When Gods Come Down To Be Sold- Analysing The Politics Of Tourism
By K.P. Sasi
23 August, 2012
The Kerala Government is planning a major expansion of its tourism sector. There is a feeling that tourism expansion will bring in major foreign currency and contribute to Kerala's economy. Several airports are being planned to be constructed all over Kerala. If you look at the existing number of airports being planned to be constructed, there will be one airport at every 60 kilometers at an average. The beneficiaries of such a plan will be obviously the tourism industry and the real estate lobby. Needless to say, the farmers and the local people will lose their lands and many of them have already started resisting. In this context, there is a need to understand and analyse the social, political and environmental impact of the present form of tourism development in the `God's Own Country'.
Tourism expansion in its present form violates the human rights of a large section of people in India , predominantly fishing communities, adivasis and farmers. It threatens the right to livelihood and causes displacement of local communities. It strips the environment to make money and destroys local culture. It steals the very dignity of women and children.
With globalisation, when freedom for capital and market are respected more than the freedom of people by the state, it is time for local communities, people's movements and civil society groups to take charge. A total restructuring of this sector is an immediate need. Safety of the environment and local culture has to be assured. The whole industry itself has to be brought under the control of ordinary people and away from purely commercial businesses. Marketing of locations with advertisements has to be stopped immediately. Concentrated tourism in one area means concentrated destruction. If this sector is decentralised with complete control by the community and for the community, with strict codes of conducts, then perhaps there may be some possibility of sustainable tourism.
Aggressive promotion of tourism can only increase:
2. Gender discrimination,
3. Concentrated exploitation of natural resources and thereby loss of rights of the local
communities over natural resources,
4. Displacement of local communities,
5. Loss of traditional jobs,
6. Child abuse,
7. Environmental destruction,
8. Cultural imbalances,
9. An increase of alcoholism and drug addiction,
10. Loss of dignity and self respect for the local communities,
11. Loss of traditional jobs,
12. Global warming.
Let us try to understand the viewpoint and basic concepts that govern modern tourism and the impact it has on ordinary people.
The United Nations defines tourism as the activity of `persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from within the place visited'.
Though tourism is usually associated with leisure, holiday trips account for only about half of all international tourist arrivals. The remaining trips are for business, religious, health purposes or to visit friends and relatives. Tourism is though not just about foreigners flying around but also increasingly involves domestic travellers.
From the above, it becomes clear that travel and business interests are closely intertwined and it is difficult to distinguish between a businessman travelling to purchase goods or strike a deal and someone on a holiday for relaxing. The tourism industry of course does not care why you have come as long as you spend lots of money on hotels, food, local entertainment facilities and transport!
In this modern era, it can be argued, that when everything including all human values are getting commoditised, what is so special about tourism? Well, there is a difference. Tourism is one industry today, which connects with, draws from and converts practically everything in this world into commodity production rather than any other specific industry. Therefore, the dangers of tourism will be much more than any usual form of commodification in any other sector.
Lessons from History
Human beings have travelled from place to place for thousands of years. The indigenous people, the Adivasis, have also travelled and discovered new sites for their survival. Marco Polo also travelled a long way. They travelled with the intention of fulfilling their intellectual curiosity. Jesus Christ and Mohammed were also travellers. A major cultural contribution to different regions has taken place due to the travel of the sufis. There were also travellers with a missionary zeal. Many religions also promoted the travel of their missionaries and thus religions, which originated in one place spread to different parts of the world.
The travel of Vasco de Gama in the sixteenth century however marks a different history in the Asian countries. Behind the travel of Vasco de Gama, the intention of conquering the natives and looting the native civilisations was explicit.
The gateway to colonialism at that time was Kerala, these days the favourite destination for tourists. When Vasco de Gama arrived in Calicut he was surprised to see that it was a cosmopolitan town at that time. There were Persians, Chinese, Arabs and a host of traders from other countries. The Zamorine, the ruler of Calicut , was a believer in a kind of ‘Free Trade Agreement' of those days. He welcomed any trader from any country so long as he could receive some meagre taxes. He did not realise that trade could become an instrument of colonialism.
Later on, the East India Company also landed for trade. Soon they conquered a large part of this sub continent and started the British Raj. If you ask whether trade or the gun is more powerful, the vote would surely go for the former. Guns are only a part of and under the control of trade.
The colonialism of the modern days takes place without guns in most cases. The coloniser can sit in another part of the globe and loot different countries just through trade. Modern nation states, their bureaucrats, media, politicians, police machinery and legal system will transform themselves into pimps in this affair of colonial appropriation.
Needless to say the agenda of Vasco de Gama and the East India Company is being implemented more effectively in India today without the physical presence of colonisers and their guns. Modern tourism is only one of the instruments of this colonial loot. If you study the character of the tourists in this country, a majority of them are part and parcel of this colonial appropriation, all being done in the name of globalisation and promotion of economic growth. The only difference is that while the Calicut Zamorine welcomed foreigners innocently, the Indian state has become a partner in the exercise called colonialism through tourism.
The other point to note here is that, unlike in the past, travel itself has become a commodity.
