Some Questions About Poverty Tourism

poverty porn??, originally uploaded by bhowmik.

The movie “Slumdog Millionaire” may be remembered for being more than just an award-winning movie. If anything, the film has generated a lot of discussion about various issues with poverty stealing the spotlight.

According to a USA Today article, thanks to the success of “Slumdog,” what is known as poverty tourism – paid tours into the slums of various countries – has taken off in India, reopening a continuous debate over the ethics of such a concept.

The movie’s recent premiere in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) sparked complaints among some of Dharavi’s estimated 1 million residents, who live and work in an area smaller than New York’s Central Park. But it also has boosted business for Reality Tours and Travel, which leads eight to 15 tourists a day on guided tours of the slum.

Reality Tours co-founder Chris Way estimates that sales are up by about 25% since Slumdog Millionaire’s release. Though he credits some of the increase to a gradual rebound in tourism after terrorist attacks in Mumbai killed more than 170 people in November, publicity surrounding the film has played a big role.

It has become a heated debate with critics claiming the tours are nothing but voyeurism…people pay money to oggle at the poor in a less than dignifying manner, taking photos and intruding on their lifestyles. It’s exploitation in the literal sense.

Those in support of the concept say otherwise, claiming such tours can be eye-opening experiences and life-changing events for people who may not otherwise venture outside their comfort zones. Some tour agencies use their profits to give back to the poverty-stricken communities they give tours in and other require participants to be active in the development of the areas they tour.

Still, the debate leaves unanswered one huge question: Is poverty tourism ethical?

For me, it’s hard to say since I have never experienced a poverty tour myself. However, despite all the good that can come out of it, one thing continues to bother me and that is the value of human dignity. Is it even possible to conduct a poverty tour and allow the inhabitants of the community being toured a sense of human dignity? For even the poor deserve that right.

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