Musafir Says

Skirting the issues

OPINIONBharat ek sanskritic desh hai… Jab wo airport par aate hai, unko wahan welcome kit di jaati hai. Ek card hai usme, jisme dos and dont’s, kya karen and kya na karen. Jaise choti choti baaten hain. Choti jagahon par raat ko na nikle, skirts na pehne…” (India has its own traditions. When foreigners come to the airport, they are given a welcome kit. It has a card listing the dos and don’ts. It has many small things like – don’t go out at night in small places, don’t wear skirts there…) 

This was India’s union minister of tourism, Mahesh Sharma, addressing a meeting in Agra, among India’s biggest tourism revenue earning destinations. Yes, the same minister who described former President APJ Abdul Kalam as a “great man”, a “nationalist and humanist” “despite being a Muslim” in September 2015. At a meeting of culture ministers of BJP-ruled states, he said, “We will cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernised and where Indian culture and civilisation needs to be restored.”

Leisure tourism numbers, despite all the statistical pyrotechnics claiming inbound tourism numbers are growing, are actually declining at the top spending end

This minister has revealed his inner thoughts often enough. In most cases, his view would not matter. Indeed, there are many who hold such views. But presenting one’s own beliefs and prejudices under the guise of ‘Indian culture’ seems to have become a hobby-horse for this minister. This individual is also tasked with heading India’s tourism. His ministry’s global Incredible India campaign (incidentally to helm the prime minister as the face of the nation!!!) reaches potential tourists all around the world. The World Travel and Tourism Council has estimated that the tourism industry had generated Rs 8.3 lakh crore in 2015. India  can earn much more as a desirable tourism destination. It needs to work on the vast economic inequality rampant in India.

Don’t wear skirts in India, says tourism minister! Read here

India is desperately trying to increase its leisure tourist numbers. Which despite all the statistical pyrotechnics claiming inbound tourism numbers are growing, are actually declining at the top spending end.

Just ask the 4- and 5-star hotels. Read the numbers. Bangladesh is listed as second largest inbound nation – and no, no major hospitality group or tourism destination seems to have any plan to entice them in greater numbers. Yes, numbers are growing for business, medical, even MICE tourism, not for leisure. Look at declining foreign tourist numbers each year since 2012 at the Taj Mahal. Having an individual with such views (who incidentally is a medical doctor from University College of Medical Sciences – in the reviled west developed allopathy, no less!)

No, we will not even get into the question of whether women tourists should wear skirts or not (if anyone is unsure on that count, we agree to disagree). Yes, absolutely, they have all the rights. Just like millions of Indian women. The minister has clarified saying India is a ‘cultural’ land, and this was for their safety. He also said that there would be an advisory on this. He added that foreign tourists visiting Mathura and Vrindavan should also have Indian sensitivities in mind. And what exactly Indian sensibilities are – still remains unclear. Many Indians may think it is being liberal, including sexually, this government, or at least its top functionaries, seem to think being conservative (read: women need to hide their skin) is the way to go.

Once again we come back to the age old, and contemporary question. For the sexual assault on women, it seems in India that women themselves are responsible and should therefore take responsibility.

Indeed, this minister needs to do many things to ensure tourists feel secure and welcome, whether while wearing skirts or anything else. He needs to provide a sense of security to tourists, both Indian and foreign. India’s image hasn’t exactly shone in the last few years. There have been repeated incidents of rape reported around the world. He needs to prioritise tourism infrastructure and improve connectivity. Tourism creates jobs and if done right can protect the environment. He could look at those things instead of mollifying certain constituencies by raising non-issues and courting controversy.

A Lok Sabha minister represents all Indians – more than a crore of us, as governments like to remind us. They need to behave and speak befittingly.

PS: Indian women, where in Indus Valley civilisation of yore or contemporary Rajasthan and Gujarat and many in between wore/ wear skirts as their traditional attire. Advisory for them is probably around the corner.

PPS: Women around the world planning to visit India are advised anyways be friends and family to be careful of Indian men, avoid dark places, avoid crowds, avoid revealing clothes despite the heat, avoid public transport… not the best invitation to any country seeking to get more tourists. May be these aspects could be looked into.

Musafir Namah Bureau


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