In the times we live in tourism has become an industry, promoted by the State and the multi-national while the traditional reasons why travel was undertaken have been replaced by search for entertainment and pure pleasure. Travel has become a product to be sold in the market. It has to be advertised commercially like any other product and aggressively raise profits.
Also, while the impact of travel on the environment or local communities was limited or at least happened at a gradual pace in earlier days the impact of modern tourism today, as we will see, on people and ecology is also very different and far more devastating than in older times.
Gods never had countries. They never belonged to any nation state or the structures of states instituted by the nations. However, as per the propaganda of the Kerala tourism department, `God's Own Country' happens to be none other than Kerala state. By the sheer power of advertisements promoted with this brand name, they seem to be marketing both God as well as Kerala's nature. The advertisements have been an invitation for cultural and ecological invasion. Kerala state has thus turned into one of the finest examples of commodification of tourism in India apart from Goa .
Since tourism has become a commodity consequently the rights of communities, culture and environment, all have to be defined in economic terms. Since the local people do not belong to such a tradition of attaching economic criteria to their rights, culture and environment, they are bound to be the losers. Needless to say, some individuals in the local communities, who adapt to such commodification, also gain in this process. However, wherever tourism has been aggressively promoted as a commodity, a bulk of local communities has only remained subjects of deep injustice and humiliation.
There has always been a deep respect for environment among the indigenous cultures. The worship of the sea by the traditional fishing communities and the forest by the Adivasis has more than immediate utilitarian values. These values have facilitated conservation and protection of nature for ages. Under the principles of indigenous people, through their expressions like ‘ Mother Sea ' or ‘Mother Earth', nature is presented in a feminine, powerful role much above the `control' of the human race.
`How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us', stated Chief Seattle of the native American Indian community in 1854. `If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap, which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.' These words mark an entirely different outlook of indigenous people from the vision of agricultural or industrial colonisers or today the tourism industry.
Tourism as a Neo-Colonial Venture
Why is it that the most significant tourist locations are in the so-called Third World , where colonialism thrived for centuries? The colonial forces used the hospitable character of the native civilisations and exploited them with trade and gun power. Modern tourism continues to exploit the same hospitable character of the native civilisations. The servant of yesterday has become the ‘host' of today.
Under colonialism, the physical presence of the coloniser was very much obvious along with all other structures of protection for the coloniser. Under neo-colonial exploitation of the third world developing countries, usually exploitation of resources takes place with minimum physical presence of the coloniser. Resources are looted today much more effectively under neo-colonial forms of exploitation that the previous forms of direct colonialism. But, tourism is an exception. The physical face of the neo-coloniser is too obvious.
The industries, which facilitate neo-colonial appropriation of natural resources and wealth in the third world, do so within certain specific limits and means. For example, mining in India represents today a massive appropriation of natural resources and wealth by the neo-colonial forces through multinationals. But such exploitation is through the appropriation of specific minerals and products. However, the appropriation of neo colonial forces through tourism involves a very large number of products and services. Ironically, due to such an exercise, the promoters of tourism industry usually call tourism as the window of development of a country. In the real sense what they really mean is that tourism is the window through which neo- colonialism enters and steals resources of a poor nation.
The character of infrastructure for the protection of the coloniser has changed drastically under neo-colonialism. The interventions of international agencies like the World Bank, IMF and ADB have proven to be more effective than the guns for the coloniser. Under their ‘mentorship' collective indebtedness of developing countries under neo-colonial rule has increased many times more than the colonial rule. The puppet ministries of the Third World usually play the role of servants under their colonial masters. However, in rare cases, there are also instances where they tone down their servitude and introduce regulations to control foreign domination. But in the case of tourism, since by definition the industry is all about making foreigners ‘welcome' the native Governments tend to put up a especially vulgar display of servitude. In that sense, tourism remains a Holy Cow unquestioned by the host countries.
Nature as a Waste
A government official who visited Jog falls, one of the most beautiful water falls in the rain forests of Karnataka is reported to have commented: `What a waste!' referring to the lack of tourism development in the area. Another government official who was trying to become the architect of the sale of river Periyar during the Global Investors' Meet in Kerala, lashed out against activists who were fighting against the move: `These people who are protesting do not know anything. Water from Periyar is wasted into the sea every year. So why not make economic use of it? `We have hundreds of kilometres of beaches that aren't developed, and it's a waste, said Honduran Tourism Secretary (IHT), Ana Abarca in 2001. `We want strong tourism. We are going after the sun and the beach.'
These voices are familiar in today's world pursuing a development model based on large- scale destruction. Any dissent against this destruction is considered ‘anti-development' and ‘anti-national' since tourism is supposed to bring foreign currency. Hence, those who dissent are being portrayed as `traitors'.
The concept being promoted by the tourism lobby is clear. Nature, which is not used ‘economically' by human beings (i.e. for the profit of a handful of human beings), has to be considered a waste! The role of rivers, which flow nourishing various species all along as they culminate in the sea, and beaches which play a significant ecological function through their constant relationship with the sea, while providing livelihood space for millions of fisher folk, cannot be understood by such narrow economic minds. What is common to different versions of this concept of `Nature as a Waste' is that they turn a blind eye to the burden of all sorts of waste on nature, produced by the same destructive vision of development. Hence, the economic formula is: `Nature should not be wasted when we can convert it into money + toxic waste!
