Jan 27, 2010
Goa, although a small state, is much more bigger in terms of what it has to offer” – writes Yulette Coutinho in her lead article in ‘Goa Times” on the eve of New Year 2010.
Further she goes on highlighting the major events of the year passed by, such as the Goan Carnival , a five day traditional festivity, the lent season, the monsoon, Easter celebration, Sao Joao celebrations marking the feast of St. John the Baptist, the feast of St Francis Xavier and so on.
She also calls Goa as eventful at any time of the year. There is always something to look forward to. It is also so true when she says - “if the world chooses a holiday option, they best think of being in Goa. So far so good!
Sadly though, later part of her article takes a sudden twist which misses the earlier charm and rhythm when she explains in great intensity and a hurt in her heart as she writes – “Goa took a downward plunge in tourism in this year with many factors affecting it – from recession to terrorist attacks in the neighbouring state Maharashtra, and more so Goa, in 2009 found itself changing its identity and being redefined by some as ‘a rapist’s heaven’ with an alleged serial rapist and murderer arrested, foreigners being allegedly raped”.
We don’t feel like hearing this, do we, if at all our heart cries and prays for Goa and for its people. Why not?
Obviously she was referring to an incident wherein a Russian teenager has alleged that an aspiring Goan politician has raped her after offering a lift in his car on the nighr of Dec 1, 2009.
Although following a complaint registered at Colva police station, John Fernandes, member of a local political party has been arrested, the unfortunate incident has exposed a quite number of ambiguities and interpretations.
One, according to confirmed sources, the victim in question is not a teenager or a tourist (as reported by a section of the press), but an employee working as a Russian Representative in a five star Hotel in South Goa. Although the girl initially alleged that she was being raped, later changed the version in her FIR that read - “the accused attempted to rape me.”
Second, Mr Fernandes is a high-profile south Goa politician and a prominent member of Churchil Alemao’s Save Goa Front Party who had unsuccessfully contested against Tourism Minister Francisco in 2007 state assembly polls from Benaulim constituency.
In view of above discrepancies in the statements, the south Goa District Sessions Court granted bail to the accused. The story doesn’t end there.
This was not the first case of its kind. It was not long ago that the infamous Scarlett case has taken a toll on Goa, a state known for its beautiful beaches, carefree culture and friendly people. Drugs, sex, mafia, murder and rape are the words that are being associated with Goa today, in the wake of the Scarlette case, which the police now claim was a case of rape and murder.
This fact has not gone down too well with the local Goans who now feel the necessity to give the place an image change. In order to change the image of Goa,
several likeminded people have come forward and instituted the Centre for Responsible
Many of whom I met during my recent visit to Goa said they don’t like Goa being called a hippie paradise, or linked to crime, rape or drug trafficking.
According to Fr Agueir, a priest at a Chapel near Benaulim told me that several tourists come to Goa in search of beaches, shacks and fast food joints. How many of them are really interested in educating themselves on Goan culture, heritage or the way of life of people domiciling there is beyond anyone’s guess.
I asked a tourist from Germany as what brings him to Goa, year after year. He simply said he loves the golden beaches and the friendly nature of its people. When I asked him if he is also aware of drugs being available on the beaches he got annoyed, furious, and finally left the place in a huff, without an answer.
Why should he be so agitated, if at all he is just another visitor who likes and loves Goa and its people.
The Goa police have cracked several such cases involving tourists and the claim is that in the past two months four foreign tourists have been arrested while trying to peddle drugs worth around Rs 5 lac.
If one views in retrospection, it is a well known fact that until 90’s, one would not have heard of a murder a month in Goa, a rape was a rarity and a jail break akin to a holiday. Today, sadly the reputation Goa once enjoyed, a State which stayed calm even during the worst Godhra riots and where people used to sleep with their doors and windows open at night, now sleep in fear and distress.
Certainly, not everything is alright in Goa today. In the wake of Scarlet case and more incidents coming to surface, the business community and in particular the vendors and restaurant owners are aghast and pessimistic about their business prospects. According to them the drug mafia, rave parties and crime have taken ‘the ‘decent business opportunities’ away from their hands. It is not a secret that the drug scene in Goa is at its zenith and many tourists coming down to Goa take up supplying of drugs as a profession. Are the cases involving rape, murder are just a fall out from such activities or there is some gang war that plays its part? According to my information, the north-south devoid has reached to a point of no return. As a result both sides headed by feudal lords discourage the ordinary tourists from going to the resorts of an opposite camp, under the pretext of safety and security. Are then the rape incidents are stage managed ploys or are there any political implications behind them?
