When TripAdvisor announced the Dharavi Slum Tours on their Top 10 Traveller’s Choice 2019 - Asia list, it raised more questions than it gave answers. After all, is it not interesting to note that the Dharavi slums are the only Indian destination on the list, even beating the Taj Mahal, one of the top wonders of the world.
There is much to do in India. One could choose to indulge in nature and wildlife, to soak in history and culture, or simply enjoy the varied food. Even if a tourist were to circuit the stereotypical, it would make for a magical experience.
And yet, slum tourism has risen amid these destinations as something worth exploring. While having existed for years, the tours have received a push from Hollywood and Indian films alike, making them a popular choice. Most slum tour operators are backed by charity, with a portion of their earnings going back to the same community. They train and employ guides from the same area, build schools, educate women and facilitate small industries. Given all this, it isn’t surprising that many slum dwellers are open to these tours, providing insight, making food and small souvenirs.
Our need to explore these quarters of abject poverty needs a bit of introspection. While opinions on the slum tours are often polarising; critics are quick to call out the voyeuristic pleasure, of people enjoying what they term as ‘poverty tourism’. The fact remains that these tours are on a rise, not just in the slums of India, but of the world too. Cities like Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, New York, Detroit, Copenhagen, etc all receive a healthy number of tourists in the poorer parts of the town.
The idea of visiting slums often makes people uncomfortable, especially when someone travels halfway across the world to visit it. But perhaps, there is more to it. Perhaps, the idea is to open your eyes and check your privilege. That poverty is no longer ignored in favour of ornate palaces and museums, and that people actively choose to see the lives of the slum dwellers.
Yes, the idea of slum tours often treads a controversial line, but the fact that we are acknowledging their existence when it comes to tourism might be the push we need to actually deal with poverty.