Slums and poverty are emerging as new points of interest for tourists.

Set up by an Englishman and an Indian, the idea for a slum tour in Mumbai came from the famous Brazil tours. In Delhi, former street dwellers take the tourists from the New Delhi Railway Station platform through makeshift homes under footbridges to explain how the children live, what they do for a living and where they sleep.

New Delhi: Slums and poverty are emerging as new points of interest for tourists, courtesy foreign dignitaries and celebrities who make it a point to visit and the live media coverage the events get.

In Mumbai, slum tours are organised around Dharavi, where over one million people live. Set up by an Englishman and an Indian, the idea for a slum tour in Mumbai came from the famous Brazil tours. In Delhi, former street dwellers take the tourists from the New Delhi Railway Station platform through makeshift homes under footbridges to explain how the children live, what they do for a living and where they sleep.

The organisers, however, claim that the tours are not undertaken to showcase poverty but sensitise and create awareness about the way of life here. A two-three hour tour costs just Rs 200 and the organisers claim the money goes for charity, which tries to rehabilitate these slum dwellers.

Bus tours of the shanty towns of Soweto or guided tours of the slums of Rio have attracted curious travellers for years. In Delhi, however, these slum tours started in April this year, and are already attracting lot of western and Indian travellers.

Conducted by the Salam Balak Trust, an NGO here, their guide, Javed, a former slum dweller, who says he himself lived on the railway station for seven years, takes these visitors around the New Delhi Railway Station, the slums behind it, the rag pickers who separate the plastics and other waste collected from the station.

But Javed says, “This tour is meant to sensitise and create awareness about the lives of these children. Many people don`t know how these children live. I have been through this myself so I know what happens here.”

The money raised goes to the Salam Balak Trust which is working to rehabilitate these children. There is a small school being run for them and also a dispensary, he says.

However, social activists are up against these slum tours and say it is voyeurism at its worst. Javed Abidi, a disabled rights activist, says, “The children or the slum dwellers (in) no way benefit from this. Celebrities and foreign dignitaries make it a point to visit slums, street children and girls` homes. Children are lined up for photo-ops and it just ends there… There is no accountability after that.”

“Slum tours should not be promoted as a form of tourism. It is an invasion into someone`s privacy. It takes away the dignity of the poor,” says Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, of Haq, an NGO for child rights. Thukral, who once went on slum tour of Cape flats in South Africa, organised by a reputed NGO, says “I protested and left half way.”

“If the donor agencies want to take these tours for assessment work, it is acceptable. But not for tourists to take a tour and invade privacy of the dwellers,” says Thukral.

“The slum tours are an unethical way of raising funds and showcasing poverty. It often results in mental trauma for the children,” says Vikram Srivastava of Child, Rights and You, an NGO. “In Benaras, many cases of paedophiles being caught have been reported. These foreigners were trying to exploit the children who live near the ghats.”

Javed, meanwhile, finds nothing wrong in these tours. He says since the tours started, the children in these slums have found a new hope. They too now want to have a better life and are ready to work for it.

This also helping remove wrong notions about the children who live on railway stations. Most tourists associate them with pick pocketing. But now their thinking is changing.

Javed says it was a chance meeting with a foreign tourist John that started the slum dwelling walk. Today he has an email ID and a cell phone number for the bookings.

Author: Zee News

News Service: Zee News

URL: http://www.zeenews.com/znnew/spesial_art.asp?aid=301647&sid=ZNS