Lakshadweep the next Maldives or Mauritius?
Lakshadweep’s exotic isles certainly captivate imaginaries as an alluring escape from urban mundanity. Recently proposed infrastructure plans promise ports, transport links and tourism hubs poised to attract visitors and revenues. But will these ambitions repeat colonial exploitative patterns or bring empowerment to Lakshadweep’s identity? Can tourism ever shake off its imperial roots to equitably include local inhabitants in its prosperity?
In the past few weeks, Lakshadweep has received nationwide attention amidst recent tourism development proposals from the Modi Government. The islands will receive a Rs 3,600-crore-plus infrastructure upgrade, which seeks to establish port facilities, efficient communication and transportation. This will also promote domestic tourism and generate employment. However, some argue that this risks imposing a damaging colonial model, rather than empowering the local population.
Lakshadweep, an archipelago of 36 islands in the Arabian Sea, has been a prime example of planned tourism in India since the 1980s. The tourism industry promoted the concept of ‘day tourist’, to restrict overcrowding and protect the island’s fragile ecology. This incentivised economic growth and catered to the cultural, social and ecological aspects of its inhabitants. However, the suggestions to develop mass tourism similar to the Maldives are likely to take a toll on the local populace, who are primarily agriculturists. Meddling into its largely unexplored and understudied unknown biogeography, the mainland Indian administration risks imposing the same colonial legacy, from which they sought liberation 75 years ago.
Tourism stems from the historical processes with its roots in the colonial legacy that helped develop global economic systems and cultural connections. Such historical processes have laid the groundwork for modern-day leisure and exploratory travel.
Tourist destinations often mirror the exploitative patterns of the past. Many popular modern tourist spots were once colonies, and their infrastructure continues to reflect the tastes and interests of their colonisers. As colonial-era buildings and monuments attract visitors, these often display a one-sided and sentimental image of the past. The tangible wonders like the India Gate, the Victoria Memorial, and the Shimla excursions, aside from colonial practices, attitudes, and materialism also promote a biased view of history.
The economic scale of tourism upholds colonial legacies by reproducing patterns of inequality. Ownership and control of large tourist attractions are commonly in the hands of external corporations, generally migrants and not the local inhabitants, resulting in economic leakage in which a considerable amount of tourism money does not benefit local populations. Much similar to the economic exploitation of the colonial period.
Cultural effects also reflect colonial dynamics. The inflow of visitors frequently results in cultural imperialism, as the dominant culture's tastes, conventions, and values impact and, in some cases, undermine the local way of living. Commodifying indigenous cultures for tourist consumption has the potential to distort and commercialise traditions, thereby sustaining a heritage of cultural imposition
It is imperative to acknowledge that tourism in general is a direct result of the colonial past, and the economic benefits must reach the majority of the local population. Therefore, the administration must establish an unwavering and continuous dialogue with the actual stakeholders, i.e. the inhabitants, by upholding the concept of federalism enshrined in our constitution. This approach not only ensures the development and empowerment of the society but also guarantees the preservation and enrichment of the fragile ecology.
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Butler, R. W. (2006). Tourism and cultural imperialism: Anthropological insights. Channel View Publications.
Urry, J. (1990). The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies. SAGE Publications.