By Sarosh Sultan
With the recent rave party that took place in Hunza, several people have started debating on the nature of tourism in the area and the implications it holds for the local community. While there are very obvious and glaring concerns of a global pandemic claiming lives daily, exacerbated by the already abysmal health care structure present for the locals, and the never ending littering by Pakistani tourists, there have been even more problems caused by this recent event.
Several people have made it a personal duty to scandalize and insult Hunzukuts for a private party held by rich socialites for their personal entertainment, acting as if this non-local elite mirrors, or even cares about, the sentiments of anyone else. Many have made sure to criticize locals and hold them responsible for outsiders coming in and organizing a private event, which has nothing to do with the local customs and practices. People, especially from some quarters of Gilgit-Baltistan, seem to feel that Hunzukuts are responsible for everything that tourists do, regardless of whether or not the locals actually have a hand in it.
The matter gets worse, with the district administration deciding to ban all festivities in the region in an attempt to salvage their own reputation. We, as Hunzukuts, are proud of our culture, our music and our celebrations. We hold the highest esteem for any event that we put forward, with each ritual and each song holding significance for the community. Why then must the locals have to pay the price of the negligence and disrespect of rich tourists doing as they please?
Why should our festivals have to suffer because someone felt like throwing a rave or a party?
It’s also interesting to note here that while the party itself took place, the authorities seemingly laxed policies meant to safeguard local populations, such as lifting the checkpost barriers meant to curb illegal activities. Needless to say, it seems like the rules are different depending on who you are and local people are at the bottom of the totem pole.
As for the people calling Rosie Gabrielle, a Canadian tourist who spoke about the issue of tourist behavior in Hunza, a “white saviour”, please know that she has merely mirrored local sentiments and given a voice to people’s concerns. No Hunzukutch appreciates tourists coming in with litter, drugs and a holier-than-thou attitude. If anything, those using such big words should take a hard look at their own extremely problematic attitudes of exotic otherness towards the people and culture of Hunza.
Local tourists seem to be forgetting the fact that they are not traveling to some exotic lands that are only present for their entertainment and fulfillment but are rather visiting a place inhabited by real human beings. This attitude has been permitted, even promoted, by state authorities that organize and promote official entertainment programs and personal leisure trips for dignitaries, like the president, chief justice or federal ministers, as if the only purpose we have is to be a venue for others. This bleak view of seeing Hunza as little more than a party destination has become a norm in the present times.
Hunza has held fast to its custom of welcoming people and sharing its traditions with the world. We welcome all those who wish to learn about us and want to enjoy the beauty around us. But please allow us to make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that we and our land do not exist for the entertainment and amusement of others. Those who wish to visit should stay mindful of what the locals do and don’t appreciate and not forget basic human manners like not littering and polluting the place with their activities. Tourists will come in, party and leave, but Hunza and its residents have to live with the repercussions of their actions in the form of critical judgement, harassment, pollution and disease.