Tip | Search useful information before visiting India: Responsible tourism, eco tourism and volunteer work

Photo and video recommendation: a voice from rural India worth being heard

Whether you plan a visit or seek to learn more about India’s rural life – perhaps inspired by the Gandhian social movement or Rabindranath Tagore – explore “a living journal, a breathing archive” in the Adivasi category of PARI: the People’s Archive of Rural India initiated by distinguished photo journalist-turned-activist P. Sainath, continually enriched by stories from all over India.

“In less than 200 years, photography has gone from an expensive, complex process to an ordinary part of everyday life. From selfies to satellites, most of the technology we use and spaces we inhabit rely on cameras. […] While photographic documentation can aid in shaping history, it can also be a window into the horrors of the past.” – Read more or listen to Butterfly Effect 9 – The Camera on CBC Radio Spark 26 May 2023 >>

New and “exotic” destinations are being promoted by the tourism industry all over the world. Responsible travellers and volunteers care about the welfare of local people. Some restrictions may prevent tourists from entering sensitive “tribal” areas of India. In other regions, the impact of tourism raises ethical questions. More >>

Too Many People Want to Travel: Tourism has surged in recent decades, causing large-scale environmental degradation, dangerous conditions, and pricing-out locals at major tourist sites.
Atlantic staff writer Annie Lowrey explains over-tourism and what we can do to fix it >>
More about Eco tourism | Tourism | Particularly vulnerable tribal groups >>

Search tips: checking the facts while planning a trip

  1. for different views, key “tribe eco tourism”, “eco tourism tribal”, “tourism benefits local community” and similar word combinations in the custom search window seen below
  2. add a particular state or place name (e.g. Andaman, Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan)

Find up-to-date information provided by, for and about Indian authors, researchers, officials, and educators

List of web portals covered by the present Custom search engine

Action for Community Organisation, Rehabilitation and Development (ACCORD) – www.accordweb.in

Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) – www.atree.org

Freedom United – www.freedomunited.org

Government of India (all websites ending on “.gov.in”)

Shodhganga (a reservoir of Indian theses) – https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in

Survival International – www.survivalinternational.org

Unesco – https://en.unesco.org

Unesco digital library – https://unesdoc.unesco.org

Unicef – www.unicef.org

United Nations – www.un.org/en

Video Volunteers – www.videovolunteers.org

To search Indian periodicals, magazines, web portals and other sources safely, click here. To find publishing details for Shodhganga’s PhD search results, click here >>

Search tips

Combine the name of any particular state, language or region with that of any tribal (Adivasi) community.

Add keywords of special interest (health, nutrition endangered language, illegal mining, sacred grove); learn about the rights of Scheduled Tribes such as the “Forest Rights Act” (FRA); and the United Nations “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, “women’s rights”, or “children’s right to education”.

Specify any other issue or news item you want to learn more about (biodiversity, bonded labour and human trafficking, climate change, ecology, economic development, ethnobotany, ethnomedicine, global warming, Himalayan tribe, hunter-gatherers in a particular region or state, prevention of rural poverty, water access).

For official figures include “scheduled tribe ST” along with a union state or region: e.g. “Chhattisgarh ST community”, “Scheduled tribe Tamil Nadu census”, “ST Kerala census”, “Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group Jharkhand”, “PVTG Rajasthan”, “Adivasi ST Kerala”, “Adibasi ST West Bengal” etc.

In case the Google Custom Search window is not displayed here try the following: (1) toggle between “Reader” and regular viewing; (2) in your browser’s Security settings select “Enable JavaScript” | More tips >>

[*] Some clarifications on caste-related issues by reputed scholars

Understanding “caste” in the context of Indian democracy: The “Poona Pact of 1932”
“Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar differed over how to address caste inequities through the electoral system. Their exchanges led to the Poona Pact of 1932, which shaped the reservation system in India’s electoral politics. […]
Two prominent figures who have significantly contributed to this discourse are Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Father of the Constitution. The two stalwarts of Indian politics, while revered equally by the public, had contrasting views on the caste system. Their subsequent debates have shaped the course of Indian society and politics. While Gandhi denounced untouchability, he did not condemn the varna system, a social hierarchy based on occupation, for most of his life. He believed in reforming the caste system through the abolition of untouchability and by giving equal status to each occupation. On the other hand, BR Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, argued that the caste system disorganised and ‘demoralised Hindu society, reducing it to a collection of castes’. […] 
And yet, despite their differences, they developed an understanding to work for the betterment of the marginalised.” – Rishabh Sharma in “How Ambedkar and Gandhi’s contrasting views paved way for caste reservation” (India Today, 6 October 2023)
URL: https://www.indiatoday.in/history-of-it/story/ambedkar-gandhi-caste-system-poona-pact-1932-reservation-2445208-2023-10-06

