Magazine 2017
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
*Sangeeta Desai  
Poverty is marketed in an undignified manner by the tour operators , big organisations and to some  
extent also by the state development agendas. Women in particular become the face of this poverty.  
The homes and everyday lives of the poor women do get dissected in the process of ‘understanding the  
local lives’. The struggles and hardships faced by the poor become a source of consumption item for  
the visitors. “We also did the slums” becomes a necessary catch phrase for the tourists visiting the  
slums. The effects both positive and negative of slum tourism is necessary to understand. While poverty  
tourism is not only relevant to urban slum but is experienced in rural areas too. It however gets camouflaged  
under the name of development. Poor women who are part of the SHG movement are invariably the  
targets of development tourism. Regular visitors to tribal belts wherein women have made an attempt to  
change their lives through SHGs have become a common sight. While undoubtedly the SHG movement  
brings in positive changes from an economic and social empowerment perspective what gets overlooked  
is that in order to showcase the success of the programme the poor women and the families become  
fascination object of policy makers.  
Keywords: Tourism, Labour, Development agenda, empowerment, poverty, SHG  
Poverty and Slum Tourism is a new advent in the field of tourism. The Oscar award winning movie Slum dog  
millionaire has been instrumental in bolstering a sudden increase in slum tourism in India. Dedicated slum tour  
operators are making a business out of the need of foreigners to see the grim underbelly of Mumbai ie the  
slums of Dharavi.The city of Mumbai houses Dharavi which is Asia’s second largest slum. Slums like Dharavi  
have become a tourist destination and must see activity for many tourists . Taking a tour of the slums would  
have sounded absurd some years back however this has become a essential tourist activity. The local slum  
tour operators market the tours promising to show the real lives of people. Dingy rooms, poor sanitation, water  
problems and the hardships and struggles of the poor become the highlight of these slum tours. Poverty  
tourism though is a debatable topic as the pro poverty tourism advocates argument that it benefits the local  
communities and brings in a better understanding of the lives of the locals. While the anti poverty tourism  
brigade says it does not bring any material difference to the people living in the slums rather they rob them of  
their dignity. Slum tourism and the ethics of tourism is not an issue faced only by India it is also faced by poor  
and developing nations such as South Africa.  
Tapping the financials in Slums:  
Slum tourism is not just an initiative of the local slum tour operators. The business is thriving because there is  
a huge market to experience the slums. Various small and big enterprises indirectly contribute to slum tourism.  
Slums are suppliers of raw material required for various industries. Men and women living in these slums are  
engaged in home based enterprises. Many of them are engaged in running small independent ventures from  
their tiny homes. Their homes also become their place of work. These small business include embroidery work,  
tailoring, drying and selling fish, vegetable vendor, supplying tiffin service, making papads, pickles, cleaning  
and during coconut garlic or running beauty parlours. These poor self employed people require working  
capital and to bridge these requirement various financial instituitions step in. The worling capital requirement is  
filled in through micro loans. Organisations also want to prove how they contribute towards sustainable  
development by engaging local communities. targeting women borrowers makes sense from a public policy  
standpoint. The business case for focusing on female clients is substantial, as women clients register higher  
repayment rates. They also contribute larger portions of their income to household consumption than their  
male counterparts. There is thus a strong business and public policy case for targeting female borrowers  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Various Financial instituitions including leading banks and micro financial instuitions (MFIs) and Non government  
organisations lend micro loans to poor people especially poor women living in the slums of Mumbai. Loans are  
generally given to increase the income generating capacity of the poor women. The loans are closely monitored  
and on successful completion of the loan cycle additional loan facility is provided to the women.  
Questions surrounding the inspection tours:  
It is a trend among the financial instituition (especially foreign banks and NGOs) that whenever the top officials  
visit Mumbai they are taken a tour of the slums and introduced to the women borrowers. The focus of the tour  
is to show how the borrowers have utilised the loan in their individual business/activities. In order to further  
highlight the business plans the officials are taken to the homes of these women and shown their enterprises.  
While one may argue that this is a due diligence on part of the organisation to safeguard their business interests  
and ensure that the money so lent is used for the purpose it is meant to be, but it is also a fact that poor  
women’s hardships, struggles and her survival strategies have become commodities which the powerful  
organisations are using for their business interests. It is common sight to see officials of these organisations  
taking a tour of the slums where their borrowers reside. While women’s empowerment is considered as one of  
the main strategy of the MFI , this very aim of empowerment can go loggerheads when poor women’s personal  
lives are dissected or interfered with by the organisations. NGO’s working in the slums also indirectly contribute  
to slum tourism by organising ‘work tour’ for their donor agencies.  