The main reason for the flow of tourists to natural and pristine areas is primarily due to the fact that the cities are becoming more and more unliveable, with growing congestion, loss of natural environment, pollution and stress. The existing development model has destroyed the cities, pushing urban dwellers to take a fresh breath in natural and yet pristine locations. What they forget of course is that their urban breath will soon convert the natural environment into an unnatural one!
`Our ways are different from your ways. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man,' said Chief Seattle. `There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring or the rustle of the insect's wings. The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around the pond at night? I am a red man and do not understand. The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of a pond and the smell of the wind itself, cleaned by a midday rain, or scented with pine.'
Thus, behind the travel of a modern tourist to a beautiful location, there is an implicit hunger for consumption of nature. Through this consumption, they leave behind large quantities of waste and convert the beautiful location into an ugly one. The waste in the tourist spots of Kovalam, Varkala, Goa, Kuttanad, Guruvayoor and many other locations is huge. While the waste from hundreds of hotels in Kovalam land up in the ocean, the waste of the tourists in Kuttanad end up in the backwaters, threatening the quality of water. Over a thousand houseboats roam around in the back waters of Kuttanad, often creating even traffic jams! The water, which has been used for household purposes, has ceased to be of much use for the local population. The fish population has considerably reduced and when the local fishermen catch fish, it tastes of diesel. The bed of the lake is covered by a large mass of plastic junk.
Spiritual tourist centres like Guruvayoor and Sabarimalai do not even have the basic system to manage the human excreta of the large number of people visiting these areas, causing immense harm to the environment by damaging the water bodies and threatening the lives of local people in the nearby villages. The ecological destruction by tourism in the forest areas is also very similar. It is clear from all these, the challenge before an activist working on tourism issues, is to first confront and overcome the narrow visions on environment and development in order to achieve long-term results.
Tourism as an Expression of Power
It is common to see how tourists change their dress code, from what they are used to back home, while visiting a tourist location. For example, an American who is used to wearing a formal dress in the United States, would quickly change his or her dress into a `liberated' dress on arrival at Kovalam
or Goa. He would go from suit and tie to Bermuda shorts and skimpy upper garments soon after landing at the tourist destination.
The change of climate could certainly be one factor for this behavioural change. However, if you really examine the psychological dimension of such `liberated' behaviour of the tourist, we have to ask one central question: `what makes them `powerful' enough to feel `liberated'? This behaviour is not just expressed by the western tourist in India, but also by Indian urban tourists who visit a ‘native' tourist location. In these cases of course, there would be hardly much `climatic' difference between the hometown of the tourist and the native. Yet, the tourist feels `powerful' enough to feel `liberated'.
The reason why tourists feel free enough to change their dress code from formal to casual wear is simply because for many of them the ‘natives' are no more important than the local cattle. There is an inherent advantage of being a tourist and the power that comes with this has to be displayed openly by wearing as few clothes as possible before the local folk.
Modern tourism essentially is an expression of and also an instrument to deepen and widen existing power inequalities and discriminations in this world. It is an industry, which reaffirms such inequalities and discriminations while also making profits out of the same inequalities and discriminations. To understand the nature of this `power' game, we must explore the true nature, character and types of exploitations that modern tourism indulges in.
A deeper political analysis would tell us that all major exploitations experienced by a third world country are embodied in modern tourism. There are thousands of people's movements in India today. Their struggles are based on class, caste, gender, environment, livelihood, forest rights, Adivasi rights, rights of the fishing communities, child rights, displacement and very broadly people's rights over natural resources. Modern tourism in India violates all these rights. Apart from these there are also very strong forms of exploitation based on colour, urban versus rural, `developed' versus `undeveloped' and the continuing exploitation of the coloniser and the colonised. Hence broadly speaking, one can say that modern tourism is an embodiment of all major exploitation that already exists in society.
To understand the true character of modern tourism in India, we have to dwell on the nature of exploitations manifested through tourism more deeply.
Displacement through Tourism
One adivasi is displaced due to development projects every minute in India. This calculation does not include tourism projects. The reason is that activists in India did not treat tourism as an instrument of displacement of the local communities. If you look at any studies or research papers or articles in the media, the term displacement was always identified with large dams, mining, large industries, mega projects or even mega roads. Substantial amount of work has been done in documenting and researching displacement in this country. But displacement by tourism does not come in this picture. The only two reasons for this are:
1. The NGOs as well as the civil society in general in this country are still ignorant about the implications of tourism and very few groups are working on this issue.
