Saturday, January 28, 2012

Human Safari:A Vile In Tourism


Human Safari: A vile in Tourism
The information put in the write up has been gathered from online resource, and the writer is not liable to any short-comings in the sources of the information accessed.
“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” – Moorish proverb
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal_Nehru

 Bondo people

Travelling is a beautiful experience. It is an opportunity to actually encounter things which existed only in imagination, and get a taste of them in reality. Traveling presents a unique opportunity for self-exploration. It provides a prospect for enhancing our knowledge of the external as well as of our inner world. A learning process that helps us mature and grow as human beings. Sometimes however in our fervor for new experiences we forget to learn, to grow as human’s and become less of a traveler and more of a frenzied tourist- interested in capturing our discoveries through pictures, rushing around to cover the maximum attractions the place has to offer etc. These harried visits leave us drained and eager to get back to the comfort of our home. We have no time to be travelers taking a leisurely walks down the unbeaten path going into the wood, socking in an alien culture and being one with our surroundings. We go after tours which are in vogue or are new and novel. The hunger for new and novel travelling experiences has taken many through diverse experiences like-touring architectural wonders, to nature tourism, cultural tourism to adventure tours etc. In the more recent times there have been controversial tour experiences like to slum tourism (visiting the poverty ridden places in India etc), terrorism tourism(places like Sri Lanka which have ships, houses etc ravaged due to terrorist or counter- terrorist activities) , and the most recent ‘human safari”. While tourism is a booming industry with promises of dividends, it needs to be regulated and put into a framework backed by research for sustainable and eco-friendly tourism as well as a strong ethical backing.


The memory of the contentious tours brazenly exploiting the Jarawas of Andaman Nicobar Island is still raw upon the public mind, when the news of yet another nefarious form of “human tourism” has resurfaced. It has been revealed that tour operators like Dove Tours, Royal India  Holiday have been offering covert tours into the heartland of indigenous Bondo tribes in the remote hill regions of the Malkangiri district of  southwest Odisha. The websites flaunt the Bondo people’s life style, with explicit information about their scanty clothing in a bid to lure tourists to the so called tribal tourism.
On Wednesday, 26th Jan 2012, a reputed UK based national daily first exposed the sleazy campaigns by certain tour agencies providing tribal tour packages with itineraries like "Today after breakfast, an excursion to the nearby hills where most amazing and fierce Bondas Tribes (naked people) reside.” It is pertinent to note that the Bondo’s are primitive natives with minimal or no contact with the outside world and hence are extremely vulnerable to exploitation.
The Bondo’s are a closed community of about 5000 members who have chosen a life of seclusion, away from modern civilization. They fiercely guard their culture and privacy and detest any external intrusion. They have been described by anthropologists as “aggressive in nature”. Displaying complete disregard for the wishes of the Bondo people and their antipathy towards outsiders, the tour agencies tout them as the prime exhibits of “nature tourism”-to be observed in their natural habitat.  This is absolutely abhorable, and defies all standards of ethics and morality in a civil society. How can the hunger for novel travel experience supersede the right of a community to live the life they chose, with pride? The culture of members of modern society is starkly different from that of the primitive tribal community. What is nudity for us is a way of life more akin with nature - a traditional situation due to lack of resources and exposure - for the Tribal’s. Although it is understandable that studying primitive life styles from an anthropological or sociological perspective is important, putting them at the disposal of tourist lured by promises of exotica is a blatant abuse of the Bondo community’s right to a dignified life.
In a post in IBN live it is reported that the Chief Secretary Bijay Kumar Patnaik has informed media personnel’s that the Chief Minister of Odisha, Mr. Naveen Patnaik has ordered a probe into the matter and has directed senior officials to look into the matter. At the same time the Tourism Secretary,  A . K Tripathy has denied that “human safari” of any kind exists in Odisha. Yet the reputed London based daily states that among the 50,000 tourist visiting Odisha 4000-5000 opt for tribal tourism or “human safari”.
 The Tourism Secretary condemns the objectionable manner in which the tours have been advertised and promises to take legal actions against the tour agencies if it is not removed from their website. While the indecent advertising material has been removed from The Royal India Holidays Tour Agency’s webpage the promotional material for Dove Tours webpage reads as -
    “Welcome to the tribal land of Odisha... The south western part of Odisha contains the largest concentration of tribal people in the sub continent. There are more than 62 tribal communities in Odisha .They have retained their tradition alive in spite of the onslaught of the modern civilization. Visit to some of the tribal villages and participate in tribal dance and festival. Discover the original man-nature proximity trekking amid the deep gorges and rivers or during a ritual tribal dance on a full moon night. The soft mist of the outback, the local brew and a camp-fire make a leady mixture indeed. This is an adventure that offers unique experience which the visitor fondly remembers for years to come.”
Mr. A K Tripathy also states that tourist interaction with the Bondo’s is restricted to the weekly market and they do not venture into the village. Times of India report recounts that the Tourism Secretary states that tourists coming to the interior parts of Odisha are educated and respectable individuals who cannot be tempted by decadent advertisement. It doesn’t take a research to find evidence of blatant human exploitation, slavery, human trafficking, and even sexual abuse of the vulnerable sections of our population and more so of the indigenous people like Bondo’s. There are various reports and hard core evidence of exploitation also if we care to look for it, like:
 “Prostitution was common. According to UNICEF, the country contained half of the one million children worldwide who enter the sex trade each year. Many indigenous tribal women were forced into sexual exploitation (see Section 6.c.)”  as per the findings of Indian Human Rights report of 2004  Can we afford to expose these indigenous people such real risk merely because the tourists coming are educated?
According to senior executive at Bhubaneswar's Swosti Travels, Sai Lakshmi, "We organize trips to tribal regions. Bonda tribe has always been a fascination for tourists, but since the government has declared it as restricted area now nobody is allowed there with or without permission. So, we help foreign tourists interact with them at the marketplaces. Some tourists do invade the Bonda villages at their own risk."
Prasanta Patnaik, the tourist officer, from department of tourism, Government of Odisha, Konark states that Odisha figures as one of the most attractive tribal tourist destination in India. He concedes to the fact tour packages to Bonda region is also offered where people meet the tribal’s at market places. People can get special permission from the magistrate to visit the hills. He further states that they develop infrastructure in Tribal areas and though tribal tourism has multiplied in the recent years it should not interfere with the life of tribal’s.
Clearly there is a lot of ambiguity shrouding the question of sustainable tourism, eco-friendly tribal tourism. There is no specific module or framework to direct the revenue generating viability of tourism in forest and tribal areas, so that it does not encroach over the rights of the Tribal’s.


