Goa ‘Rape Capital’ Warped Coverage
Sensational reporting of incidents of rape and murder of foreign tourists in Goa overshadows the fact that Goa has a much better track record when it comes to giving women their social and economic due than many other states. It also gives the false impression that this is the single-biggest problem the state faces, says Frederick Noronha
For a little over two years now, Goa has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. For a small state (1.4 million, 3,700 sq km) to catch the attention of an over billion-strong nation, it has to be something sensational. In the past, it was governments that were toppled far too often, political instability, and former Chief Ministers held on charges of smuggling. Today, with far less justification, Goa is in the news for being dubbed the “rape capital of India”. This is particularly galling for a state that has a fairly good record of treating its womenfolk.
It began in February 2008 with the Scarlett Keeling case, a heady mix of sex, drugs, a photogenic young white girl, and mystery over her death. Since then, media hype, a misunderstanding of issues, and the power of the international press have combined to put a spin on the issue that is far from the reality.
The case was tragic in itself. But it didn’t help that the media latched on to it eagerly and played it up for all it was worth. Since Keeling was a British national, the British press wrote extensively on it—it was probably the single-most important story that readers back home had heard from Goa since the Commonwealth Retreat in 1983.
Suddenly, crimes against tourists—particularly white tourists—became a major focal point for the media, though deaths of tourists in Goa are surely not a new phenomenon. The type of reporting went overboard, portraying one of the most gender-balanced states in the country as a ‘rape capital’ and worse. Stereotyping and sensationalism marked reports emanating from the state whether in outstation newspapers, news agencies or TRP-tripping television channels.
This is particularly ironic in a state where women feel far safer than in many other parts of India (though that is not to deny that there is also growing crime against women here in recent times, as elsewhere). Or for that matter, where women play an important economic role and the girl-child gets a better deal than in most parts of India.
From many years, now Goa has figured as a tourist’s paradise. Local journalists have written about the wild scene on parts of the coast, but publications elsewhere seemed reluctant to take it. In the early-1990s, when the Freddy Peat child sex-abuse story emerged (a suspected foreigner, who claimed to be an Anglo-Indian, ran an ‘orphanage’ at which boys were systematically abused for sexual purposes) the national press was somewhat squeamish about giving the story too much space.
Today, the picture is very different. In a highly competitive media, sensation sells and there is no attempt to present a balanced picture or strive to put things in perspective.
Our women, their women
Sexual Violence In Goa
Concerns about the large number of rapes of tourists in the tourist haven of Goa are prompted by fears that these will drive away tourists and give Goa a bad name. But the bigger issues—of rape itself, whoever is the victim, of changing attitudes that excuse rape in some situations, of making sexual assault unacceptable—have not been addressed
When Goa’s Tourism Minister, Francis Pacheco, popularly known as Mickky Pacheco, wrote an open letter to the Chief Minister of Goa Digambar Kamat, expressing his concern that the state is gaining the reputation (sic) of a rape capital, it caused a flutter.
Not because it was a minister addressing an open letter to the Chief Minister. That is passé in a small state like Goa with 40 seats, where defections and toppling games are permanently on the agenda. Not because it drew attention, albeit unwittingly, to the increasing crimes against women. That is of little concern to most unless the woman at the receiving end of the violence is their wife, sister or mother because
then it would reflect on their ability (or lack of it) to protect.
But because it would erode the tourism pie… because it was considered an assault on the dignity of the Goas. Clearly, machoism is alive and kicking in Goa. “We can’t have our Goa projected this way”, “we can’t have our women raped”. Message: Never mind if some other state is projected in that way or if ‘outsider’ women are raped.
This is reminiscent of a dialogue that took place some years ago between a women’s group and the director of tourism, Government of India. There was this twin slide show that was the fashion those days, shown at the International Tourism Fair in Berlin. In the slide show, a coastline spread along the two slides had a picture of a breast superimposed in between. When the local women’s group Bailancho Saad protested, the tourism ministry said it was the Kerala coast and not the Goa coast. The group said that was immaterial, to which the director replied that it was a German woman’s breast and not a Goan woman’s breast. The group said you can’t commodify a woman’s body, period.
This discussion in many ways was the forerunner of the way issues are being posited and responded to when it comes to projection of women as sex objects to be consumed, and when it comes to sexual violence against women. One finds that the sites of vulnerability, the incidence of sexual violence against women and the response to the same are determined by these very factors of sexist nationalism.