2. Displacement by tourism is often unofficial, indirect and slow when compared to mega projects.
Around 70 per cent of the coastal lands, which belonged to the traditional fishing communities in Kerala are already lost. The manner in which displacement takes place here makes it difficult for any anti-displacement struggle to take place, compared to cases of large dams or any other mega project. The upcoming legal changes to the Coastal Regulation Zone Act in India also indicate how the displacement of fisher folk is being facilitated through law, though there is fierce resistance to this from the fishing communities, who have successfully negotiated their right to build their houses in the coast. The pressure from the struggles of the adivasis have also been instrumental in the creation of a new Forest Rights Act, which recognises the rights of the adivasis on forests to a certain extent. However, the displacement due to tourism development continues to be a major issue in many adivasi areas.
A methodical documentation of the past and existing struggles of people against tourism and related projects is needed urgently. Since very few are aware of the successful struggles, it is important to document such struggles with special attention. Such a documentation and dissemination of would provide both inspiration and energy for on-going struggles and activist efforts on tourism related issues.
As far as the threat of displacement of Adivasis is concerned it comes not just from industry and business developers but also from the champions of wildlife. The battle is between the ‘pure' environmentalists who do not recognise human beings as a part of environment and the Adivasis who protect the forests while depending upon the natural resources for their survival.
While the forests are dwindling in India at a fast pace due to development, mainstream encroachment and deforestation, the only real forests remaining are still found only in the Adivasi areas. This explains the value of conservation culture of Adivasis, which is still to be recognised by the ‘pure' environmentalists who treat Adivasis as the enemy of the forests.
In recent decades, the activities of international institutions like the World Bank, which looks at the world as a market and people and nature as commodities, has only aggravated the problem. The bureaucrats in various ministries particularly the ministry of environment in India have also displayed a similar outlook. It needs an entirely different political framework to struggle for the rights of the Adivasis, which usually coexist with the rights of the tiger or the elephant.
The upper caste and urban outlook of the ‘pure' environmentalists restricts their ability to look into the conservationist values of the Adivasi communities. The flow of funds from the international agencies like the World Bank in support of such views also become a major incentive for the anti-Adivasi politics involved in tourism development. While the urban upper caste environmentalists, bureaucrats and the international agencies prefer to treat local communities as ignorant, facts reveal that despite a large flow of resources towards research, the Adivasis still know more about the forests than any forester and the fishing community knows more about the sea than any marine scientist. The real loss due to tourism is not just of the natural resources, which the Adivasis and fisher folk depend upon for survival, but also the non-commercial worldview of conservation and sharing which they nourished and cultivated for thousands of years.
However, the central and state governments in this country are adopting double standards on the issue of conservation. On one hand, governments are implementing projects with the support of International Financial Institutions to evict Adivasis from the forests in the name of conservation and on the other; eco-tourism is being promoted in a major way without any restrictions in the same forests. The case of Gudallur is a classic example for this. A major World Bank Project is being implemented here in the name of tiger conservation. While the project tends to evict Adivasis and small farmers in the area, thousands of tourists are allowed to enter the same forests as `eco-tourists'.
In the era of globalisation, the modern instruments of State and Capital, which never existed in the consciousness of Adivasis and fisher folk, are being used to aggressively to loot natural resources they have nourished and conserved for thousands of years. The idea that natural resources are the `private property' of the state, which can be passed on to any multinational does not have much historical validity. The fisher folk and the Adivasis are still trying to grapple with this perverse notion of to whom natural resources belong to, with many struggles being waged in the recent past.
Though there are a large number of communities already facing diverse problems related to tourism, sufficient research on many of these issues is yet to be conducted. There is a strong need to strengthen people oriented research on tourism related issues.
Tourism and GDP Growth
The destructive model of development today is justified by pointing to its contribution to GDP. For the Government of India, like most other governments around the world, the rate of increase of GDP represents growth and development. As per records, the rate of increase of GDP in India is 8 - 9 per cent. For the Government, industry and the proponents of this particular model of development, such a record is impressive. The real question is whose growth does this represent? India has some of richest as well poorest people in the world. The rich are becoming richer at the cost of poor who are becoming poorer and poorer. Therefore, many are questioning GDP as an indicator of growth.
According to UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), tourism is one of the world's largest and fastest growing industries, generating over 10.4% of world GDP. The question `whose growth and at whose cost' however falls only on deaf ears.
The main problem with the concept of growth of the proponents of tourism is in their refusal to understand its impact on environment and the local communities. A glass can only hold water within its limitations. If you pour more water, it will spill. This is the scenario in many places like Goa and Kovalam. Tourism is already spilling over in many places because it has crossed several times the limit of optimum levels of tolerance and holding capacities of the environment and the local communities. Like all twisted ‘developmentalists', the promoters of tourism work with a notion that unlimited growth of tourism is possible. The real impact of such model will be understood in the coming years in India.
Tourism and Poverty Alleviation
The biggest fraudulent analysis in the overall game of promoting tourism is in its pretence of alleviating poverty. The World Tourism Organisation as well as many governments and their departments haves projected tourism as a major contributor to poverty alleviation. As per this pretence, tourism offers jobs, income generation opportunities and enhancement of livelihood for the poor. Through this, they claim that tourism reduces the migration of their youngest and brightest citizens. This notion is based on the premise that tourism development results in a `trickle down' of wealth to the poor. All destructive development models in India usually promote this myth to justify the social, economic, cultural and ecological injustice they spread with their efforts.
