Orissa puts curbs on tribal tourism
BHUBANESWAR: With increasing concern about voyeuristic foreigners embarking on tribal safaris, the Orissa government on Saturday imposed strict rules for trips to areas inhabited by vulnerable tribal groups, such as Bondas and Dongaria Kondhs and even book those found contravening official guidelines. Tourists permitted into the area would not be allowed to stay night, stand close to tribals or enter their homes.
The government had, following a row over tourists’ visits to interior tribal zones in December, ordered a probe by IAS officer Usha Padhee.
The new guidelines say no foreign tourist/researcher can visit areas inhabited by these groups without the collector’s permission, which would be marked to the local police station. The cops have to ensure the conditions in the permission letter are strictly followed. “In case of any violation criminal cases should be lodged against the tourist/sponsor/tour operator under appropriate sections of law,” the chief minister’s office said in a media release. No night stay, videos or still pictures would be allowed.
Orissa has the second highest tribal population in the country and is home to 62 tribal communities, including 13 categorized as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG), numbering around 90,000. The PVTGs, namely, Bonda, Didayi, Lanjia Saura, Juang, Kutia Kondh, Chuktia Bhunjia, Saura, Paudi Bhuyan, Lodha, Dongria Kondh, Hill Khadia, Mankirdia and Bihor, spread over 12 districts, fascinate many because of their interesting rituals and customs. A similar incident had occurred in the Andamans.
The government barred ‘physical proximity’ of tourists to tribals and entry to their homes. It has asked collectors not to permit amusement/entertainment of tourists by tribals. Tour operators intending to take tourists to areas where PVTGs reside shall have to register with the department of tourism and culture with certain additional conditions; they should not depict photographs, video clips, write-ups on PVTGs in their websites/brochures in an ‘inappropriate manner’ for tourism promotion; they should submit a monthly return of foreign tourists visiting areas inhabited or frequented by PVTGs, official sources said.
Incidentally, the state government had in recent years relaxed restrictions, imposed earlier in 1995 following perceptible ‘misrepresentation’ of India by foreign tourists, to attract more overseas visitors. But it decided to reimpose those following the controversy over certain groups resorting to internet advertising showcasing scantily attired Bonda tribals and offering entertainment for tourists.
The government move has not gone down well with people in the tourism sector as they feel ‘responsible tourism’ need to be encouraged instead of imposing restrictions. “At least one-third of the foreigners visiting Orissa go to tribal areas to see PVTGs, especially Bonda in Malkangiri and Dongaria Kondh in Rayagada who still show up in traditional costumes,” a tour official said. “Due to threat from extremists, tourists seldom go to PVTG villages and prefer to visit haats where such tribal people come. The government should focus on building capacities of such communities so that they benefit from tourism while preserving their traditions.”