Sue Ockwell, for the Association of Independent Tour Operators, acknowledges that:
"Unfortunately, exploitation does still occur – from child prostitution to the type of practice described in the Andamans. It requires action by UK tour operators and associations such as Aito and Abta and it also requires action by governments in the destinations affected. It is only by working together that this sort of business can be stamped out."

Apart from notable personalities like Jatin Das, Sona Mohapatra, Mahesweta Devi and Dona Ganguly who are outraged by “human safari’s”, Survival International (crusader for the Tribal people’s cause) director Stephen Corry expressed the cynicism of their foundation and stated: "We are now in the 21st century, not the 19th. Colonialism should be a thing of the past. Tribes are not cultural relics, nor should they be treated like animals in a zoo.
A tourist who visited Onkadeli wrote: "There were a few tourists around (including myself) and truth be said, it all felt a little rude and intrusive! Some of the adivasis [indigenous tribes] were clearly uncomfortable with camera-wielding tourists, so I started to only take pictures with their permission. This would almost always result in my having to part with 10 rupees [about 13p]!"


The winner of three Guardian-Observer travel awards British travel firm Audley Travel, provides tours to Odisha and assures “sightings” of the Bonda tribe, albeit they acknowledge that taking snaps of them may be illegal. "They are accompanied by tour guides who are well briefed on the cultural sensitivity of the situation, particularly photography. Our clients themselves are intelligent, informed travelers whose last intention would be to 'gawp' at local people."


Joanne O’ Connor, Observer travel columnist notes that for a traveler to “a remote tribal area.”Authenticity" is the new mission, and it is taking us to ever more remote destinations. But in our quest for the exotic and the authentic, we risk destroying the thing we seek.”  She further states “The normal rhythms and dynamics of village life cease the moment busloads of tourists start arriving on a regular basis. No matter how well intentioned the traveler or "ethical" the tour operator, these whistle-stop "cultural tours" make any equality or meaningful interaction impossible. Visitors feel uncomfortable, voyeuristic or powerless when confronted with the poverty; and the indigenous people learn to see the incomers as walking cash dispensers. Nobody is richer for the experience, except the tour operator.” What is sought to be achieved by the so called tribal or human tourism.
Of course tourism is a profitable industry and the country and indigenous people stand to benefit from it, but it is essential to formulate a proper module for such tourist ventures before rendering the susceptible communities to the disposal of possible exploitation.

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