While tourism is promoted as an engine of development, promoters often close their eyes to `financial leakages'. Revenue generated by tourism related economic activities are not usually available for investment or for consumption of goods in the same country. Financial resources leak away overseas from the destination country when the company is based abroad and when tourism related goods are imported to the destination country. From many developing countries, around 40 to 60 per cent of such resources leak away to developed countries.
Out of the remaining money, the big players in tourism usually appropriate the largest chunk. The medium and small players receive a small part of the cake. When it comes to the local communities, the scenario is completely different. A small section from the community may get employment in the lowest paying jobs. But when compared to the traditional jobs affected by tourism, this number becomes insignificant. The poor are the worst hit by tourism. All large-scale tourism efforts tend to destroy the means of livelihood of the local communities. Hence, modern tourism development does not result in any trickle down of wealth. It only represents a large-scale social, economic, cultural, ecological and spiritual exploitation of the local communities. Tourism is a business and the interest of the industry is to make profits and not to help the poor.
The state governments in south India are being questioned by activists for diverting the funds received for the relief and rehabilitation of the tsunami victims to tourism promotion projects. Even disasters have become a boon for the tourism lobby. A large section of the fisher people in Tamil Nadu were evicted after the tsunami of December 2004 in order to clear space for tourism development projects. Those fisher people who have been housed miles away from the sea in bad conditions today find it difficult to maintain their intrinsic connection with the sea, which is essential to maintain their livelihood. Hence, while the claims of poverty alleviation by the tourism lobbies certainly looks glamorous, in reality, tourism promotion has only aggravated existing poverty in India.
Special Zones for Tourism:
Tourism expansion through Special Economic Zones and Special Tourism Zones are being promoted in many areas. The tourism industry as well as the real estate mafia is often behind this game. While these efforts provide many benefits and subsidies to the industry, the local people who are affected are either meagrely compensated or never compensated. The impact on the environment is also devastating. A centralised project like BeKal in north Kerala was cleared for an investment of Rs. 1000 crores to take over 1000 acres stretching across 11 km of beach land. Thousands fisher people were threatened with displacement.
Tourism expansion through SEZ and STZ is a direct violation of the very fundamentals of the Constitution of India. It violates labour and environmental rights and all rights of local governance and destroys the very existence of the local communities.
Tourism and Climate Change
According to a study by Scott, D, Peeters,P, the contribution of tourism to human made climate change comes up to 12.5 per cent. Within this, around two thirds of tourism related emissions can be attributed to air and car transport. Tourism contributes only 17 per cent of all air trips. But it is responsible for 40 per cent of all air emissions.
Globally, the world's 16,000 commercial jet planes generate more than 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, almost as much as from all human activities in entire Africa each year, according to Friends of the Earth. As per the calculations of the World Wildlife Fund, this will increase by over 75% by 2015. Then there are also cruise ships used by the tourism industry. These ships - many of them can carry up to 5,000 tourists - contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in a major way. One such ship can generate emissions of more than twelve thousand cars. There are many other forms of contribution to the emissions by tourism industry. The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) undertaken by them occasionally unfortunately does not reduce the emissions.
Thus, a major expansion of tourism in its present form can affect all species on earth and damage the biodiversity of the planet irreparably.
Tourism and Globalisation
Under the World Trade Organisation (WTO)'s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) as well as bilateral and regional trade agreements (FTAs), tourism services have been used by the US and European Union to increase pressure on governments of developing countries to abolish restrictions on foreign ownership and to allow a high degree of ‘self-regulation' by multinational corporations in the tourism sector.
In India, till independence, the ideology of village-centric, self-reliance promoted by Mahatma Gandhi placed major restrictions on destructive development. However, the ideology of state-promoted industrialisation championed by Jawaharlal Nehru involved destructive development in a major way. Under his vision, large dams, nuclear plants, super thermal plants, large scale mining projects, chemical pesticides and many hazardous industries were built without much care for their impact on the local people or the environment. Though, the following successive prime ministers also implemented this destructive development model, the real threat came after globalisation in the mid-eighties. Globalisation increased the speed and scale of destruction in major ways. Till then tourism expansion in India was not in such an aggressive mode. However, with globalisation, the central as well as state governments tried their level best to attract foreign players offering them various concessions without consideration for the fate of local communities or the environment.
During the last two decades, the leisure industry has emerged as an important player in international trade. The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) has issued specific guidelines to all its signatory countries to promote international tourism. Recognising the role of tourism in facilitating expansion of global businesses the World Tourism Organisation was constituted to promote international tourism with the endorsement of 125 countries. There is an increasing pressure from international agencies like the World Bank, IMF and others on the developing countries to facilitate the trade on tourism without constraints. In countries like India, the impact of such pressure on the marginalised communities is certainly homicidal.
The tourism industry in India is becoming more and more powerful, with unquestioning support from the governments and the international agencies. They are in a position today to influence policies of the governments entirely in their own favour.
