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Home Culture & Society Tribal tourism in India

Tribal tourism in India

by caribdirect
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Archiman Bhaduri for CaribDirect

Staff Writer - Archi

The recent kidnapping drama involving Italian tourist and tour guide operator Paolo Bosusco have opened up a countrywide debate over whether tribal tourism, now available in multiple states across India, is really a thing to be encouraged by the state and central governments.

A government report for tourism statistics in 2010 took note of the fact that with greater urbanisation there was greater demand to see rural landscapes among Indian and foreign tourists — and encouraged the development of such locales.

“Across the world the trends of industrialisation and development have had an urban centric approach. Alongside, the stresses of urban lifestyles have led to a “counter-urbanization” syndrome. This has led to growing interest in the rural areas. At the same time this trend of urbanization has led to falling income levels, lesser job opportunities in the rural areas leading to desertion of villages. Rural Tourism is one of the few activities which can provide a solution to these problems,” the report noted

When one is tired of the usual tourist spots — mountains, monuments and markets — there is always tribal tourism in India. Private tour operators and government tourism departments — in the states of Odisha, as well as in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Gujarat and Rajasthan — are showcasing their tribal areas as the new and happening tourist spots.

But the harm that unregulated tourism in tribal areas can do was there for everyone to see after the January report this year about a video that showed Jarawa tribals in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on the Indian Ocean being lured to dance by tour operators in exchange for food that the tourists were throwing at them. However, voyeuristic videos of semi-naked Jarawa women, ones most likely shot by tourists, have been available on video-sharing websites for years now.

Soon after the Jarawa reports, articles about “human safaris” also emerged from other states as well.

Photo courtesy tribes-of-india.blogspot.com

The tours are simple. You stay in the nearest urban location in a hotel room, have a vehicle that ferries you to the nearest tribal settlement, you watch them and then return with an understanding of their culture that a guide may have helpfully provided you with.

Called ‘human safaries’ by their critics, it isn’t very difficult to find a tour group on the internet that would be willing to take you to market places where tribes barter items while you watch them or helpfully click photographs of them. A search of the internet reveals the eastern state of Odisha to be perhaps the most marketed of the ‘tribal tour’ destinations.

The Italian tour guide operator, Bosusco, had gone trekking to tribal areas well after the Odisha government issued a notification on February 25 preventing tourists from visiting tribes without official permission.

Bosusco would charge 40 euros per person per day for taking tourists trekking through Odisha’s forests. Indian tour operators offer tribal tours for less and with fewer hardships involved.

But now voices are raised against this operation. The tribal rights activists see the promotion of tribal tourism as nothing but an effort to exhibit the people like exotic animals.

“Tour operators in Odisha often make the people sing and dance. It is disturbing that tribes are seen as objects of entertainment,” a human rights activist was quoted as saying in the Indian media.

“Tribals sing and dance for their own pleasure, but visitors should not be invited. This is an intrusion into their privacy.” He said.

Experts also pointed out that tribal communities gain little from the multi-crore tourism industry and it is mainly the tourist operators and hoteliers who are making the money from this.

What irks the activists most is that tourism is being promoted in neglected regions that lack basic amenities such as functional schools and primary healthcare centres and clean drinking water.

It is because of this neglect that Maoist, a radical group operating among tribal people of India, kidnapped Bosusco and fellow Italian Claudio Colangelo. On top of the Maoists’ list of 13 demands for their release was an end to tribal tourism.

Its time for the Indian government to take a deeper look into the issue.

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