige and went into the store to buy him one, thinking that no one would object if I accompanied him.

To my surprise, though, as we were standing in the queue, a staff member approached us, caught the child by his collar and pushed him out. I followed on his heels and demanded to know why he had done such a thing. He responded rudely, "Madam, we do not allow such people."

I argued that the child had been brought in by me, but he refused to shift from his stand. My friends - who were standing out at the entrance - and I were taken aback and stunned by this behaviour. Nevertheless, I purchased the drink and handed it over to the kid who was now standing outside at the entrance stairs. After this my friends and I left.

I felt a bit intimidated and did not think it was appropriate to push the issue further at that moment. I probably would have not felt so bitter and hurt inside had they spoken to us politely and sorted it out.

The incident continued to bother me, and after returning to Mumbai I blogged about it and started spreading awareness on social media. As a consumer I felt it was important to let people know what had happened and to have others raise their voices to join mine. No sooner had I posted my account that I got a call from one of their employees. The call wasn't very pleasant or productive. After some irrelevant talk I questioned the man on the other side, "Would McDonald's do this in the USA?" To which his immediate reply was, "Madam this is India." I lost my cool and without another word hung up. Later I sent them a mail to which their reply was shocking. They claimed that the boy wasn't accompanied by anyone. This was a bald-faced lie and I wrote back asking them to share the CCTV footage.

As the news started spreading and became viral, the media started promoting the story and people joined the cause. My friends and I gave interviews to media channels about the incident and our views on the same. As of date I haven't received any updates from McDonald's post that email exchange. Nevertheless, looking at people pay attention to these street kids gives me a sense of assurance that "positive change is inevitable."

Poverty is a serious problem and the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. We see so many kids begging every day, and sometimes I feel it doesn't bother us since it's become an accepted part of our society now. Children are the future of this country, and if we treat them in this fashion and if this is the life they have, how can we be assured that tomorrow they will grow up to be good citizens?

We all need to do our bit. It starts with small acts of appreciation and gratitude. The state must also take the children of today as a serious agenda on their manifestoes.

Incidentally, the reason I chose social media to address this issue is because one, I am always online for work and secondly, because I successfully used social media for my online campaign called #buildatoilet - sanitation is another issue I feel strongly about. My campaign helped me raise funds to build a toilet for a poor family in Uttar Pradesh. This initiative was also appreciated on the UN's water website.