Meena Amma’s Line Room by Jetwing Hotels came under attack on social media for allegedly attempting to romanticize a colonial labour built on the harshest conditions.
Hiran Cooray, Chairman of Jetwing Hotels said in a statement that the allegations seem to have a sensationalist view that completely ignores facts.
His statement reads:
I would like to personally speak about the sudden online controversy that has been brewing since last night, regarding Meena Amma’s Line Rooms.
After going through as many of the comments and tweets I can find, I must say that there seems to be a sensationalist view that completely ignores facts that could have been easily requested from us – in fact, I requested one individual to contact me yesterday in order to answer any questions she may have and if there’s a genuine issue for us to work out a solution together. I am sad to say that this conversation never took place, and I have been contacted about this for my comments only an hour ago (8:20pm, Sunday June 17 2018); almost an entire day later.
Jetwing has always stood for honesty and integrity, which is what my father has drilled into my sister Shiromal and I from the moment we were old enough to understand. Ours is a company of people, a family, and we have remained so for 45 years and will continue to do so. Take Meena Amma, for example. She is not a tea plucker we have exploited for our own profits, as some learned commentators have theorized, but rather an integral part of the Jetwing family.
Meena has been a loyal employee of Jetwing for 12 years, a former tea plucker who we recognized as a talented individual and welcomed into the Jetwing family. She is the housekeeper at Jetwing Warwick Gardens, and it was on her request that we refurbished two line rooms within the grounds, as she herself wanted a property to manage in the style and life she knows best. I could not say no to her request, and thus Meena Amma’s Line Rooms were born. We do not seek to romanticize their lives, which have historically been very difficult, and I apologise if that was the impression that people have in their heads at present. Rather, it’s an environment that Meena herself welcomes visitors from all over the world, speaks plainly about her life and experiences, and accompanies them on their excursions.
We are not foolish enough to ignore that yes, not every estate worker is as fortunate as the ones on the Warwick estate. We are a single company, and the most we can do is to at least look after the ones we can.
“Basically most of the guests who come to Jetwing Warwick Gardens are fascinated with the tea picker life, and before our line rooms were made, the guests were taken to other line rooms on their request. Apart from that, most of our staff are family members of the tea estate workers. Tea picker life and character is the basic of JWG’s (Jetwing Warwick Gardens) operation. Meena is not forced to run the line rooms but she is willingly and lovingly doing it. She and the villagers are benefiting equally from the guests who stay at the line rooms. Most of the FB comments on the link reflects that the commenters do not have the real picture of the present day line houses and the lives of the estate workers” – a quote by the Bungalow Manager, Mohamed Faris – who was appalled when I shared the links with him and responded with this message (SMS).
As the old saying goes, “it is better to light a single candle, than curse the darkness” – our company is not a tea producer or processor, and as such we do not have the capacity to impact widespread change; I can only hope that others follow in the practices we have implemented at our small estate and bring enough light to eradicate the darkness.
I spoke to Meena about this as well, and asked her what her opinion is; whether she wants to continue, or to stop the experience. She was hurt, upset and told me “I am happy to do this, and if anyone wants to see our experience, they only have to visit – and as always, it will be my pleasure to extend our renowned service to all our guests” (translated from a conversation we had in Sinhalese). She also told me of her daughters, who were educated at local schools. The elder daughter is currently working for the State Railway department, while her younger daughter is studying accounting at an institute in Colombo. I am certain these girls will pave their own paths and I hope to one day see them in high positions at their respective work places, and more importantly, leading happy and fruitful lives.
If I am to be very honest, this whole incident shows judgment without cause and that truly saddens me. Over the years, the investments we have made in people and sustainable technology have never received as much attention online, despite actual positive and quantitative results.
I am always open to questions, and will answer as much as I can if clarifications are needed. I believe that to any story, there are many sides – the least I can expect is the chance to put forward ours. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and may God bless and keep you all.