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SHOCKING: 6-year-old refused entry at mall play zone for being 'scary'

Last updated on: August 01, 2014 09:00 IST

SHOCKING: 6-year-old refused entry at mall play zone for being 'scary'

Monalisa Das/The NEWS Minute

Outrage has poured in from all corners after a manager at a play zone in a Mumbai mall refused entry to a special child and her parents. The father speaks of the horror.

Last week a father’s emotional appeal came up on Facebook, many joined in to share his anguish, and we believe it is important to share his story.

Six-year-old Tiana’s highlight of the week is a trip to a gaming zone in a mall in Goregaon from her house in Andheri, where she lives with her parents and elder brother. And her parents are happy enough to oblige this demand.

Last week, in what was to be a regular weekly trip, Neville Dhabhar and his wife took their daughter to FunCity in suburban Mumbai’s Oberoi mall.

However, much to their shock, they were stopped from entering the play area. The manager of the mall told them that they could not allow Tiana to play there. When asked for a reason, he said that he had received complaints from parents who said that their children were getting scared of looking at Tiana, because she was a ‘special child’.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing”, Dhabhar told The News Minute.

Tiana was born with a rare genetic disorder called partial albinism. The Dhabhars take her to the play zone every week, because it is similar to therapy for her. She likes playing there and it helps her in her development. 

Referring to her pictures Dhabhar asks, “Does she look scary to you? How could they call a little girl scary?”

Adding salt to the injury, the manager kept on repeating that Tiana was a special child. “Was he trying to remind us of what we already knew?” asks a bewildered Dhabhar.

Tiana’s mother, too, was very hurt. She told the manager that it was okay if he did not allow Tiana to play in there, but he would have to give the reason to them in writing. The manager refused.

This incident took place in full public view. Dhabhar is of the opinion that the manager could have taken them aside and then discussed the issue with them. But he chose to do it in front of everybody. “We felt embarrassed and humiliated”, he said.

However, other parents in the area soon joined and took support of the Dhabhars. Sensing he was fighting a lonely battle, the manager then agreed to allow Tiana in the play area. “But, he said that FunCity would not take any responsibility for Tiana. He behaved as if he was doing a favour to us by letting Tiana play there,” asserts Dhabhar.

Dhabhar asked him whether he knew what the repercussions of his actions would have been if this happened in places like United Arab Emirates or London. To which pat came his reply, “Lekin yeh Hindustan hai (But this is India).”His audacity startled them.

The issue gained momentum after Dhabhar posted his ordeal in the mall on Facebook. Soon word spread, and support for him and his family has been pouring in from across the world. Thousands of people have voiced their support to Dhabhar and his cause.  From non-governmental organisations to activists, human rights members to parents who have special kids, the solidarity that Dhabhar has been receiving from all quarters is simply overwhelming. 

“An employee of a mall from Dubai called me yesterday. He told me that they have called a staff meeting in order to learn from the incident in India. So that they can take precautionary steps against something similar happening there ever. And look how the scene is in India,” he said.

Part of a note being circulated by a person unknown to Dhabhar reads, ‘In support of Mr. Dhabhar’s family, my family and I pledge not visit any mall or establishment that has a FunCity outlet. The least that the management of FunCity can do, is to tender a public apology not only to the Dhabhar family but to all the families with children having special needs, who are appalled by this pathetic behaviour.’

Pankaj Bhatt, business head of FunCity, on Friday contacted Dhabhar through an SMS asking to meet him. “Allow me a chance to clarify and personally apologise, a chance to FunCity team to improve on our service.”

A media report carries a statement of a FunCity official who claims that the child was not allowed because the play zone was already crowded. Dhabhar rubbishes all such statements.

The officials of Oberoi mall, on July 29, issued a statement on their Facebook page, which partly reads, “We have spoken to the senior management of FunCity about this, and we as well FunCity team has spoken to the customer and have addressed the issue appropriately, satisfying the customer with the response.”

However, Dhabar, who is clear about what he wants, looks anything but satisfied for now. “I do not blame the mall per se. People ask me if I want compensation from FunCity. I tell them that I do not want anything but an apology. Say sorry not only to Tiana but millions of such kids around the world. An apology made by the management of FunCity on Facebook, Twitter and in front of the media. I want them to say that nothing of this sort will ever happen again. They need to train and educate their staff on how to handle special kids.”

The whole week has gone by a blur for Dhabhar. Juggling work, family and then speaking to people and thanking them for their support has consumed him for now. “My daughter doesn’t even know what is going on”.

He plans on taking Tiana to the play zone again next week. “Why should I stop? Why would I deprive my daughter of her source of entertainment?” asks the concerned father.

Dhabhar also says that he has been indirectly asked to remove the Facebook post that has been shared over 3,000 times from just his account.

The two women who sit on the counter of the play area have known Tiana for some time now. When Dhabhar later asked them what went wrong, they told they had no idea. “They said they liked Tiana and that she had never caused any trouble to anyone there. They too were shocked.”

Dhabhar doesn’t know who the parents that complained were, or if anyone did complain at all. But if it is true, it is sad, he feels. “We should never teach children to differentiate among each other.”

“I stood up for the right of my daughter. Not just because she is a special child, but because firstly she is just a child. I would have stood for any kid. I do not differentiate between children. Children need to be treated equally”, he states.

Tiana is a loved daughter and an adored sister. When her brother got to know of this, he was equally furious. “But she is smart girl you know. She can sell off both my wife and me”, quips the proud father that Dhabhar is and roars with laughter.

Courtesy: The NEWS Minute

Image: The play zone at the mall in Goregaon