Sex, Sleaze, Slaughter, and Salvation

Phoren Tourists and Slum Tours in Calcutta (India)

in Journeys
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This article explores the violence and voyeurism in viewing poverty in urban slums. By uncovering the social, economic, gendered, and racialized politics within a small-scale travel industry, I show how the latter cater to certain personal, sexual, and religious curiosities among a breed of travelers visiting developing countries. I did my ethnography in the slums of Calcutta, where travel entrepreneurs organized a range of discreet tours of ghettoes for white foreigners (primarily from Australia or the United States). These popular expeditions offered “sightings,” such as half-naked women bathing at water tanks, ritualistic animal sacrifice, and neighborhoods for prostitutes. While reinforcing stereotypes of the primitive other (as opposed to the exotic other), these secret tours allowed travelers to indulge in a range of emotions, from real life voyeurism to “showing gratitude to God for being civilized.” By emphasizing the ambivalences and contradictions in viewing and representing the other, this article argues further that the immoral and critical gaze of a small group of foreign tourists can affect the nature of morality and commercialism among large sections of the urban poor in India.

Journeys

The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing