Monday, November 28, 2005


Now Rajasthan has done it. The province of Ajmer has passed a series of guidelines, short of notices, that prohibit tourists from doing many things which are objectionable, or rather, which the province of Ajmer...or rather, specifically which the sub-divisional magisterate of Ajmer finds objectionable. Carrying on the glorious tradition of big-brotherhood that has been instigated in many of our country's social quarters, here are the laws that have been passed, in which these noble icons of 'Indian culture' have made clear a tacit assumption of generality (italics are mine):

* Men should never touch women in public, even to help a woman out of a car, unless the lady is very elderly or infirm

* In Indian culture... men socialise with men, and women with women

* Married couples in Asia do not hug, hold hands or kiss in public. Even embracing at airports and train stations is considered out of the question

* Generally it is improper for women to speak with strangers on the street and especially to strike up a casual conversation

* Drinking alcohol or smoking in public, no matter how innocent, are interpreted as a sign of moral laxity and are not acceptable.

The interesting thing is that not only do these restrictions apply to tourists in Rajasthan, but they have been generously extended to include not only the rest of India, but apparently all of Asia. Wonder what the Thai, or the Japanese will think about this (incidentally, I have a feeling that the Japanese will actually laud this).

Point no. 2 really is as inane as things can get, not that the other ones are any less inane. I am just waiting to hear about new laws that dictate how tourists (or Indian citizens) should behave even in private. Incidentally, there is even a British couple interviewed who think that such guidelines should be 'made available' throughout India. The case of the Finnish woman who skinny dipped in a river and then walked naked to a temple to 'appease a deity' may be a convincing case in point, but other than that, what 'Indian culture' are these guys exactly talking about??

P.S: Based on some comments and afterthought, I realise that having some such rules is probably prudent to prevent tourists from tainting the general atmosphere of such a place. It's only some of the extreme phrases and generalised wording that irked me when I read it. Maybe not kissing is ok, but just holding hands and making conversation with strangers of the opposite sex??


Blogger Vivek Gupta said...

I think in the context of the situations described in the bbc news, these guidelines do make sense. A tourist should respect local culture, any inadverent faux pas can ruin the whole experience for all concerned.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Yes, some of the more 'extreme' ones such as not hugging and kissing do make sense because they might spoil the tourists' experience. But I just thought that some of the other ones, like not even simply holding hands, or making conversation with the opposite sex would in my opinion, may make things feel too restricted for them. On the other hand, if the tourists themselves are OK with it, then I guess it's ok.
I mean, when tourists visit a place, their experience there has to be a combination of the demands which the culture of the place wants from them, as well as their need to also be themselves in an exotic foreign place. I can imagine that some American guy may want to spend a romantic evening with his wife in view of the Taj Mahal which is a perfectly legitimate desire, and then I can imagine that he would feel rather stifled if he could not even hold her hand. But I agree that you have to sacrifice some of your native customs in another country.
Btw, nice to see another AAA fan!

8:42 PM  
Anonymous Anirudh said...

Idiocy again! I agree that one has to be aware of society especially when one is a tourist and therefore, present in a place just for a short period of time but this is going too far.

Indian society does view some of these things unfavourably in a lot of areas but that isn't any reason to ban them. It's society which needs to grow up.

Perhaps you'll find this interesting:

1:46 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

I agree! The link you provided is very amusing...reminds me of my absurd school days. I was in a co-ed school, and yet, till 10th std,, boys and girls used to be terrified of talking to each other in general. Because of this, we never managed to be in a mixed boys-girls group till college.

5:55 AM  
Blogger Sumedha said...

I object stridently to all these guidelines!!

Except perhaps not smoking in public. Drinking is fine because that doesn't affect other people adversely.

I would feel stifled in such an atmosphere; I can't imagine how an American tourist would feel.
In a positive sense,though, maybe it would make the touristy experience more 'exotic' for them. A stolen kiss is always more fun, especially for Americans, for whom hugs and kisses have been reduced to social ubiquities .

1:15 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

I was expecting you would ;) and I agree. That's right; many Indians would feel stifled in such an atmosphere too. The question still is; where does one draw the line?

1:45 PM  
Blogger Chetan said...

I follow your blog regularly and really admire your musings. I think however this post misrepresents the issue.

“The province of Ajmer has passed a series of guidelines, short of notices, that prohibit tourists from doing many things which are objectionable, or rather, which the province of Ajmer...or rather, specifically which the sub-divisional magisterate of Ajmer finds objectionable.”

The BBC article however explicitly states that these are just guidelines.

“Officials say the list of these dos and don'ts has been prepared by the local administration in Ajmer district to "educate foreign tourists about local culture and sensibilities".

There is no legal restriction or fines or jail. They aren’t ‘prohibiting tourists’ as you said, merely advising them. I think there is no harm in publishing guidelines. These aren’t ‘rules’ as you refer to them in your post-script. The tourist is free to flaunt them if he/she deems fit without any hassles apart from those he/she might face from the local population. Even from a marketing perspective this might help improve tourism as locals may not balk and react adversely by trying to protect their culture by banning tourism altogether or for that matter look at the tourists condescendingly for their ‘lack of moral values.’ Besides tourism isn’t about fostering a melting pot culture. It is about getting a flavour of the place. And I don’t see any reason why the place should change its social norms to accommodate the tourists. One might argue that from a marketing perspective this might not make sense and that you are making it difficult for the customer. But a tourist is not your regular costumer. He/she is there to experience the exotic. In fact, packaging the experience smartly by allowing them to live the way locals do for 4-5 days might be a better marketing strategy.

The next thing I will say may be very touchy. I am not saying that this is true, but just as a matter of conjecture I will say it. We need to reflect whether part of this stems from our inferiority complex vis-a-vis western culture. If this were the other way round, and tomorrow a lot of tourists from India started visiting the United States and while walking around in public gardens begin plucking flowers or shouting out to each other in public places or go to a national park split in groups and start playing antakshari or do something that goes against the accepted normal behaviour in the U.S., then do you think the Americans wont post any guidelines? I think they may consider imposing a fine. That no Indian will do such a thing is because we immediately consider the social norms of a western country as innately superior and therefore try to be as discrete about our own wants and sensibilities. That is not to say that we should go ahead and start playing screaming songs at top of our lungs when visiting Yellowstone or Shenandoah, (those Grizzlies and the Deer might file a lawsuit) but just as we automatically respect others’ customs and social norms why is it so wrong to expect Western tourists to respect ours?

Yes, Rajasthan’s customs may be antiquated. As educated, well-read people we might find them unacceptable in today’s egalitarian world and would like them to change. I would love to see that happen too. But I think we should let the change stem from within. When the young men and women in Rajasthan are more educated I am sure they will come to the same conclusion that we do regarding acceptance of display of public affection. These should be debated and discussed in the community rather than being forced down their throats by asking them to be ‘tolerant.’ Why can’t we be a bit more tolerant of their intolerance? Let the Rajasthani people make the choice rather than us telling them that by they are shaming us by not being accommodating of western culture. Condescending to them about their culture will only provoke an even adverse reaction.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Mridula said...

Well, if we go abroad and do not litter, blare music from loudspeakers and molest women, it is about time we started doing it at home.

10:51 PM  

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