The international agencies like UNWTO have made it a habit to take into account concerns of the bodies of the industry like WTTC, rather than that of representatives of the affected communities. National and regional governments follow the same practice. At the Climate Change negotiation in Copenhagen, the UNWTO even organised a side event with WTTC. No representatives of the communities or civil society organisations were invited. However, the concerns of the activists are appropriated and misused effectively with new jargon like responsible tourism, sustainable tourism, eco tourism etc. for green washing the obscene profits made by the industry through destruction of the environment.
`Ecotourism' as a jargon emerged in the context of growing environmental awareness all over the world. While the jargon has appropriated environmental concerns, it is unfortunate that ecotourism remained as a violation of environment in most places. It also tends to exploit the indigenous and local communities and their cultures, converting them to mere exhibition material for the entertainment of tourists. The traditional art and culture in India has been subject to such violation through compartmentalisation. Among the indigenous communities, art and life cannot be separated. There are specific codes of conduct for such expression of art. Tourism violates all such codes of conduct. For example, the traditional ritual dance Theyyam which has a specific social, geographic, aesthetic, historic and spiritual meaning which binds the community in the villages of north Kerala is being presented to tourists without any of these meanings. Many traditional artists who do not bow down to commercial interests are extremely angry about the organised attempt to transform Theyyam into a mere showpiece. Similarly, `human zoos' were initiated by the tour operators in the bordering areas of Thailand and Burma by presenting women from the Kayan ethnic group, who wear rings to lengthen their necks. Women with extreme long necks were an attraction for the tourists, prompting tourism operators to force them to ‘perform' and change their traditionally nomadic ways to suit tourist schedules.
Raising the issues of land rights violations and bio-piracy, the indigenous people's movements have expressed grave doubts about the agenda of the ecotourism industry. These communities, which live among the natural environment of forests, have argued that ecotourism threatens the sovereignty of the indigenous people and create conflicts within their community. These issues have already been raised at the UN.
Ecotourism is being aggressively promoted in India with aid from international agencies. The adivasis in Karnataka have been struggling against displacement by World Bank supported tiger projects. These agencies, the governments and the ‘pure' environmentalists refuse to look at the role of adivasis in conservation of tigers. In many places, indigenous people worship the tiger. As far as tourism is concerned, the administration never saw it as a threat. `What is man without the beasts?' asked Chief Seattle. `If all the beasts are gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.' I am aware of different versions of the statement by the Chief Seattle and the discussions on the originality of each version. I have used this particular version, not just for its poetic and philosophical beauty and brilliance, but also with a deep realisation that there are many illiterate Adivasis in India who have neither heard of Chief Seattle or even America, but speak the same language.
Corporate Social Responsibility and Tourism
In the era of globalisation today, the situation has reached to an extent where corporations have more resources than the countries where they operate. With such resources, they tend to assert strong influence on the development policies of the governments. Often, even the appointments of ministers and formation of governments take place under such pressures. However, in spite of such economic and political power, a strong erosion of the credibility of the corporations has also been happening due to their involvement in the displacement of communities, appropriation of local resources, human rights violations, unethical practices, production of hazardous, non-essential and toxic products and pollution of air, land and water. In this context, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has emerged as a trend to strengthen the falling public image of the corporations.
Of all industrial sectors that the World Bank Group on CSR Practice reviewed in 2003, `the least developed in terms of codes of conduct and CSR initiatives' was tourism. As a sustainable development paradigm, CSR was introduced in tourism more recently. The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) developed the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (GCET), to guide the stakeholders of tourism development on an ethical basis. However, since these efforts are voluntary and not legally binding, they cannot force the tourism industry to practice these codes.
If tourism industry has to be socially responsible, they have to address many other issues apart from setting up codes of conduct based on their production of services. In any case, for an industry, which exploits the local communities, women, children and environment for profits it will always be difficult to be socially responsible. If the term has to have real meaning, the industrial paradigm has to be restructured.
Tourism versus Women and Children
Sex plays a major role in all development of major tourist locations in Asia. In this part of the world, Thailand, Philippines and Sri Lanka were the first to use sex tourism as a means of enticing the tourists. Men, women and children are employed in sex tourism. From the standpoint of the struggles of the sex workers in Asia, sex cannot be judged in simple moralistic sense and the rights of the sex workers need to be addressed. At the same time, tourism as a process of converting men, women and children of the local communities into dehumanising sex work also needs to be addressed. Apart from the conversion of the members of the local community into direct sex work, the local youth are being converted into pimps for this pleasure industry.
In traditional societies, dignity of a community depends largely on the dignity of women. Whether it be the war in Sri Lanka, or the communal genocide in Gujarat, or the take over of the North East India or Kashmir by the Indian army, the reason why women are raped is largely because of the fact that once women are humiliated, the dignity of the community collapses. As per the psychology of the oppressor in these situations, with such humiliation, the task of conquering the community is over. Perhaps the invasion of tourism on local communities is much more subtler in comparison with the above examples of conflict. However, the overall effect in the minds of the guest and the host is same. It is an invasion with a pretension of benefit for both parties. You are being paid for the loss of your dignity.
