Slum Tourism in India: How Justified is its Promotion?

Slum tourism

Slum tourismTourism is one industry that is always expanding. With people nowadays willing to learn and explore more, there are so many aspects of your country that you can show to people who are eager to visit your country/city/village. Slum tourism is a new offshoot of the tourism sector these days. It has attracted plenty of attention for its both positive and negative aspects.

Arguments Against Slum Tourism

There are many tourists who have stated that they face the question of morality when they go and visit slums as tourists. They also have discussions with the tour guides as to what they are doing could be regarded as poverty tourism. Quite often it has also been seen that people who stay in these slums are not exactly enthused by the prospect of people coming and taking a look at their sorry state. Some of them also say that they are not there because they want to be – perhaps implying that they should be left alone to carry on with their lives with the requisite amount of dignity.

Some of the tourists who have gone on these slum tours have also stated how their guides instructed them to feel awe at the condition of the dwellers and not to show any pity. Perhaps the reason such agreements are arrived at is that the guides know that the slum-dwellers will be offended by such expressions and they wish that to not happen.

The President of Slum Dwellers International, Jockind Arputham, feels that tours such as these are very bad for the dignity of the people living in the slums. He has said that people feel they are like monkeys kept in zoo cages upon being visited by Caucasian tourists. They are openly against such activities. He equates these tours with wanton exploitation considering the unhygienic and difficult conditions they live in get highlighted rather than the struggle that they put in every day in order to sustain themselves.

Tourists also say that at times they find it rather difficult to not look at the old gentlemen in their bare essentials on their way back from a bathroom meant for many, or to not look at the front doors of houses with a single room, which stay open always. They understand that such gazes are not welcome. Residents have also expressed discomfort at being looked at in such a way by tourists. One of the reasons in this case is the stark difference in economic status between the ‘looker’ and the ‘looked’. The looker is always an affluent person while the one being looked at is basically a poor individual who is finding it hard to make his ends meet.

Fabian Frenzel, who works as a lecturer on the subject of political economy of organisation in the University of Leicester, UK, has said that in most cases, no part of the profits made in these tours is given to the slum dwellers, and this is one reason why these tours are regarded as exploitative. However, as Frenzel rightly says, the problem with such a thought process is that it reduces the whole affair to an economic exchange.

Arguments in Favour of Slum Tourism

While it is true that the people in slums are not always living in the best of conditions, it is also perhaps wrong to assume that there is nothing good about their lives or worth projecting. For example in Mumbai’s Dharavi, which is known as the largest slum in India, there are around ten thousand business units operating with aggregate yearly income amounting to INR 30 billion. There are people living in these slums with homes that are protected by close circuit television sets. The Harvard Business School has done a case study where it has analysed the success achieved by the entrepreneurs and professionals living in Dharavi. There are several people here who would not mind tourists in their locality.

There are many guides who feel that the positive aspects of life in slums such as Dharavi should be seen so that the negative notions, which are in such abundance, can be dispelled to a certain extent. It is also wrong to guess that there is no organisation, which conducts slum tours, that does not give back something to the immediate community that acts as the source of its earning.

Reality Tours provides 80% of its profits left after paying taxes to Reality Gives, an NGO that also happens to be its partner. Reality Gives conducts training and imparts education to young ladies in slums and also operates several programmes for people living there. Frenzel has depicted how these tours often lead to positive impact, changing the perception of slums as well as their inhabitants among the visitors. Quite often it has also been seen that slum residents become guides themselves inspired by the droves that tourists arrive in.

Tourists have also said that it is always better to visit a slum so that a proper idea can be formed about the plight of people living there, and so that people can relate to the same. Quite often such connections can lead to changes that are beneficial in the end.

After looking at both the positives and the negatives, one can say that both arguments are equally strong. Ideally these tours should be done in a proper manner whereby the people living in the slums can be informed, and their approval is taken, beforehand. In case the slum dwellers are not comfortable with the prospect, their reservations need to be respected and alternate venues should be looked at. The guides should also give back something to the community. The basic question here is that of consent – the entire affair should be conducted in an agreeable way so that no one is hurt.