Like everywhere, battles are fought over a woman’s body. A Russian woman gets raped and tourism department officials hint that she invited it because the locals are not used to that kind of dress. A migrant woman or girl gets raped and the reaction is “they-are-like-that-only”. There is a report of a local woman sexually assaulted by a person who happens to be from the minority community and, hey presto, there is suddenly much concern about rape and the whole issue acquires communal overtones and even sparks off a riot as happened in Margao, a commercial town in Goa, just prior to the last elections.
A crime happening against a Russian woman or girl is met with the ire that awaits Russians who have come to symbolise aggression and land-grabbing. A migrant woman is also met with contempt for “that lamani” (tribal) who accosts tourists on the beach and on account of whom foreign tourists do not want to come to certain beaches in Goa.
Activists point out that on the other hand there have been at least six cases of Goan minors being raped in Margao since the beginning of 2010. But the press has done precious little to highlight this fact. In most cases the persons accused of rape are acquaintances of the victims which exposes the myth that rape and sexual assault are committed by migrants/tourists.
Not long ago, a woman complained of sexual assault and revealed a sordid story of the alleged rapist’s doings. The person came to be known as a serial killer and cases against him started tumbling out of the closet. The deaths of women of marriageable age who went missing over a period of time were traced to this “serial killer”. The Scarlett Keeling case is too well known to repeat. But suffice it to say that the government authorities tried booking Scarlett’s mother for negligence even as the death was being swept under the carpet.
What yardstick would that be where some sexual violence meets with an offence-is-the-best-part-of-defence approach and some sexual violence meets with outrage? Mixed signals. Confusion. What is not understood is that it results in “aiz mhaka, faleam tuka” (today for me, tomorrow for you) a well-known epitaph in cemeteries. When sexual violence is condoned, nay, even justified, because it is perpetrated on a person from some marginalised community or because it is perpetrated on a person of a foreign (seen as oppressor) nationality, it becomes acceptable. The wheels of the system get oiled in that fashion and then when a local girl or woman is sexually assaulted, the system moves on the same wheels.
What gives credence to the ‘rape capital’ image? Google it and one finds that the labelling of a place as a rape capital, as also the denial of the existence of rape, or of treating each
case as an aberration, is not a new phenomenon. Only the sites shift and this shifting of sites is determined by a chauvinistic state pride, by certain motivations, including economic considerations, world trade, etc.
It is not at all determined by the incidence of violence against women or by any concern about it. An increasing number of rapes are being reported in the newspapers and it is also a fact that more people are speaking out about rape and coming forth to complain. One can only guess that the numbers too are increasing.
Those who benefit from tourism and perceive a threat to the inflow of tourists because of travel advisories issued in view of the ‘rape capital’ projection, are quick to sweep cases of sexual violence in Goa under the carpet and allege that competing destinations are at work to give Goa a bad image.
On the other hand, there is an element in tourism that commodifies women and tries to make any tourist destination—in this case Goa—a wine, women and song destination. When domestic tourists, for instance, do not get women as advertised as part of the Goa tourism destination package, they end up running riot against any dress (frock)-wearing women, assuming that dress is equal to “available”, thanks to Bollywood, which has created these stereotypes about Goan women and the justifications for men to sexually assault them.
Comparisons are at best odious. Some of the aspects here may seem extraneous to the issue in question, but are proving to be the factors that determine an acceptance (or lack of it) of sexual assault as part of society.
At another level, a warped representation that women tourists are not safe, results in measures that are only intended to address the safety of tourists. There is thus a string of measures from the various arms of the state.
You have the Goa High Court directing separate security in the form of mahila chowkis for tourists visiting beaches, and stating that this is important as Goa is an international tourist spot and that tourists, domestic and foreign, should be able to enjoy without any “fear”. You have the union tourism ministry directing that “tourist police” be set up in all states by 2010 or else they will be blacklisted by its website. You have the local tourism minister announcing that the state government has accorded administrative approval to a 60-strong “tourist protection force” comprising ex-servicemen, who will work as tourist wardens and who, while not have policing powers, can co-ordinate with the police whenever required. You have the Centre promising to launch a national helpline for tourists on the grounds that any adverse perception about the safety and security of tourists would seriously affect tourist arrivals in the country. You have the National Commission for Women asking states to form special forces to protect tourists.
What about Goan women being able to walk the beaches without any fear of sexual violence? What about migrant women in Goa being able to walk the beaches without any fear of sexual violence? What about all women being able to walk the beaches in Goa without any fear of sexual violence? These are questions that are being asked.
The onus should be on the tourism industry to adopt a code of conduct for safe and honourable tourism. There is a call for major stakeholders such as hotels, tour operators, cab drivers and other hospitality-linked services to adopt this code, but the move is half-hearted to say the least.