If the leisure period of the tourist is long, the cheaper way of flesh trade is the marriage between the tourist and a member of the community. There are many cases of marriages of the middle aged white men marrying young girls and the middle aged white women marrying local youth in India. Through this practice the tourist saves money on daily payment for his/ her pleasure. Few of the members of the local community, who marries the tourist, ever reach the homeland of the tourist. Some of the tourists who indulge in these actions are even married in their home countries. In any case, the tourist is free to have his/her own separate independent life in his/her home country. Most of those from the local communities who are caught up in such affairs are from poor backgrounds. The unequal power of economics and skin colour determines the nature of slavery in these cases.
More serious is the issue of child abuse. Both male and female children are used in most of the well-known locations of the pleasure industry. Tourism in Thailand and Philippines involve hundreds of thousands of child sex workers. There are an estimated one hundred thousand child sex workers in Manila alone. Kovalam, Goa and even some of the spiritual centres in India are becoming known for such use of children. The existence of paedophile clubs and many individuals who operate internationally contribute to the widening of this racket.
Many tourist locations in India are known to have a high degree of cases of sexually transmitted diseases. STD came to India for the first time with the arrival of Portuguese. In Malayalam, it used to be called `Paranki punnu' which meant `the white man's disease'. It was the Portuguese traders and soldiers who introduced syphilis in Kerala. From that time of the colonial introduction of sexual disease in India to the days of modern tourism, one can only say that the nature of the problem has only aggravated.
Tourism, Drugs, HIV/AIDS and Criminalisation:
I remember sitting with the father of a well-known feminist activist in Goa, around 20 years back. By the time I had met him, he was already retired. I was curious about the fact that some of the houses I had seen had no grills. He smiled and quoted an old saying that `in Goa there are no thieves'. He narrated one of his experiences when, as a government official in charge of unearthing black money, he had captured one cupboard full of unaccounted currency notes belonging to a rich business man. To his surprise, he found that such large chunk of money was kept without any locks. When he enquired about the reason for being so careless, the businessman answered: `In Goa there are no thieves'. He also ended the narration, saying: `Those were the wonderful days. Now everything has changed here because of tourism. Criminals control the city today'.
Increasing criminalisation of the Goan society has parallels with the increasing criminalisation of the Kerala youth, though in Kerala, tourism is not the only major factor for criminalisation. The common factor between Goa and Kerala however is the glitter and glamour of tourism, which has destabilised the social values and morals of a section of the youth.
The tourist areas of both Goa and Kerala are known to be hot spots for the drug market. Drugs could be organic or chemical. In Kerala, traditionally many houses used to grow cannabis (ganja) in their back yards in an organic manner. Since even Hindu priests used to smoke the traditional Kerala grass, it used to be known as `Swami' in many places as a code name. Many Hindu priests in the Himalayas still use such traditional intoxicants. However, these practices were restricted by many norms and hence did not cause much devastation among the youth. The development of tourism and `Ganja Mafia' in Kerala happened parallel to each other. With the support of corrupt politicians and police, many of these sections earned quick money by cultivating cannabis in the rain forests of Kerala on a large scale. Today, cannabis cultivation adds to the large-scale destruction of rain forests in Kerala.
With commercialisation of tourism, the business of drugs also went through a major transformation. The use of killer chemical drugs became more widespread. Today, LSD, angel dust, cocaine, charas, ganja, pethedrine, dexedrine and a number of other drugs along with alcohol flourish in all centres of tourism in India. There is also an emergence of an underworld as well as criminalisation of youth, which has taken place side by side. Drug addiction became a severe problem for the local youth, wherever tourism has progressed.
Since many of the addicted youth tend to use syringes carelessly, the problem of HIV is also becoming more and more severe in the tourism centres. Thus, the cultural exchange between the `civilised' and the `uncivilised' has resulted in the growth of a generation of youth who are tragically caught between the two and are paying miserably with their own lives.
Tourism and Government
Tourism ministries of the centre and states are directly responsible for the aggressive promotion of tourism in India. The questions in this regard are:
Do we really need a tourism ministry or a tourism minister? Should those who are elected to look after the welfare of the people end up looking after the commodification of travellers? Should the taxes from the earnings of the local population be used to strengthen the travel market and thereby generate numerous problems for the local population itself?
The concept of a tourism ministry or a tourism department is politically redundant for the overall welfare of the local people, in spite of some benefits for some. These institutions hinder the natural process of inter-mingling and exchange of cultures. If at all, the travellers need directions and information, the maximum requirement will be some cells which can be looked after by the transport, rail and aviation departments. Therefore, the tourism ministry itself should be scrapped along with the tourism department. It also means that all the resources of the state governments and the centre, which are used for advertisements and promotion of tourism can be used for the welfare of the people. In any case, the industry is supplying the information to attract the tourists in major ways. Why should a minister be elected by people to do that?
Under the prevailing political and economic viewpoints any elected tourism minister will not be allowed to look after the interests of the people. He or she can only look after the needs of the industry to make more profits at the cost of environment and the local communities. Therefore, all groups involved with the issue of tourism must pressurise their governments to scrap the Tourism Ministry as well as tourism departments.
