This piece was originally published on Youth Ki Awaaz’ and reprinted with permission here.
In February, earlier this year, the government of Odisha decided to once again allow foreigners to visit areas with a tribal population after a gap of three years. In 2012, Odisha barred access to tribal areas for foreign tourists after tourism websites used pictures of scantily dressed Bonda and Dongaria tribals in a bid to attract tourists. The kidnapping of two Italian tourists by Maoists the same year also led to the decision to curtail access. The state government barred ‘physical proximity’ of tourists to tribals and entry into their homes. It asked collectors not to allow entertainment of tourists by tribals while banning them from clicking their pictures or shooting videos.
In the past decade, India has seen a revolution in tourism, and tribal tours have become extremely popular among tourists from all over India and abroad. As per the 2013 survey by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, tribals form 8.6 percent of the total Indian population.
Tribal tourism has been instrumental in creating various financial opportunities for the tribes living in the hinterlands. It has helped foster awareness about the indigenous people in India, many of whom face oppression, lack of opportunities and social exclusion.
While tourism may seem to be doing good for the society, it also is creating social and psychological consequences for the tribals that are more detrimental than beneficial. In the past decade, many tourism companies have mushroomed offering tours of tribal areas.
However, many travel agencies do not take a culturally sensitive and ethical approach to tourism. Research studies have reported the consequences of reckless tourist activities in tribal areas. These include culture-shock, exploitation, objectification, humiliation, undermining one’s culture and an increase in inter-tribe conflicts. The question still remains: what can be done to make tribal tourism ethical and protect the indigenous tribes from exploitation?
‘Responsible tourism’ that is guided by ethical practices and cultural sensitivity is the need of the hour. Visitors must be educated on the negative impact tribal tourism can have on the indigenous communities. Travellers participating in any form of tribal tourism should be sensitised about the community they are visiting. On a more formal level, the government must lay down fundamental rules regarding activities carried out in tribal tourism. Rules should also delineate the role of travel agencies and companies and the extent to which they can participate in tribal tourism activities. Moreover, every tourism activity in indigenous and protected areas must be monitored and sanctioned by a team of professionals that will evaluate the risks of the same.
Carefully formulated tribal tourism can act as a powerful medium towards social and economic inclusion of tribals. Similarly, it would also provide for the tribals to have a sense of belonging to the nation and live a life of dignity and respect.
Read the original article: How Indigenous Tribes In India Are Exploited In The Name Of Tourism