A Critical Analysis of Dissonant Heritage and Dark Tourism in India: The Case of the ‘Wall of Truth’ Memorial

Singh, Bhavna (2020) A Critical Analysis of Dissonant Heritage and Dark Tourism in India: The Case of the ‘Wall of Truth’ Memorial. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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For more than two decades, the concept of dark tourism has increasingly attracted the attention of both academia and the popular media. At the same time, there is evidence that there has also been continuing growth in the supply of dark tourism attractions and experiences, whether sites of or associated with mass death and suffering related to genocide, warfare or natural disasters, sites of individual death, or more educative or even playful places associated with death, dying and suffering. Consequently, not only does there appear to be greater interest on the part of tourists, for whatever reason, in dark tourism experiences, but also the diverse issues surrounding the understanding of dark tourism have been explored in a burgeoning literature on the subject within tourism studies and also in related disciplines. Nevertheless, a number of significant gaps in knowledge remain, not least with regards to research into the phenomenon in general and its related sub-themes such as dissonant heritage in particular, in non-Western contexts. Hence, the overall purpose of this thesis is to address this gap in knowledge.

More specifically, the phenomenon of dark tourism is a concept that, in the specific context of India, has been largely neglected by academics. That is, the majority of the research into dark tourism has been undertaken through a predominantly ‘Western-centric’ analytical lens; the phenomenon is typically explored within a Western conceptual framework particularly with regards to culturally defined perspectives on death and dying. As a consequence, there remains limited knowledge and understanding with regards to the issues surrounding the establishment, management and interpretation of dark sites in India. Hence, though the case study of the Wall of Truth, a memorial established in recent years to commemorate the victims of the 1984 Sikh massacre, it seeks to make an original contribution to the dark tourism literature through both developing an alternative conceptualisation of the concept relevant to the Indian context in general, and to explore issues surrounding the management and interpretation of a dark site through the lens of dissonance in particular.
Though reviewing dark tourism literature, relating to the significance of experiences within cultural understandings of death and dying of religious traditions and practices in India, the thesis first proposes an ‘Indian Thanatological Model’ to illustrate death and the consumption of dark tourism in India. In contrast to established models, this demonstrates that death in India is ‘ever-present’ and, hence, dark tourism offers a platform for Indians to consume death for either curiosity or education, to encounter the actual event, or to witness or engage in collective mourning. Building on this conceptual foundation, the thesis then goes on, though the case of the Wall of Truth and framed within a preceding critical review of memorials and memorialisation in India, to examine the concept of dissonance from the perspectives of identified stakeholder groups. This research is based on the application of qualitative methods within a case study approach employing in-depth semi-structured interviews as a means of generating rich primary data. Specifically, the research involves eliciting the views of key stakeholders with potentially different opinions on the WoT memorial. Thematic analysis is utilised to analyse the interview data. In so doing, a Dissonant Heritage Cycle model is proposed to demonstrate the cycle of dissonance, not only of the Wall of Truth but also potentially at any other heritage site associated with a contested heritage. Thus, the thesis adds an empirical dimension to the discussion surrounding the understanding of the cycle of dissonance at sites of contested heritage / dark tourism.

In particular, the empirical research suggests that for memorials or sites of commemoration to be effective and to act as a catalyst of reconciliation, it is important that dissonance is minimised. This, in turn, suggests that it is important to understand the role of stakeholders within the development and interpretation of any site. In other words, the understanding of dissonance and means of addressing it is of vital importance to the legitimacy of a memorial site, thus contributing to the validity of any memorial
as a place of reconciliation. Yet the research reveals that, in India, this legitimacy may be challenged by what emerges in the thesis to be the pervasive politicisation of memorialisation.

In sum, this thesis contributes to knowledge and understanding of dissonant heritage both generally and within the context of India, whilst also offering an additional and original perspective on dark tourism and memorialisation.

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