The only form of sustainable tourism, which can be proposed under the existing situation is that which is not controlled as a commodity and that which is not aggressively promoted by the State and capital. The only sustainable travel is that which will lead to a process of human learning and sharing through natural means. Such travel should not be a hindrance to the community as well as the environment. It should be a process of strengthening cultures and strengthening communities.
Time has come to actively campaign against all aggressive promotion of travel. By strengthening the natural ways of exploration and learning and sharing of cultures, there will be a greater development for all the stakeholders involved. By strengthening the involvement of the local communities in the decision making process, control and management of tourism related travel, the existing disruption of environment and local communities can be regulated to a great extent. If at all the involvement of the state government or the central government is needed, it will only be to regulate tourism.
Therefore, as an immediate step, the ministries and departments of Fisheries, Social Welfare, Women and Child, Environment and Forests, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and Industries should be actively pressurised to initiate codes of conduct for the tourism industry and take effective steps for the implementation of these codes of conduct. All tourism projects, which violate the CRZ notification, Forest Rights Act, Environmental regulations, pollution laws, community rights and laws regarding the security of women and children must be immediately stopped. Activists cannot expect the government or the institutions of the governments in India to do this, since the Government itself is the biggest violator of all existing laws. Hence, there is an urgent need to campaign and mobilise public support to generate adequate pressure on the central and state governments in India.
Apart from this, action needs to be taken for the regulation of the aircraft, automobile and hotel industries, which are also responsible for the damage caused by tourism promotion. Foreign exchange alone cannot bring happiness, joy and security to people.
But for all this a political will is an absolute pre-requisite. Since such a will is more or less missing in the present system of governance, the only answer to the problem is that social action groups and people's movements initiate campaigns and public actions with such strength that their voices cannot be missed. Positive results will follow only through such concerted collective efforts.
Behind the expansion of modern tourism is the strong consumerist belief that everything in this world can be bought and sold. Modern capitalism is built and sustained by the foundation of this value. Opposition to this outlook in the developing world comes from the evolved cultures of the adivasis, traditional fisher folk, traditional farmers, etc. Their values are still a major source of hope today against the invasion of modern capitalism on the livelihood, environment and culture of the traditional local economies of the Third World.
The modern tourist looks at forests, rivers, lakes and the seas as an instrument of pleasure. For the traditional communities these are a part of their cultural and spiritual heritage. For the tourist, the ocean is a pleasure space for watching, sunbathing and sports. For the traditional fishing community, the ocean is the mother Goddess who protects and maintains the lives of the community. Climbing a mountain may be an adventure sport for a tourist. But for the Adivasis, these mountains and hills are Gods. The same worldview can be seen in relation to the rivers as well as the earth. For these traditional communities, since the earth is spiritual, it cannot be destroyed. Therefore they have evolved various practices for the conservation of their own environment.
There is a tradition of worshipping the sacred groves by the Adivasis in India. The sacred grove can be a patch forest or even large hills of forest. The Adivasis through their own cultural traditions restrict the use of such sacred groves. Many of the forests in India are protected for thousands of years through such belief systems and values. The traditional fishing communities also have protected zones in the sea for regeneration of fish. No traditional fisherman in India uses nets, which have a small size. Such nets, which destroy the young fish are however routinely used by modern technologies like trawlers and purse-seiners. The way in which the traditional farmers look at land also has such values for the conservation, enrichment and protection of the soil.
In contrast to the above values of the indigenous civilisations of the developing world, there is a distinct difference in the way modern tourism views environment and culture. For some, nature is for leisure and pleasure and for others, nature is spiritual, part of livelihood and something to be conserved for the future generations, through cultural traditions. The positive traditions of the indigenous societies are vanishing due to many factors.
The educated middle classes in the developing world itself have become an instrument of this degeneration. The middle classes in India who ape the western world have unfortunately no respect for these positive traditions. They seek to perform their role as the best allies for globalisation and liberalisation, without realising that ultimately they are going to be hit very badly in the bargain. Hence they are easily sold to the idea that `modern tourism brings prosperity to the developing world and should be aggressively promoted'. The costs are only minimum and the gains are many, they feel. The promotion of tourism by central and state Governments as well as by the industry and the media in India today has unfortunately strengthened such a deep-rooted myth.
The developed world today also has to take a moral responsibility of the environmental degradation of the developing world through the expansion of tourism, mining, large dams, nuclear power plants, chemical pesticides and a large number of hazardous industries. These were aggressively pushed by the developed world to civilise the `primitives' with scientific knowledge. The impact of this model on the developing world was much more hazardous than in the West due to many reasons related to the differences of the existing social, political, economic, cultural and environmental background between the two worlds. The impact of modern tourism in India has to be seen from this perspective.
It is time that activists who involve in tourism issue, deeply look into these conflicts of values between the indigenous civilisations and modern tourism. The sustainable values and practices of the indigenous civilisations have a strong potential to be used in the struggle against the destructive invasion of modern tourism as well as many other forms of destructive development.
(The author wishes to thank for the inputs provided by the KABANI Team in preparing this document)
K.P Sasi is an award winning film director and a political activist. He is also an Associate Editor of Countercurrents.org. He can be reached at email@example.com
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