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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2584

Goa: Paradise Lost

By Chandramohan - Syndicate Features

A multi-million publicity blitz in the media across the world describes India as an ‘incredible’ holiday destination. But reports like the rape and murder of a foreign teenager on the beaches of one of the better-known tourist spots of India, Goa, suggest that the ‘incredible’ thing about India is something disconcerting: the increasing number of crimes against tourists and the authorities’ failure to prevent them.

Goa has more reasons to be concerned about it. Next to the Taj Mahal, Goa is perhaps the best-known Indian tourist attraction among foreigners. Thanks to Goa’s international reputation as a tourist ‘paradise’ tourism has become the mainstay of its economy. Goa cannot afford to see all that collapse.

The manner in which the story of the death of British teenager Scarlett Keeling, whose body was found on the Anjuna beach in Goa on February 18, unfolded is itself quite shocking, though it is not the first of its kind. The local police quickly dismissed it at first as a case of drowning despite five ‘unusual’ marks on her half-clad body. It was only when her mother Fiona Mackeown demanded a proper autopsy that it was revealed that there were nearly 50 bruises and abrasions on her body, hinting possible sexual assault and brutal murder. The local police would have perhaps still not registered a case of murder had it not been on the insistence of Scarlett’s mother.

What Mrs Mackeown went through could be well understood by most Indians—harassment by the local police and little or no interest in pursuing the case to bring the culprit to justice. Back in her home in Devon in the UK, Scarlett’s death would have generated a lot of negative publicity, especially among those close to the Mackeown family. Mrs Mackeown had arrived in Goa last November with five of her eight children on a six-month holiday. Had the tragedy not overtaken her, Fiona Mackeown’s extended Goa holiday would have worked as excellent word-of-mouth publicity for Goa and encouraged quite a few more families to plan an extended winter holiday on the sunny beaches of the former Portuguese enclave in India.

The sight of overcrowded beaches in tiny Goa might suggest that it has reached a point of saturation and a further rush of tourists is not really welcome. That may be true if the government and all those associated with the travel and tourism trade in India had not been trying and hoping to push up tourist arrivals in India so that the figures compare favourably with other major tourist destinations in the world.

The present figure of five millions tourist arrivals in India in a year is, of course, impressive when just a few years ago the country barely received a million tourists. But compare this figure with just a couple of small countries. More than five million tourists visit Singapore—in six months. Croatia had remained worn torn after it seceded from the former Yugoslavia, but it also receives 10 million tourists a year.

And even the Singaporeans and Croatians would agree that in terms of variety of tourist interests like monuments, history, culture, festivals and rituals etc, they are far behind India. The month of January 2008 registered a 13 percent growth in tourist arrivals in India but the country is still to travel a long distance to catch up with tourist arrivals in popular destinations of both the east and the west.

While the number of tourist arrivals in India is not commensurate with the country’s tourist potential many would probably not wish to see a further rise in their numbers because of the inadequacies of the supporting infrastructure. Where are the hotels? Where are the roads (not the pot-holed and poorly surfaced stretches that pass for roads in India)? And transport? The airports in India are a shame.

A big show is made of the figure of five million tourist arrivals in India because tourism does remain one of the fastest growing sectors in India and because of the foreign exchange it earns for the country, currently estimated at about $1500 million a year. That earning will cease to look impressive if India started receiving, say, 50 million tourists a year.

But that will happen only when the country has the infrastructure for so many visitors and, equally important, when the tourist spots are free of crimes and criminals—at least to the extent possible. Women tourists without male escorts in particular appear to be in danger in the country. Not that ‘white’ men are considered immune to attacks by criminals. If the Scarlett murder case attracts a lot of publicity in Britain it is because in the first two months of the year as many as 10 UK nationals—tourists—have been reported murdered in different parts of the country.

More adverse publicity follows because of the tardy manner of prosecution and the police apathy in carrying out proper investigation that makes a mockery of justice. Catching a criminal serves no purpose if at the end of an inadequate and deficient trial he (or she) is let off without any punishment. It does not inspire confidence in the Indian system.

Alarmed by the happening on the Anjuna beach on February 18, a proposal to appoint a force of retired defence personnel as some kind of tourist protection force at popular tourist resorts is said to be under consideration. It has to be seen, first of all, if the proposal fructifies. Secondly, if it does take shape it has to be seen how effective it really proves, especially for women travellers who are not chaperoned.

A less discussed problem in India is that a lot of people in authority—politicians, officials and policemen—carry a mindset that offers little or no comfort to the modern day traveller.

Some of the foreign victims in India have said that they are shocked to hear homilies from the police about their ‘improper’ dress sense and ‘odd’ behavioural code when they should be assuring them of quick action to nab the culprits. If there are genuine reasons to raise objections on these grounds the government will have to make it a rule that anyone who visits India has to live by a strict regimen in dress and behaviour, or else face deportation from the airport.

The message will go home but will it guarantee safety of all tourists? After all, there are also a large number of domestic tourists, running into millions, who travel from one corner of the country to another and many of them may be in need of lessons in ‘proper’ deportment and standard uniforms for tourists. A minor question: does India need to reverse the trend of tourist arrivals. Oh, what about the much touted Commonwealth Games in 2010 when everyone expects a real bonanza in tourist arrivals in India

- Syndicate Features -

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