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“That upper caste groups should declare themselves to be OBCs [Other Backward Castes] and want to avail of the reservation policy is a pandering to caste politics of course, as also are caste vote-banks. It is partially a reflection of the insecurity that the neo-liberal market economy has created among the middle-class. Opportunities are limited, jobs are scarce and so far ‘development’ remains a slogan. There’s a lot that is being done to keep caste going in spite of saying that we are trying to erode caste. We are, of course, dodging the real issue. It’s true that there has been a great deal of exploitation of Dalit groups and OBC’s in past history; making amends or even just claiming that we are a democracy based on social justice demands far more than just reservations. The solution lies in changing the quality of life of half the Indian population by giving them their right to food, water, education, health care, employment, and social justice. This, no government so far has been willing to do, because it means a radical change in governance and its priorities.” – Romila Thapar  (Emeritus Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University) interviewed by Nikhil Pandhi (Caravan Magazine, 7 October 2015)
URL: https://caravanmagazine.in/vantage/discipline-notion-particular-government-interview-romila-thapar 

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Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” – Book review by Dilip Mandal for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (The Print, 23 August 2020)
URL: https://theprint.in/opinion/oprah-winfrey-wilkerson-caste-100-us-ceos-indians-wont-talk-about-it/487143/

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“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [However] caste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption. There is a tendency to assume that caste is as old as Indian civilization itself, but this assumption does not fit our historical knowledge. To be precise, however, we must distinguish between social stratification in general and caste as a specific form. […]
From the early modern period till today, then, caste has been an intrinsic feature of Indian society. It has been common to refer to this as the ‘caste system’. But it is debatable whether the term ‘system’ is appropriate here, unless we simply take for granted that any society is a ‘social system’. First, and this is quite clear when we look at the history of distinct castes, the ‘system’ and the place various groups occupy within it have been constantly changing. Second, no hierarchical order of castes has ever been universally accepted […] but what is certain is that there is no consensus on a single hierarchical order.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters, Article 1311, 2021), pp. 1-2
URL: https://www.academia.edu/49963457

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“There is a need for intercultural education. We all need to work together to bridge these divides not only between religions and castes but also regions. It is not correct to think that one part is better than the other. Some of the limitations of India as a whole are due to our common heritage, say the one that has restricted women from having a flourishing life for themselves.” – Prof. V. Santhakumar (Azim Premji University) in “On the so called North-South Divide in India” (personal blog post in Economics in Action, 13 April 2024)
URL: https://vsanthakumar.wordpress.com/2024/04/13/on-the-so-called-north-south-divide-in-india/

Ethical and environmental considerations

Learn more: Bondage | Bonded labour | Childhood | Human trafficking | SlaveryZamindari >>
Human trafficking is a crime. To report in India, call Shakti Vahini
+91-11-42244224, +91-9582909025 or the national helpline Childline on 1098.

“As per a study on human trafficking, the state of Jharkhand has emerged as India’s trafficking hub with thousands of tribal women and girls being trafficked out of the state each year to Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and beyond [while] human traffickers are also involved in many cases of missing children.” – The Wire | Shakti Vahini | Tourism locations | Adivasi tribal bondage slavery trafficking (Safe search) >>

“Childline 1098 is a 24×7 emergency, free phone outreach for children in distress. It is one of the world’s biggest emergency helpline services dedicated to children, and is considered to be among the country’s largest emergency response systems” – The Hindu, 17 April 2022 >>

Whatever the purpose of your visit, be it as a member of a group of tourists, as a delegate or individual traveller, may it contribute to greater respect for local people. This naturally includes those living in precarious conditions for no fault of their own. Only then your visit may prove to be beneficial for any “tribal” community. It may contribute to the local economy, for instance by providing employment and supporting craftspeople; or conversely it may merely benefit “outsiders” (i.e. investors and  their representatives).

