Boys are drawn into the dragnet of the ‘customer’ and quick money syndrome. Families who have faced generational poverty tend to create the mental and psychological base for it. Money, earn money.
In the conversations around tourism several titles have arisen. Responsible Tourism, Eco Tourism, Sustainable Tourism are just a few. In the massive literature built around them, the psychological and reverse-poverty syndrome is rarely, if ever, talked about.
Deep (name changed) was a very bright student in school, a government school. He passed the twelfth grade with a first division. His inclination was towards computers and information technology.
At one point, his mother was wailing about how she was languishing under the pressure of limited earnings. She had two daughters who had to be married off. And so on. A lot of special effort was put into getting Deep good counsellors, so he could pick the right IT course and move ahead in life.
One fine day, Deep is missing. A few days pass by, and he is still missing. On enquiry, it turns out he is in Haridwar. His mother and he had learnt about a “scheme” for white ration card holders—the entitlement of those below the poverty line. One seat was left for a six-month course in hotel management. So, off he goes. Without so much as a sorry-goodbye to those who were helping out on the IT front.
Deep returns. He gets a job as a manager in a tourist guest house owned by a gentleman in whose house his mother is the cook. It is only then it becomes clear that the entire “scheme” was well-orchestrated. For the mother, the immediate potential in a tourist town was her guiding force. Immediate earnings as well. The brilliant future that the boy could have had as an IT professional had no meaning. His future was sealed.
Mahesh (name changed) failed his tenth board exams twice over. All efforts to get him onto open schooling were in vain. He is a brilliant artist with a flair in his fingers. Attempts to channelize him for art study also came to naught.
Like Deep, Mahesh speaks little but the mind is abuzz. No one knows what is buzzing in that brain but clearly, he has his path charted…for himself. Remaining half-educated has no calamitous portent for him.
It was not long before Mahesh got himself a job in a tourist camping site. The sizeable monthly earnings at a tender age became the hallmark of his existence. He quickly moved into flurried online shopping and getting a bicycle. Soon, a bicycle was not enough…too strenuous in hilly terrain.
Aspirations quickly rise and he wants a motorcycle and he gets one. Now, apart from the salary, he needs more to pay that loan. The tourist destination owner has enough options for him.
Soliciting customers is a “need” of the owner and the best and quickest way for Mahesh to earn more. Today, this is the familiar sight: Mahesh, with his dark glasses and cap, perched on his mobike, grabbing customers at the popular intersecting point of the tourist town.
This intersecting point is ripe territory where ganja (opium) consumption is common. Mahesh has still not shown signs of slipping into that domain. Those around him, not so. What one hears is that the time Mahesh returns home is getting later by the day. The rest, time will tell.
Bimlesh was also caught up in a similar tourist domain. For him, alcohol and ganja were commonplace. One customer in the day is about Rs 500. If he gets two, he has enough to give home and still get his daily shots of highs. The balances change.
When Bimlesh gets drunk and goes home, the parents scream. He has the upper hand—I have given you money and I will get more. Things boil over weeks and months. One day, the father is in sheer rage seeing things out of control. He beats the boy.
Next morning, Bimlesh is found strangled in suicide, hanging from a tree.
The examples in this tourist town abound. Boy after boy drawn into the dragnet of the “customer” and quick money syndrome. Families who have faced generational poverty tend to create the mental and psychological base for it. Money, earn money.
As an Anganwadi worker here once said, “The problem with these people is turant laabh (immediate gain). They do not think long term, about the future…what kind of human beings they are going to be…”
That is where the psychological/mental health comes into play. Until recently, it was only television. The boys mimic the hero playing in their head from the previous night’s viewing. The swagger, the mobike, the sunglasses, the haircut, et al. Now it has spiralled with the smartphone—also among the first buys. With kids of BPL families buying phones costing Rs 10,000.
While they wait to solicit a customer, they are glued to shared WhatsApp videos and YouTube. It is a constant high of a dream world. The flashy cars and “customers” from nearby big cities do not hesitate to flaunt their wealth.
It is all a complex combination of factors, creating a heady trip of enticement and aspirations for the boys. Boys like Deep, Bimlesh, Mahesh have become victims of MalTourism, with unimaginable repercussions in the future. They are among the 14% of India’s population in the age group of 14-19, living in rural areas. Many with Neo Tourism hubs.
Neelima Mathur is an India-based Executive Producer, Researcher, Writer, Mentor and Trainer for documentary and NGO films. She is also Festival Director of the Lakeside Doc Festival.