Religious and Heritage Tourism as a Development Strategy in India
The concept of national independence and sustainability in many countries of the global south is a very important subject of debate ad necessity prevalent in the subject of international development sociology today. The Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) designed and implemented by the IMF and World Bank in the twentieth century to cause underdeveloped countries to develop and modernize in the likeness of world powers like Spain, Britain and America yielded primarily negative results. Some of these results being high levels of inflation increase in high school drop-outs, devaluation of currencies and reduction of farmers’ incomes due to agricultural trade reforms. These effects were experienced by mostly countries in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa like Rwanda, Ghana, and even some low- income countries in Asia like India also.
However, the purpose of this article is to explore religious and heritage tourism as a strategy for developing economies in these reviving nations who endured the hardships of the negative effects of the SAPs specifically India. According to MacCannell (1992:1), ‘‘Tourism is not just an aggregate of merely commercial activities; it is also an ideological framing of history, nature and tradition; a framing that has the power to reshape culture and nature to its own needs.’’ By encouraging the contribution of tourism to the national economy, India has stepped away from the class of low income country defined by the policies of the SAPs because tourism has a multiplier effect. This multiplier effect is experienced now because more emphasis is being placed on preserving the cultural and spiritual landmarks and heritage of India given that the ‘smokeless’ industry of tourism has opened its doors to employ more locals at the primary and secondary levels in the nation. Most importantly, a huge stream of revenue is generated from the Western tourists who come to admire the magnificent beauty of nature and sanctity life in its full splendor that exists through the numerous religions in India.
Ethnical diverse societies normally have a propensity for fragmentation but the reverse is the case with India. The governments here have tried to build a sense of nation by uniting diverse groups of the country; however, identity in India is centered around smaller groups based on religion, cultural and linguistic identity. Among these, religious and spiritual identity proves to be the most prominent. In India, so many religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam and Christianity co-exist and it is this spirit of preserving and promoting every religious relic available (which might have thrived through the harsh years of colonialism) that counts India among the most sought after countries for tourists when it comes to personal and spiritual replenishment and attraction sites.
In India, religion is an integral part of the nation and religion pervades every aspect of life - from daily chores to education and politics. Religion also plays a vital role in the politics of India. For example, a political party’s support in India to a great extent depends upon the religion the group recognizes (Chandra 2004). This goes to show that the recurring themes of India’s heritage and religious tourism which are inherently existent in India’s glorious past and its current trend of modernity, its colonial heritage and its magnificent blend of religion and culture have been veritably propagated and spread by the media as evidenced in the effect of heritage tourism on politics at the highest echelons of power.
The benefits of integrating the tourism sector as a development strategy is multiple fold because not only does it greatly contribute to the economy and sustainability of India as a nation; it also ensures that the needs of the ecosystem are paid full attention to.
Firstly India derives a reasonable chunk of national income from preserving old relics from colonial times and by doing this, they are actively preserving their lands from dangers of human modernization like intense gold mining, unnecessary tarring of streets and main line roads with coal tar, etc. which makes their atmosphere safer to live in and their decided practices more environmentally friendly.
Another equally important benefit of utilizing the tourism sector as a development strategy is that it provides jobs for the brimming population of India; only locals are able to hold job positions like tour guides or taxi drivers because they must have grown up in the lands therefore they know every nook and cranny. This makes them very knowledgeable and sufficient for the job description. In the same light, the emergence of tourism as a development alternative to modernization and industrialization encourages people to become entrepreneurs who invest in preparing locally available foods and drinks in palatable styles for the numerous tourists coming in, thus making the citizens of the nation even more self-sustainable in the midst of the ever-growing population while proudly parading the products of their culture and identity.
This unique set-up of India should therefore serve as a guide to the current underdeveloped countries in the world like the low-income nations of Africa, Asia and Latino America who are still struggling to resurrect from the massive blow that the SAPs dealt their economies as a whole. Rather that follow the modernization models of old, like the popular Rostow’s five stage model showing them how to grow while completely ignoring the rights of nature and human agency, the path which India is well on, is a realistic approach on how to grow and develop as a nation seeing that India comes from a similar point in history as they all do in different magnitudes. It is therefore very wise and possible to postulate that these societies can develop through preservation of cultural identity and heritage while at the same time catering to the needs and egos of the local people and gaining recognition in the global relations.
"Religion and Identity in India’s Heritage Tourism." Annals of Tourism Research 35.3 (2008): 790-808. Web.