Does ecotourism – driven by Western environmentalism, aided by international institutions, and introduced in the South in form of a ‘development package” – amount to a new ‘Green Revolution’?

Whilst eco-tourism attempts to fully integrate indigenous communities into the market-driven economic system, it keeps them as “archaeological”  pieces to stimulate the tourists’ nostalgic desire for the “untouched”, “primitive” and “savage”. Worse, irresponsible eco-tourism promotion features photographs and descriptions of ethnic women, giving credence to the false notions that they are willing and available to be discovered by tourists. Apart from resisting to take-overs of ancestral lands by tourism developers, indigenous peoples organisations and support groups have strongly denounced eco-tourism which has produced “human zoos”, as such practices abuse human dignity and involve socio-economic and cultural disruptions which amount to ethnocide

Source: Ecotourism: A new ‘green revolution’ in the Third World (Third World Network)
URL: https://www.twnside.org.sg/title/eco2.htm
Date Visited: Wed Jul 23 2014 11:33:47 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Practical and financial considerations

Keep in mind that restrictions for visitors apply to some of the regions inhabited by tribal communities. While planning your visit to a tribal community, please have a look at the following checklist:

  1. check the website of the Indian Embassy in your country
  2. note that the Government of India defines restricted areas from time to time (e.g. in some of the north-eastern states known as  and Orissa/Odisha)
  3. follow the travel advice for India issued by your government (e.g. the website maintained by the foreign ministry)
  4. India’s tribal schools and welfare organizations are required to follow certain procedures before accepting offers from foreign volunteers
  5. wherever volunteer work is an option, you may also want to make a contribution towards hospitality expenses

Chhattisgarh Tourism to Promote ‘Walk with the Tribe’ Experience
February 11, 2015

Chhattisgarh Tourism Board (CTB) aims to promote the ‘Walk with the Tribe’ experience, whereby visitors can go on a nature walk with the learned and local tribal people who have been living there for years. Talking about the same, Santosh K Misra, Managing Director, CTB, said, “With 80 per cent biodiversity and significant natural abundance, a major focus will be on promoting the ‘Walk with the Tribe’ experience, unexplored tourism circuits, and development of collaboration between the locals and the State Tourism Department. With this, major milestones like job creation in tribal sectors and improved standard of living can be achieved. We also seek to create vistas of awareness for international tourists whom we seek to attract with our engaging packages and specially designed tourism junkets.”

Source: Equitable Tourism Options (EQUATIONS) | Chhattisgarh Tourism to Promote Walk with the Tribe Experience
Address: https://www.equitabletourism.org/newsitem.php?AID=2948
Date Visited: Wed Mar 29 2017 17:26:51 GMT+0200 (CEST)

A case study published by Kerala’s tourism authorities (excerpt focusing on the opportunities and pitfalls of tourism)

Tourism is one of the few sectors where Kerala has clear competitive advantages given its diverse geography in a short space ranging from the Western Ghats covered with dense forests to the backwaters to the Arabian sea. […] It thus, plays an important role in driving growth and bringing about economic prosperity. Tourism’s importance to the economy of Kerala also rests in its capacity to help bring about non-economic benefits. For instance, tourism can help in conserving/reviving past traditions; and promoting cultural heritage, cultural performances and festivals, etc. It can also reinforce a positive sense of community identity, which in turn will encourage local communities to maintain their traditions and identity. Further, tourism, particularly ecotourism, can place a greater focus on the conservation of natural resources by ensuring financial or in-kind support by the government, in recognition of their importance to visitor experiences. But, the benefits of tourism are not unequivocal. It is often seasonal and mainly generates part-time and unskilled jobs for local people. Further, if not planned carefully, tourism can be destructive of culture and local traditions. […]

Source: Report “vision2030” by Kerala Government
Address : https://kerala.gov.in/docs/reports/vision2030/11.pdf
Date Visited: Thu Jul 03 2014 20:50:05 GMT+0200 (CEST)
Backup file: Ch. 11 “Tourism” (PDF, 883 KB)