There cannot be piecemeal measures. This is not a one team-versus-another team game. Either all win or all lose or have the potential to lose. A nationalism that does not factor in concerns about women cannot stand. A state that breeds consumerism and gives varying signals to its law and enforcement machinery cannot do justice to women. A system in which it is perceived that real men do not cause or perpetuate sexual violence must come into being. Infochange
By Albertina Almeida
The media response to the Scarlett Keeling case is an interesting case study. The story first broke in the British press and when a British journalist first phoned me, some time in mid-February 2008, for details about the rape and death of the 16-year-old Keeling, my first response was one of anger that the local police had managed to keep the lid on the case for nearly three or four days after it happened.
The British media ran several stories on the case playing up the angle of a British tourist dead under mysterious circumstances in a third world country. The Indian media held aloof initially, until it realised that the sensational manner in which it was being reported made good business sense. Then they too jumped onto the bandwagon.
Crimes that target foreigners are not new in Goa and nor is the number of crimes disproportionate to the size of the foreigner population here. Since the early-1970s at least, local residents of places like Calangute
(one of the first villages discovered by modern tourists, the “hippies”) have complained about the problems caused by clashing tourist-local attitudes, but this was ignored.
Interest in the Keeling case had barely subsided when the “German girl” case surfaced. A German teenager was raped, allegedly by the son of a minister. Her mother, who was involved in a relationship with the minister’s son, accused him for raping her 14-year-old daughter.
In Goa’s highly-politicised and polarised setting, this became an opportunity to settle political scores. The father-politician in question, Atanasio Monserrate, was back to supporting the Congress, after starting out in that party and then propping up the BJP. There were many pointers to show that the case was being politically manipulated in a way that made a pawn of the victim in the chessboard of Goa’s politics. The media happily went along with this.
Propagating a cause
As your vehicle lunges into Haridwar after a drive of over 200 kilometres, the first thing that flies into your face is the large hoardings, banners, billboards and posters, the spiritual and religious gurus have put up on either side of the national highway.
Kumbh Mela, apparently, was not just about getting rid of one’s sins by taking a dip into holy Ganges. Nor were religious and spiritual leaders in attendance in the sacred city in quest of nirvana alone.
They were as much there to raise temporal issues that bother the humanity at large. Be it global warming, situation in Africa, peace, corruption, pollution, health or exploitation in India, they stared in your face and poked your conscience ubiquitously. They had taken over almost every visible space in the city and over Ganges to raise public awareness about their pet issues.
“It is my dharma to protect Panchtatva (five elements air, water, earth, fire and ember). I am only doing my duty in raising jagruti (awareness),” Soham Baba, the youngest mahamandleshwar (religious teacher) in Haridwar, had told this journalist during an interview. The Haridwar Kumbh was the first Soham Baba attended. The Baba had pitched hoardings all around the city exhorting people to join him at
www.sohambabamission.com for global peace, saving Africa and five elements of life from damage.
Sohambaba Mission, a not-for-profit Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) based in Amsterdam (Netherlands), works for global peace, runs anti-hunger projects for developing countries, AIDS-awareness programmes and works on protecting the environment. Soham Baba who likes living in cemeteries with the dead (he is an aghori (practises tantra) baba) claimed to be working in 128 countries of the world.
He said he had been working on global warming for over 4 years. “Because of change in pattern of glacier dissolution, the temperature of the caves where the ascetics stay most of the time for solitude, fluctuate frequently. Africa needs water preservation more than any other continent,” Soham Baba who is a qualified neuro surgeon from Pondicherry elucidated.
The aghori baba was introduced to tantra by his grandfather at the age of four. He regretted that tantra was looked down by the modern generation. He is out to change the perception.
Aghori ascetics are devotees of Shiva who adhere to common Hindu belief in liberation (moksha) from the cycle of reincarnation. They arouse feelings of extreme reverence and suspicion due to their radical practises like living in cemeteries and using human skulls as bowls.
Like Soham Baba’s mission, Swami Ramdev, inarguably the most popular proponent of yoga in the country, seemed to have launched a campaign in Haridwar against corruption, exploitation, hunger and use of foreign articles. The hoardings put up by Bharat Swabhiman & Patanjali Yogpith, Ramdev’s trust which is headquartered on the outskirts of Haridwar, said ‘Corruption, exploitation and adharma (wrong things) are extreme crimes; a person who commit them is a traitor and deserves hell.” The Yogpith also promised to make India healthy and prosperous through promotion of yoga and swadeshi.
