—Rape Alert, a pamphlet displayed by Western tourists at Goa's beach restaurants.
IF you're one of the 30,000-odd foreign tourists visiting Goa at this time of the year, you may run into the above notice pinned on the thatched walls of the Goodluck beach-shack restaurant on the sands of Baga beach.
The campaign against beach crime was sparked off when eight men gangraped two young Swedish women on March 6, at Anjuna, the Mecca of backpack and hippy tourists in South Asia. When returning after a late-night beach party, their bike was stopped by assailants armed with sticks and knives. Their male companion was forced at knife-point to witness the gangrape. Crime is turning into a growth-industry along parts of the North Goa beach belt, following the prosperity brought in by the booming tourism sector over the past decade. Many crimes go unreported. But those recorded cover a wide range: an Andhra-Goa gang busted while looting foreign tourists in the Calangute-Anjuna belt last April; a Briton nabbed trying to collect Rs 3.5 million worth of cocaine posted from Colombia; extortion cases by criminals and, tourists claim, even by men in uniform.
Local Shiv Sena leader, Camilo D'Souza, supports this view. He wrote to Chief Minister Pratapsing Rane warning him that unidentified persons posing as policemen have been collecting huge amounts from tourists as baksheesh. Theft, housebreaking and extortion were taking root in the capital of hippy Goa, D'Souza added.
Goa Inspector-General of Police, P.R.S. Brar, dismisses the view that crime against foreign tourists is on the increase. "If you wear a diamond ring and leave it on the dressing table, which police can stop it from being stolen?" asks Brar. He points to the quick police action in arresting suspects in the Swede gangrape case.
But statistics have blown the lid off the shimmering cauldron of crime in Goa. In the 1995-96 tourist season, over two dozen foreign tourists had died in Goa, in a period of under six months. Nearly 13 had died of overdose of narcotics or liquor.
John Lobo, who runs a popular 'shack', feels that Goa's image as a licentious place is so widespread that foreign women tourists walking alone face a serious threat. At Rosy Fernandes' accommodation for foreign tourists, two Frenchmen were robbed twice. Another time, tourists woke up to find cameras, radios and even their shoes missing, along with part of the roof. Freddy Nune, an educationist whose family runs a mini-supermarket at Anjuna, says: "The growing crime will definitely affect tourism." Behind him are posters seeking information about a missing Swiss tourist. "Even fisherfolk in Calangute, who once slept soundly on the shore, are afraid of moving about in their own land," says local parish priest Fr. Jose Dias. Local youngsters have also gone on rampages against Kashmiri vendors, resettled in the area, using any pretext to grab their goods.
Clearly, the downswing some see overtaking Goa's tourism sector is breeding desperation. "This is frustration. There's no money any longer in tourism," says Jude Miranda, who runs several stores at Baga. Besides, too many businesses have opened up, to grab a bit of the diminishing pie.
The frustration spills over in incidents such as the one in which tourist-taxis beat up a Kashmiri vendor because they felt he was undercutting them. Bus tour-operators complain their passengers are being coerced into eating at certain restaurants. And at the Calangute police station, a European tourist claimed her lodge owner was compelling her to stay longer than she wished, and was threatening not to release her possessions.
Clearly, it's no longer just business as usual. A week ago, constable Digambar Naik was suspended over the theft of £500 from the baggage of two Britons at Goa's airport. Last month, Panaji police nabbed two Gujaratis who had stolen the belongings of some foreigners who were travelling by bus. On January 7, a 33-year-old Briton was raped at Anjuna by two persons, including her taxi driver. The rapists stole her purse too.
It's mostly the downmarket hippy haunts along the coast that are targeted by crime. Sinquerim, dominated by upmarket tourists, seldom reports such incidents. Tight security there ensures that even journalists entering the luxury hotels are questioned.
At villages like Baga, Calangute and Anjuna-Vagator, on the other hand, the three-decade-old hippy-tourist monopoly is giving way to a commercialised circuit, throwing up a potent mix. Business and the state government want to replace the low-budget tourists with big-spenders. But villagers say they gain more from those who depend on their rustic economy. "The crime along the beach-belt is not all that new. But earlier it was never adequately reported or written about," argues journalist Eddie Rodrigues.
Goa Speaker Tomazinho Cardozo calls for firm governmental action, saying "otherwise the tourists will feel insecure". He recalls how a few years back, in his coastal constituency at Ximer-Candolim, some young boys raped a tourist but they were not brought to book. I-G Brar's response is that it's hard to follow up such crimes. For instance, a Danish girl who was raped opted not to get involved in India's time-consuming legal system. He warns the same could happen in the Swedish case.
"I want to spend my holiday in peace, not going to courts," says Danish TV-2 journalist Frants Pandal, explaining why few complaints are made to the police. He says the police are not widely trusted, and foreign tourists believe some of the policemen have resorted to 'planting' narcotics to extort sums of $500. Pandal says his friend, Danish musician Frank E., woke up a week back at Badem-Anjuna, with six persons around him, one holding a knife to his throat. The robbers fled when his friends turned up. Pandal, a Goa regular since 1969, now has second thoughts about coming back.
"The police are only there to shoo away the hawkers," complains Roland Martins whose citizens' group, the JGF (Vigilant Goan Army) sees strong hints of political patronage to crime. "In other areas, the police presence is reassuring. In Anjuna, it seems to be the opposite," says local medical practitioner Jawaharlal Henriques. Says one beach-belt constable: "They (the hippies) lead licentious lives...then complain of rape." An attitude that is unlikely to take crime-solvers far. Or, for that matter, bring in the tourists.