Development Agendas and tourism factor :  
Poverty Tourism is not restricted to urban areas. The need to experience the poor rural life is also of great  
interest to the new age traveller. However the development agendas of the state and the efficiency of the  
development programmes also raise interest among researchers, social scientists, economists, academecians,  
donor agencies and bureaucrats. The categories mentioned above directly or indirectly become the ‘watchful  
tourist’ of these development programmes.  
To bring into an example of a development programme that was run by Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal  
MAVIM). The focus of the program is on social mobilization through formation of Self Help Group (SHGs) as  
the basic instrument of empowerment of women. These SHGs assist women to access basic financial services  
like thrift, credit and insurance, take advantage of new or improved livelihood opportunities and provide a  
forum for delivery of other services. The program promotes awareness campaigns in terms of legal, policy and  
programmatic provisions which assist women in organizing and networking for advocacy purposes.IFAD is the  
prime donor agency and the Self Help Group programme is run in all the 35 districts of Maharashtra.  
Yavatmal is one of the districts of Maharashtra where this programme was first implemented in the year 1994.  
The SHG women have benefitted from the programme and have started their own enterprises including processing  
of dals, making papads and pickles. These SHG women were also given adequate training for the same. What  
is interesting to note is that the district office of Yavatmal has a dedicated team which takes care of the visitors  
coming to the office and takes to Lohar village which is near the city center . The women are busy at their  
homes making the products, they are ready to answer the questions asked and more than happy to display  
their fruits of labour. They have a line of orders to process on a single day. They appear industrious and  
confident. Infact they are eager to have a conversation and their confidence shows that they are used to answer  
questions regularly. The women tell us that various sections of people visit them to understand their work and  
the progress made by them. They are frequently asked questions as to how was their life before joining the  
development programme and how is the financial progress made by them. These questions are directed to the  
women folk as they are the beneficiaries of the development programme. As these programmes are closely  
monitored by the bilateral agencies there is a steady stream of visitors from these agencies to overlook the  
programme outcome. These visitors include both local, national and international.  
One of the positive aspects of developmental tourism is that the exposure of these women increase, the ability  
to exchange ideas and views increase. In some of the development programmes, women who have long been  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
the object of the observer also get a chance to visit a foreign country where they are invited to speak and share  
their experiences in the development programme.  
Be it a private MFI loan or be it state development agenda, in both cases women’s labour is examined in great  
detail. Both the agencies try hard to prove how empowered their women borrowers are. However in the  
process the aspect of privacy is completely neglected. The powerful ‘watchful tourists ‘ adorn the cap of a  
controller and such control can be oppressive at times. Some of the unanswered questions are Do Slum  
tourism and Development tourism border in making mockery of poverty. Why is women’s labour inspected in  
such great details? How can one bring in power and dignity to the one who is observed . Is slum tourism and  
development tourism a passing fad..  
References :  
Kannabiran Vasantha (2005) Marketing Self-Help, Managing Poverty, Economic and Political Weekly,  
Vol. 40, No. 34, pp.3716-3718  
Karmakar K G (2000) Rural Credit and Self Help Groups : Microfinance Needs and Concepts in India, Sage  
Publications, New Delhi  
Poonacha Veena (2012) Chinnapillai : Leading a Collective Struggle against Poverty, Samyukta Vol XII No  
, pp. 68 - 83  
Sharath (2004). Micro Credit in India: Panacea for Poverty? Chartered Financial Analyst, May  
Shramshakti (1988) Report of the National Commission on Self Employed Women and Women in the  
Informal Sector  
Shylendra, H.S. (1998) Promoting Women’s Self Help Groups: Lessons from an Action Research Project of  
IRMA. Working paper 121. Anand: Institute of Rural Management  
S.U. (2007) From Marginal Tinkering to Major Changes: Microfinance and Poverty Alleviation, Economic  
and Political Weekly,Vol. 42, No. 5, pp. 349-352  
Towards Equality Report (1974) Government of India accessed on 06March2017  
Ph D Scholar Research Center for Women’s Studies , SNDT Womens University.  
Email-sangeetaashish[email protected]