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Camera Not OK Please: Why We Don’t Let You Take Photos On Our Slum Tours

Our very first tour of Dharavi was in January 2006; shortly after this, we introduced a ‘No Photography Policy’. Some press coverage had been critical of people going to Dharavi and taking photos, and when we saw the results, we agreed.

Over a decade on and the policy remains unchanged: guests on our educational slum tours are not permitted to take any photos for the entirety of their time with us. In a world where social media likes, shares, and retweets carry such clout, a ‘No Photography Policy’ might seem a bit outdated. Back this up with the old Indian adage that ‘the guest is God’, and the more recent marketing maxim that ‘the customer is always right’, and the policy might not only seem outdated but downright detrimental to our desire to grow our business.

Certainly, not being able to capture and share first-hand the vibrancy of the Dharavi, and Sanjay Colony slums may be a frustration for a minority of our guests. But whilst we want to exceed our guests expectations in every other way, there is another stakeholder group that takes precedence – the slum communities we serve…

The mission of our educational slums tours is to give a fair and balanced view of life in the slums. Whilst we highlight the social issues faced by many of the residents, we also celebrate the resilience, resourcefulness and industry employed by them on a daily basis. We don’t want to look upon the population as an ‘other’ but rather consider the common humanity we all share. We want the communities themselves to take pride in this, and of the fact that major business schools (Harvard, Stanford, London Business School), huge multinationals (Facebook, Google, Microsoft) and thousands of individuals from over 100 different countries are coming here to learn about their lives. They leave inspired. But how does this make the community feel? As a housewife shared with Durham academic Rudra Rhodes in her recent survey of Community Perceptions of Slum Tours in Dharavi;

“people come from all over the world so we feel proud”

Our relationship with the Dharavi community is the consequence of over a decade of hard work and ongoing dialogue; it is founded upon mutual respect. Our very reason for coming to Dharavi,and latterly, Sanjay Colony, was to challenge wrongly held negative stereotypes about such places (of course, we then use the funds to affect positive change in the communities through the work of our sister NGO, Reality Gives). Thus, we value our relations with these communities above all else and are constantly striving to conduct our tours in as sensitive and ethical a manner as possible.

We understand that our guests want to take memories home with them. But we also believe that being ‘present’ on the tour is the right way to make these memories. Putting a lense between you and the community can separate you from what makes Dharavi and Sanjay Colony so special – the vibrance, spirit, industry and resourcefulness of people that live there!

Some guests have suggested they might seek permission from the subject of the photo directly, and have often found young children in Dharavi very willing to pose for a ‘selfie’. But just because the subject of the photo is comfortable having their photo taken does not mean other members of the community are not upset or offended by it.

For us, the appropriateness of the policy is evinced in the good relationship we have with the communities we serve, and the fact that one of our competitors in Dharavi recently adopted the policy themselves! A review last month on TripAdvisor  summed things up nicely;

“at first I was a little annoyed because like others, I too wanted to capture my own memories of the tour, but I completely understand and agree with the policy. I truly enjoyed not being able to take photos in that I was really living in the moment rather than behind the screen of a camera. This experience is something I will never forget’.

We appreciate our guests want to leave with an experience to remember for a lifetime, we believe we can give them just that in a  way that is sensitive and respectful toward the people they have travelled such a long way to meet: the communities of Dharavi and Sanjay Colony.