“Our 100 lakh crore rupees are deposited in foreign banks. Why can’t we bring it back and use in executing five year plans. (Besides) we deposit Rs 20 lakh crore into government exchequer through 64 types of taxes every year. Rs 4 crore can be allotted to a district every day. Corruption is at the root of all problems. We want to make every villager aware of it,” said S K Tijarewala, spokesman of Swami Ramdev in justification of the campaign.
Swami Ramdev is planning to put up candidates from his Bharat Swabhiman Andolan (BSA) in the next general elections. “70 per cent of our people have no access to medical facilities. We don’t get justice and education in our language. Inequality is growing,” Tijarewala added expanding the political critique.
Apart from Soham Baba and Swami Ramdev, another Hindu spiritual leader Narendra Acharya, a saint from a Digambara Akhara, was all for a drive to protect cow, Gita and Ganges. His hoardings every here and there proclaimed, “Hinduism is in danger.” Somnath Giri alias Pilot Baba who claims to be president of a group called World Peace Campaign as well has launched a movement for world peace.
There were others who looked at the Kumbh event as an opportunity to promote themselves. A hoarding for instance called Chinmayanand a ‘national saint’. Others announced programmes of Murari Bapu and Ashutosh Maharaj in Haridwar during the Kumbh.
The ascetics primarily looked to tap the youth who visited Haridwar during the 42-day-long Kumbh to take a holy dip in Ganges. The Kumbh drew to a close on April 14. “We need to make use of yuva shakti (power of youth). We want to make the youth aware. That is the mantra,” Soham Baba had wrapped up, sitting next to a bonfire in his camp near Neeldhara (a tributary of Ganges) during the Kumbh.
A positive aspect of the story is that such campaigns do impact the young pilgrims and youth in Haridwar. “During kanvad mela in July last year, the city administration requested certain saints including Swami Ramdev to campaign against polluting Ganges and use of poly bags. It was fairly successful,” says Rajesh Sharma (35), a resident of Haridwar. Sharma claimed that Soham Baba had become a major centre of attraction in the city due to his drive against global warming.
By Narendra Kaushik
In search of the sensational headline, stray (and irresponsible) comments by politicians like Goa Tourism Minister Micky Pacheco (who declared that tourism material would no longer feature “bikini babes”) got translated into a “bikini ban”, causing outrage and needless debate globally. In the British tabloids Goa has changed from being a “hippie haven” to a “gangster’s paradise”.
Certainly all these cases were shocking. But that did not justify the way the media and lawyers leveraged the issue for their own ends. Goa, like most other parts of the country, badly needs a clean-up of public life. But when politicians are targeted through their sons, and the search for justice is mixed with the other dubious agendas of the power-hungry, the media too is on shaky ground.
Deccan Herald’s special correspondent in Goa, Devika Sequeira, put it bluntly, when she wrote: “Some warped media coverage has dogged Goa after a few highly publicised cases of rape and deaths involving foreigners.”
Sequeira points out that Goa still remains far safer for women “despite the recent ugly convulsions in crime, the laid-back and inefficient police and the corrupt politicians”. She sees the media as being responsible for overplaying the cases of Scarlett and the German girl and more recently the rape charge by a Russian tourist against another politician who had contested a recent election. But three other suspicious deaths involving young Russian tourists have been ignored by the English media, she points out. The parents of two of the victims could not even afford to travel from Russia to Goa to pursue the cases. The combination of their nationality and economic status may have made these victims less attractive to the international media.
Without absolving Goa of its “abysmal level of policing”, she cited figures to make a case that Goa (or India) is not an exception. In fact, British tourists face crime while on holiday in a number of other destinations in the world. From the reporting, one gets the feeling that somehow Goa is deadlier.
The British media that came to cover the Scarlett case in February 2008, discovered drugs and the coastal mafia and wrote about these.
The problem of drug-taking is not new and every winter a significant number of drug-related deaths of foreign tourists are reported. When working on a story some years ago with a colleague, Ashley do Rosario, we found that more than 40 foreigners had died in the peak tourist season (roughly November to February) of a single year in Goa. So, when does news become “news”? And what does it take for a serious issue to get media attention?
For an average resident of Goa, this is like putting salt on a wound. Suddenly, this small state is being perceived as one dangerous hellhole. At the same time, nobody talks about villagers crying themselves hoarse about the mafia that have held sway in their areas for decades now.
It is ironic that the rest of India often complains that the dominant media of the Western world fails to understand it, but at the same time India too fails to understand Goa.
Let’s not pretend that the clash of civilisations happening along parts of coastal Goa is something new. Let’s not pretend that the crime that tourists face—however shocking and sad—is the biggest problem the Goa of today is facing. It may just be a nice stereotype through which to report Goa. Infochange