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Willful Ignorance and White Supremacy – White 'Liberal' Tourists in India as a Hindutva Asset


· Otso Harju Gender Studies, University of Helsinki (Helsinki, Finland)


07/28 | 09:20-09:40 UTC+2/CEST


Orientalist imaginings of India and Hindutva descriptions of self often come to closely resemble one another: India as a repository of ‘ancient knowledge’, ‘wisdom’, ‘spiritualism’, ‘peace’, and the like. In contemporary times these projections meet specifically in Western tourism/tourists and the globalization of Yoga and a seemingly apolitical neo-‘Hinduism’. In my paper, I look at backpackers and yoga-tourists as the heirs of ‘positive’ orientalism, and at how they are recognized as useful for a Hindutva cause by both governmental and non-governmental forces in India. White tourists, who travel to ‘Incredible India’ to partake in festivals, ‘colors’, ‘diversity’, and (semi-)religious wellness- or eco-retreats, come to function as ambassadors of a on the surface ‘feelgood’, but de facto (and curiously) both racist and Hindu right-wing vision of India. Especially useful ‘brand ambassadors’ are – I argue – urban, middle-to-upper class, Yoga- and animal rights-interested white people, who in their home countries often see themselves as representing ‘liberal’ politics. Cluelessly or callously, these tourists come in their ideas about India to propagate a vision defined by monolithic Hinduness. In my presentation I give both a critical discourse analysis of the collusion of white neo-orientalism and jargon in the Indian tourist industry, as well as practical examples of these connections in the forms of Yoga retreats and eco-tourism developments. Further, I ask what personal politics sustains these forms of deeply uncritical white tourism: willful ignorance or a silent investment in white supremacy?