Derek Newberry

“Poorism” in India – Development Through Enterprise or Lower Class Exploitation?

Browsing the morning headlines, I came across a startling and at first disturbing trend in the Indian tourism industry.? I had just finished reading a nice article on how the government plans to operate eco-tours of rural Jharkhand when I found a Guardian piece describing one community organization’s forays into “Poorism.”?


This is what many critics dub the efforts of groups that give tours of slums and impoverished areas, a service that is apparently already offered in other countries including Brazil and the Netherlands.? The Saalam Baalak Trust?is a charitable organization that?offers “Poorism” in New Delhi, where loads of primarily wealthy European tourists?pay about $5 each to see?the disturbing daily lives of India’s street children up close.? Groups of visitors crowd into train stations to watch impoverished children inhale correction fluid, sleep in holes and gather rubbish from incoming trains.?


As I mentioned I was fairly taken aback by this business?at first glance, but the Guardian article does a decent job of getting the sponsoring organization’s point of view.? The Trust is a charitable organization that also runs schools and health care programs for the children it puts on display.? It also caters to the BOP theory by employing actual former street children to run these tours who would claim that they are designed to “build awareness” of the plight of India’s poor.


I would be interested to hear other comments, and I am always open to innovative solutions to poverty issues.? I still have to say, though, I am fairly unconvinced.? Even with the positive accounts given by visitors and Trust representatives, I can’t help but feel like this is reality-TV style voyeurism at its worst.? Maybe I’m wrong and these groups will help develop awareness as well as some much needed revenue for a community-based group.? I still believe that the best local development comes from productive creation, not short-term services like this.? Thoughts?