Monday, March 17, 2008

Tourism or Voyeurism at its worst?

Move over Taj Mahal or Trip to Gods Own Country and enter Dharavi or bylanes of Paharganj, The new face of Incredible India!

Two hundred rupees to see how wretched someone's life can be. Yes, you read that right. That's how much tourists pay to be taken on a guided tour of some of India's poorest slums. The trips, organised by local NGOs, tour operators and inter-national human rights organisations, are gaining popularity among foreign Tourists.

The idea behind such tours is supposedly to give foreign tourists a picture of the ‘real India' and create awareness about the plight of its less-privileged citizens. It is claimed that the money collected is used to better the lives of slum and street dwellers. 

The tourists often  arrive unannounced, barging into peoples' homes and capturing them on camera without their knowledge or consent! In an Article published in New York Times, David Fennell, a professor of tourism and environment at Brock University in Ontario asks

“Would you want people stopping outside of your front door every day, or maybe twice a day, snapping a few pictures of you and making some observations about your lifestyle?” 

According to him, The real purpose of these is to make Westerners feel better about their station in life.

“It affirms in my mind how lucky I am — or how unlucky they are,” 

Some of the tour operators are

Salaam Baalak Trust : Apparently, these guys specialise in "showcasing" Street Children! According to their website,

They  provide "Salaam Baalak Trust City Walk" for

Salaam Baalak Trust, has developed an exciting city walk through the enchanting streets of the inner city of Pahargunj and the New Delhi railway Station area.

What is the purpose of the walk?

The city walk aims to sensitise people to the lives of street children. It’s a unique way of engaging people in the lives of children in distress. The walk also provides an opportunity for the young people to improve their communication and speaking skills. All proceeds go directly to the trust to enable more opportunities to be made for street children so the walk is 100% non-profit making.

Reality Tours and Travel: These guys specialize in "Slum Tours". According to their website:

We are a unique tour and travel agency, based in Mumbai, India, that specializes in guided tours of Dharavi- Asia's biggest “slum”- a place of poverty and hardship but also a place of enterprise, humour and non-stop activity.

Chris Way, A British man who is one of the owners of Reality Tours and Travel has vowed to put 80 percent of his profits back into the Dharavi slum. The catch, though, is that Mr. Way’s company has yet to earn a profit on the tours , for which he charges anywhere between 300 - 4000 rupees. In fact according to them, The company made a loss of Rs 111,166 for the period ending 31 March 2006. 

Ogling the poorest of the poor isn't tourism at all. It's voyeurism. These tours are exploitative and have no place on an ethical traveler's itinerary. THIS MUST BE STOPPED!

Please send your protest to

Joint Secretary,
Ministry of Tourism
Government of India

Room No. 123,
Transport Bhawan,
No. 1, Parliament Street,
New Delhi - 110 001 (India)
Telephone: +91 - 11 - 23715084
Telefax : +91 - 11 - 23715084
E-mail :

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1 comment:

Chris said...

I'm one of the owners of Reality Tours and Travel, who operate these "exploitative" tours, as you call them (I just heard of your blog from google alerts).

I can see that you've cherry picked the quotes from the NYT which portray the tours in a bad light.

I think your opinion is based on inaccurate information (we don't barge into people's homes and we have a no camera policy) and is a little patronising- perhaps you should consider the opinions of the residents of the areas which we visit.

We have set up a community centre in the area, to show people that we are genuine in what we are trying to do before we break even.