On Dec 26, as we were landing in Goa, terrifying news was waiting for us. According to the news, there was a rape attempt on a few Russian girls returning from a Christmas party at Saligao. A taxi driver whom the girls had hired to take them to their Baga resort, took them towards Anjuna and demanded Rs 1000 for the ride and instead of the money, he wanted to have sex with them. After jumping from the taxi, the three panic stricken women hid in a densely wooded area for about five hours in a bid to escape from the taxi driver. While the driver has been apprehended by the police, the investigation is in progress. Yet there are no hopes that the real culprits will be brought to book.
Is Goa being made a target for anti social activities in the guise of tourism, real estate and Hospitality industry? Who rules Goa really? This is the question being asked by every common man, petty businessmen and the one feels the heat. When I asked John F. the owner of Kelly Bar & Restaurant in Benaulin, about the trend in his business he said that the business has come down by 60 per cent and rightly so, during my few days in the vicinity I hardly saw any customers visiting his restaurant which was once frequented by a lot of tourists. It was the similar case with Pedros Bar & Restaurant on Benaulim Beach or Coco’s Beach Shack on Colva Beach. The rape stories have terrified the tourists, if not the foreign tourists certainly the visiting people from neighbouring states such as Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Is Goa still safe for tourists? It is a question better asked to Fiona MacKeown, the mother of teenager Scarlet Keeling, whose body was found under mysterious circumstances at Anjuna beach on February 18 last year. According to reports, Fiona has expressed her wish to return to Goa, as long as criminals are punished.
Several newspapers, including The Times, have quoted official figures that 160,000 British tourists visited Goa in 2007. During 2007, 40 Britons reportedly died in Goa, while the figure this year has so far reached 10.
What is wrong with Goan Tourism? According to Preetu Nair, a Times News Network correspondent, drugs, sex rackets poison Goa beaches and local dealers lure poor European girls to expand business. According to eye-witnesses in Anjuna, Scarlette’s story was not different. She was to be seen going around Anjuna with a duo believed to be linked to the thriving drugs network. Local people say she was introduced to drugs by the local dealers and once she got hooked, they forced her to pay in kind for her daily fix.
Investigations reveal that just like Scarlette, European girls from working class backgrounds are often lured into the world of drugs in coastal Goa. The modus operandi is to befriend minor girls from poor European homes at trance parties and introduce them to drugs. They pretend to be a friend, who provides food, shelter and money, and the drugs. Once hooked, the girls are not only sexually abused but used for “outsourcing” synthetic drugs abroad.
“Drugs like LSD, cocaine, MDMA and ecstasy are expensive and these girls don’t have money to pay. Once they are addicted, they are willing to do anything,” informed a rave party organizer in Anjuna.
Drug abuse is so high that tourists have often been hospitalized due to overdose or consumption of adulterated drugs. Some lose their lives, like Japanese Urano Asaki and Keigo Yashiki, who died of drug abuse last year. “In the last tourist season, we treated 37 foreigners who collapsed due to overdose or contaminated drugs. This year the figure has already touched 53,” said Dr Jawaharlal Henriques, who runs a drug rehabilitation centre in Anjuna. As I am writing this report, there is a fresh case reported press of a 23 year old Delhi girl, Meha Bahuguna meeting her death due to over dose of drugs.
Irrespective of different versions coming from a volley of individuals and media, Goa seems to be losing its lustre and is no more a pristine tourist paradise it used to be. In an interview to a newspaper Goan Chief Minister, Digamber Kamat himself blamed Scarlett’s mother for the murder and said categorically that “that is the reason the lady is running for the cover to evade responsibility”.
Now the questions being raised by Goans and the people loving this beautiful state is why Goa has become the hide-out for the Mafia.
Where is Goa now? With the Russian mafia using it as their hideout to launder billions of dollars, do arms deals, run prostitution rackets, real estate deals and things we may not possibly incur in our day-to-day life. Paedophiles seem to be everywhere with poor families from neighbouring states selling their children to tourists, ominous signs in hotel lobbies warn clients not to take children up to their rooms?
While summing up, I wish to quote Yulette Coutinho again for her article ends with full of optimism and wishful thinking and thats what keeps Goa going irrespective of turmoils and troubles of life. She writes - “Nothing can dampen the spirit of Goa and Goans, because being part of Goa is such a blessing. It hardly takes you away from traditions and the warmth of calling it a home. The year 2009 has given a lot and taken away a lot from many, but we look forward to happy and prosperous New Year 2010 with more blessings and faith for a better tomorrow”
In reciprocation, I wish to add a few more words to her prayer “ Let no force on this on this earth make a mistake of (or an attempt, as stated in police reports) to rape the purity, sanctity, diversity and solidarity of a state called Goa and its people. For someone rightly quoted in a blog site, “just three isolated rape cases doesn’t paint the whole city red, for it has besides its golden beaches, people of golden heart. They have the grace and courage to protect their genuine visitors and a protector above all of us who takes care of the entire generation.”