Yesterday a leading TV channel aired a programme on slum tourism. What held my attention was the comment made by an activist who went to say ' I very strongly feel that this is the worst kind of human rights' violation or I would go on to the extent of saying that its an abuse of its own kind.'
In the past years slum tourism or reality tourism has been formalised by certain NGOs as a means of raising awareness and much needed funds. It may look voyeuristic to some and appalling to others and many would condemn it and maybe I would have too, ten years back before pwhy came into existence.
It is easy to become guardians of morality and jump to conclusions without giving it much thought. I guess what is abhorring in this instance is the fact that foreigners are the 'tourists'. We Indians would not sign up for such a tour. Come to think of it we it we are so inured that we do not even see what stares at us, bet it in newspapers, TV shows or simply on the street or at a red light.
I remember how offended I felt many years ago at TV programmes in Europe that showed India either as a poverty ridden land or as one of snake charmers or turban headed Maharajahs. I wondered why other achievements were not highlighted. That was then, before pwhy, before my own brush with reality and my own struggles at getting my country fellowmen to open their hearts and part with a coin to reach out and help others.
To the activist that cries out human right violation and abuse I would like to ask why there are still children who roam the streets in India, who are used and abused by the like of us and above all why we chose to remain silent or simply turn away.
It is sad but true that getting support within our own country is quasi impossible and that many of us who try and alleviate the situation have to extend our begging bowl beyond frontiers and share our disturbing reality. Then we are all guilty of the same though we do it in a covert way. Is that what makes it acceptable, as if that were not the case then we are all guilty of abuse and human rights violation. The flip side is that if we did not do it, then we would wind up our activities.
In the last year or so many children and others have received help because their stories were highlighted by the media. Is that a human right violation too? I wonder.
It is easy to sit in judgement but I would implore people who do so to think before they condemn or to give viable alternatives. Tourism with a heart or voluntourism is here to stay and speaks volumes for the new ways in which we should look at things in a world where globalisation is the preferred mantra. That an NGO should propose a slum tour to people visit India should not be anathema. It should at best makes us think and resolve to do something.
But sadly this seems wishful thinking. On human rights day a picture of children ploughing fields in land belonging to a minister's family will once again be swept away to suit political ends and public memory too will fade. This happens far to often for comfort.