Reasons Why Tribal Tourism Needs To Stop

It is not new news that tribal tourism exists in this country. It also isn’t uncommon knowledge that Adivasis are heavily stereotyped, and this stereotyping leads people to take actions like conduct or participate in unethical tours to Adivasi land. “But what is the actual problem in conducting tours to Adivasi territories?” Glad you asked, let me explain.

The biggest question that coheres the existential crisis faced by tribals who are struggling with their identity is that, “Who is an Adivasi?”. “What do they look like?” “Are you an Adivasi? You don’t look like one!” etc., are some other questions and statements that Adivasis and tribals in India have to face, sometimes on a daily basis. Today, when the entire world is demanding an identity of its own, stereotyping is the biggest setback for a community which is trying to establish its identity and create a space for itself. Often described as dark, lean, illiterate, unclad, wearing headgear, associated with cannibal hunting and dancing, the stereotyping of Adivasis doesn’t end. They are even pictured as savage, barbaric cave-people. It is saddening that history excludes Adivasi narratives and perpetuates the above-mentioned stereotypes with its wrongful representation of Adivasis, which is heavily laced with ignorance. 

The tribals living in Andaman and Nicobar are a group which has faced severe stereotyping and misrepresentation since time immemorial. Tribal tourism persists in this region and brings a real concern to the surface. In 2013, the Supreme Court banned tourists from taking the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) after a video shot by a journalist showed policemen forcing six Jarawa women to dance for tourists. The court reversed the decision after the state administration submitted a notification promising that no tourist or commercial establishment would be permitted in the area.

Vehicles queue to enter the Jarawa reserve along the Andaman Trunk Road © G Chamberlain/ Survival

 

One of the warning signboards posted by authorities on the ATR, along Jarawa territory. | Image Source- https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/5Kmsddfe0KT9JKCDw19t5M/Jarawa-Life-on-the-edge.html

Rampant human safaris were taking place in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, taking tourists through the tribal reserve. This was almost like a safari ride amidst dense tropical rainforests, looking to spot the tribals, like they do wild animals. Tourists threw bananas and biscuits to the tribes at the roadside, as they would to animals in a safari park. Despite frequent patrolling by the coastguard to keep intrepid travellers at bay, people keep attempting to see the North Sentinelese, often by bribing local fishermen. 

A tourist films a Jarawa man up close on the road. Campaigners have raised deep concerns about the dangerous, degrading and exploitative nature of tribal tourism. | Image Source- Survival International

Recently, an adventure blogger and U.S. missionary named John Chau was killed when he attempted to illegally visit the North Sentinel Island to convert the people to Christianity. Apart from the issue of religious conversion, such activity also poses a threat to the tribe. “The risk of a deadly epidemic of flu, measles or other outside disease is very real, and increases with every contact,” said Survival International‘s director Stephen Corry. Exposure to pathogens which they are not used to being exposed to has the potential to wipe out the entire tribe. 

Cultural theorist Stuart Hall in his book Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices’ observes that sounds, words, notes, gestures, expressions, clothes are part of our natural and material world. They don‘t have any clear meaning in themselves. Rather, they are vehicles of media which carry meaning because they operate as symbols, which stand for or represent (i.e. symbolise) the meanings which we wish to communicate. A close look at the non-Adivasi imperative to define its “other” may reveal homogenisation of Adivasi communities due to which their different particularities are completely lost. What then constitutes the features “of this standardised other” is often more than the normative consciousness. 

The tribal communities share a close relationship with nature. Jal, Jungle and Jamin have fostered Adivasis since time immemorial and Adivasis have in return, protected it. They have always been viewed as the “other” with the need to being incorporated into the “civilised” and “progressive” world. Fervour and strong approbation towards their religious views, cultural and social systems are seen as resentment toward modernisation and as being anti-national.

The word tribe can mean something different to different people. Therefore, there is a creation of a stereotype which defines it. This stereotype can be the creation of the human mind, which is the result of one’s imagination or influence of other stereotypes or myths. Adivasis have been a part of books, movies and television shows and often subjected to either eroticism or are stereotyped as “junglies”, people living in jungles. They are portrayed as speaking gibberish, which is passed off as the “tribal language.” A set of weird actions and movements is passed off as tribal dance. Acceptance and normalisation of such depiction is nothing but a cultural backlash to the Adivasi and tribal communities, which constitute about 9% of the country’s population. 

Jimna, an Adivasi woman speaks gibberish as a tribal language in television show Sajan re jhut mat bolo | Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xf5_LwZ9Q1U

It depresses the identity of an individual when targeted tours are organised to see what “Adivasis look like” and has little to do with the actual development of the region. Tribal tourism is nothing more than a symptom of the mistaken belief that we are somehow ‘bettering’ indigenous communities through the imposition of monetary systems and the introduction of western commodities. Allowing tourism will completely disrupt and destroy the existing ecological, physical and geological uniqueness of the region by creating structures meant to facilitate tourism. This might result in the total destruction of the ecologically crucial coasts and humiliate the people actually living on the island.

We don’t want to follow in the footsteps of the Great Andamanese saga where the entire tribe is now almost wiped out, leaving just a handful. What’s the point in enforcing government schemes for their safety and growth at this time, when they didn’t have the protection they deserved when the tribe was thriving? Call it curiosity or thirst to explore the tribal areas, but this is an absolute abuse of the right to privacy, right to life and right to live with dignity, which is important for every human being.  A home to someone cannot become an attraction and entertainment for someone else.

Ask yourself this: would you be okay with letting just anyone barge into your house and ask you to behave like yourself and throw bananas at you while they take photographs and videos of you without your consent and show it to the whole world? Didn’t think so. Neither are the Adivasis. 

 

About the author: Jyotsna Hans is a content writer for Adivasi Lives Matter. She is pursuing her undergraduate degree in law. She is fond of good food, good reads and good places to travel. “Through my articles, I tend to bring all tribal goodness in the limelight,” she says. 

Created by Adivasi Lives Matter

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