Guidelines for tourist behavior — good or bad?

A BBC article titled “Indecency guide for tourists to India” seems to have created some noise in the Indian blogosphere. The article starts with the following lines:

Do not hug or kiss in public – even when meeting at stations and airports – and do not smoke or consume alcohol publicly either.These are some of the guidelines being given to tourists visiting a popular part of India’s north-western Rajasthan state to ensure they can respect local culture.

Although the article itself is informative, as most BBC articles are, there are a few things worth nitpicking:

Firstly, the title Indecency guide for tourists to India, is a misnomer. The article actually comments on the issued guidelines for tourists visiting Ajmer and not the whole of India. I bet the journalist to show us an example of such guidelines for tourists visiting Goa as an example. This shows irresponsibility on the part of the journalist not to have taken this fact into consideration while framing the title. Saswat gives us another example of irresponsible reporting by BBC.

Secondly, whether issuing such guidelines is newsworthy: The 24 point Muscat declaration(pdf: 30KB) of the World Tourism Organization included the following points:

  1. Ensure that the tourism built environment reflects and respects cultural diversity;
  2. Align within tourism development plans and projects the requirements of development objectives, the needs of local communities, and respect for the environment;
  3. Promote and disseminate awareness of best practice in the sphere of the built environment amongst policy makers, developers, employers, employees, and tourists;

So, the authorities are in fact adopting latest standards of tourism, aren’t they? What can be argued here is whether the issued guidelines actually represent local culture. However no effort in this regard was made by the journalist — probably that wouldn’t have added much to the message the article wanted to convey.

Thirdly, the BBC article also mentions an incident where an Israeli couple was fined for kissing in the public. Indian Penal Code section 294 says:

Whoever, to the annoyance of others
(a) does any obscene act in any public place, or
(b) sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place,
shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.

There is no absolute definition of obscenity. It depends again on the local culture. What might be considered obscene in Ajmer, might not be considered obscene in Goa. In fact the absence of an absolute definition of obscenity allows different societies within India to evolve at their own pace and prevents “talibanization”. Nevertheless, this makes issuing local guidelines for tourists all the more necessary.

Finally, many bloggers, except a few, instead of reading and understanding the content of the article, went by the title, and portrayed the issue in bad light. I think we ought to understand the ground realities before expressing our opinions. We really can’t blame the BBC for publishing reports like these; the west always looks forward to the east for masala D