SAC Presents: Emera Bridger Wilson
205 Maxwell Hall
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When There Are No Tourists: The Reaction of Sightseeing Rickshaw Drivers to Uncertainty in Tourism Work “Here [in Bharatpur] there is no mazdūrī (wage labor). Working in the “tourist line” is much better work. Working with foreigners, you can make good money,” stated Tej Singh matter-of-factly. He is one of 120 men who work as sightseeing rickshaw pullers, ferrying tourists around Keoladeo National Park (KNP), Rajasthan. Started in 1980, this program, which trains rickshaw pullers to show tourists the ecological and cultural aspects of the Park, has been recognized as a model of participation in tourism and conservation. While Tej is assertive in his claim, it belies the often tenuous nature of his work. While working in tourism provides the rickshaw pullers an opportunity to earn more than those people of their caste and class who engage in other types of work, working in the tourism industry can be an insecure means of livelihood. Environmental disasters (i.e., water shortage) and international geo-politics (i.e., terrorism) have led to a decrease in tourist arrivals in Bharatpur over the last eight to ten years. The lower number of tourists often means that a rickshaw driver may go three or more days without work in any given week. Despite this fact, the men with whom I spoke still argued that working in tourism is their best chance to make enough to support their families. Based on the semi-structured interviews and participant observation that I undertook during 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Bharatpur, my paper examine the strategies that these men use to cope with the challenges that working in a volatile tourism economy pose.
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