Ethics Of Dark Tourism

In the age of true crimes and murder documentaries, dark tourism is a rising phenomenon where tourists are drawn to destinations with tragic events and difficult histories
The Ten Bells Club from Jack the Ripper London Tour. Credits Hulki Okan Tabak, Unsplash
The Ten Bells Club from Jack the Ripper London Tour. Credits Hulki Okan Tabak, Unsplash

&ldquoJack the Ripper&rdquo trail is one of London&rsquos most popular guided tours. Centred around the Whitechapel murders from the 1800s, It is a prominent example of dark tourism. Chornobyl (Ukraine) and Hiroshima (Japan) are other contenders. Despite the popularity of these locations, the question remains, how ethical is dark tourism

One hot summer afternoon in Amritsar, I have a memory of following a crowd. The crowd, consisting of locals, was walking toward a semi-damaged wall with square-shaped demarcations. As a child, I imagined that the towering crowd had assembled to observe an invisible being on the wall. Perhaps, the demarcations were only supposed to contain it. But little did I know, the invisible being was but the remnant ghost of the colonial Raj.

I met this ghost again at the well. Anyone who has visited Jallianwala Bagh knows the well since it has a deeply tragic past. Many young children and mothers had jumped into the well to safeguard themselves against the loose cannons. The well, was also contained in a web of iron railings and advised tourists to maintain distance. Despite this, many tourists gathered in a circle and peered beyond the iron railings as if to confront an old prisoner.

Reflecting on these memories, I don&rsquot think the term&ldquodark tourism&rdquo was familiar to any of these visitors, including myself. Although it is a well-meaning memorial, this location is usually just another spot on a list of places tourists explore in Amritsar. Dutta Gupta, a researcher on the 1919 genocide, mentions her astonishment at the crowd that the memorial draws today, &ldquoI kept wondering about the trajectory of the site&hellipVisitors were just streaming past the bullet marks and gallery exhibits without being engaged in any way with the larger significance of what is on display.&rdquo She further adds how the monument has become &ldquodecontextualised&rdquo in the memories of the masses.

Despite this, Jallianwala Bagh does not disappear the moment you exit its gates. It is one of the most quoted incidents in India&rsquos colonial history. Yet it becomes essential to recontextualise it in honour of the lives lost. Guided tours with accurate facts about the incident remain important to commemorate the incident. This can help us from crossing the dangerous threshold of voyeurism that comes with dark tourism. &ldquo&lsquoDark tourism&rsquo sites are important testaments to the consistent failure of humanity to temper our worst excesses and, managed well, they can help us to learn from the darkest elements of our past,&rdquo states Professor John Lennon, co-author of Dark Tourism. Then, in reimagining dark tourism, these &ldquoelements&rdquo of the past are not to be buried but re-emphasised without sensationalism or distortion.

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