Fisticuffs and Feni

Published: Dec 21, 2011, 08:28 IST | Pamela D'Mello |

When it is Christmas and New Year, it must be Goa. Even as Mumbaikars get ready to hit the party destination, a look at why the gawking Indian male tourist ogling at white female flesh, just won't go away

When it is Christmas and New Year, it must be Goa. Even as Mumbaikars get ready to hit the party destination, a look at why the gawking Indian male tourist ogling at white female flesh, just won't go away

In early November, four Indian tourists were arrested at Goa's popular Colva beach for trying to grab a Western woman tourist in Colva. When the woman screamed, locals rushed to her rescue and handed over the four Indian tourists to the police. Two months earlier, a group of domestic tourists beat up a white man who protested at their lewd comments and behaviour with his partner at a restaurant in Colva.

For your eyes only: Fire-eaters entertain tourists

But for every case that gets registered, at least 15 others go unreported or are dropped and never reach the police station. Goa's problems with voyeur tourists, or simply all male Indian holiday groups that sink into bad behaviour of the lowest common denominator, have grown each season, reaching worrying proportions this year. "If these clashes that occur between Indian tourists and foreigners continue, Western visitors will simply stop coming to Goa," said one Facebook post on the Colva incident.

The incidents reported both officially and unofficially from the main tourist centres have tourism watchers concerned. In July this year an all male bunch of weekend visitors from Andhra Pradesh, got into serious fisticuffs with locals who objected to their drunken behaviour on a coastal street. One of the tourists whipped out a gun and fired into the air, while his friends stripped naked and danced on the street, before police arrived on the scene. Amidst the charges and counter charges, police arrested a bunch of local youth, leading to a sense of wrong being done. With dozens of bars, pubs, boutiques, restaurants, tattoo parlours and clothes vendors, shacks and hotels, the Calangute-Candolim-Baga beach stretch is North Goa's happening tourist hub. The area's problem is that the small coastal strip has a mix of establishments that cater to everybody �from the well heeled to the low budget, from India's urbane sophisticates that want to party wild to its just-got-rich-but-lack-any-culture newbies from India's Hicksville towns, that go berserk at the sight of any female flesh. The latter have been descending on Goa en masse, driving in from neighbouring towns and villages, all-male beer guzzling groups, in ominously dark tinted windowed cars/jeeps/travellers giving new meaning to the Indian version of the lager lout. Typical behaviour patterns include chucking beer cans/bottles onto clean village roads, breaking and leaving shards of glass bottles on beach sand, in addition to the offensive gawking/clicking unsolicited photographs of female tourists, with juvenile demands to be photographed posing with Western travellers. Establishments in the area have been reporting an increasing number of cases of aggressive behaviour and brawls, prompting local police to suggest an 11 pm shutdown of bars to ease law and order maintenance.

Culture conscious: Goa had a sand art festival this year

The recent festive season especially, Dussehra and Diwali and even prior to that on the Independence Day long weekends, approximately 6,000 vehicles drove into Goa each time from neighbouring B and C grade towns, many of these all-male groups. Judith Almeida, a shopkeeper near Colva beach, complains. "I don't know what it is, maybe they come with pre-conceived, stereotypical images of tourist Goa, or they are thrown off balance by the more liberal, egalitarian and Westernised culture here, but they go berserk sometimes, misbehaving with women and asking for directions to massage parlours. I've had to often call in the police." "Following some really ugly incidents of drunken domestic clientele getting fresh and downright offensive with some of my Western guests, I now warn regular foreign tourists to stay away from the Baga-Calangute beach belt during the New Year celebrations and during the monsoon season, when domestic tourism picks up." says John Lobo, a shack owner on Calangute beach in the north. That's a long way from a decades old tourism pattern, which saw mainly Western tourists visit Goa, creating for the main part a symbiotic relationship of sorts, a tolerance for the beach holidayer mores and sub-cultures of the Western traveller.

Babes on the beach: When it is Goa, it must be bikinis but keep the
louts away

Single all-male Indian tourists of the voyeur and lager lout variety have always plagued this beach destination, but enhanced mobility and increased volumes are now a real hazard for a region that gets much of its tourist incomes from Western tourism. Notices on the India Mike website for travellers warns women to, "Avoid Calangute and Baga, where you will most definitely have male Indian tourists gawking at you." Warning women travellers to take particular care in India, an Australian travel advisory, says it, "Continues to receive reports of verbal and physical harassment by groups of men against Western women". As long as it does not get sinister, Western women tend to take it in their stride. Blond and 20-something British tourist Julianne Mogford says she's had worse trouble with male attention in Egypt and Morocco. Mogford and her girlfriend were shopping in Baga, the only Western tourists in a sea of Indian holidayers that packed the holiday street like rush hour at Churchgate railway station. "Well they do tend to hover around and come very close when you swim, they are just very chatty all the time, even when your looking for some quiet, and at nightclubs they get to dancing too close even when you are obviously talking to your friend and want them to back off...", says Mogford of her experiences here. She was far more shocked at being offered drugs on the beach, and at seeing young, urbane, Indian women sipping cocktails for breakfast (!) at some of the beach shacks. Blogger Meg Whittenberger, says she found it  "extremely weird" wearing a bathing suit in India, even though every other tourist was wearing one. "A group of male Indian tourists... and a number of other mobs of young Indian men were clearly not quite sure what to make of all the scantily clad tourists or the young Indian couples making out on the beach, but they took lots of photos so they could decide later."

Shifting sands of time: Behind the picture-postcard, another reality

Over the past decade, a massive labour influx from other Indian states is slowly altering the demographics of the state, eroding existing women-friendly and liberal cultural norms and creating situations that permit both outsider and insider crime to grow. Safety, once a given on a Goan beach and street, is no longer a guarantee. "We have been asking the authorities time and again to declare beaches free of all hawkers, and to create a tourism security force of ex-servicemen, guys who are tough enough to deal with some of the miscreants and drunks that one sometimes finds on the beaches," complains hotelier and industry spokesman Ralph de Souza.
Seasonal hawkers that descend en masse just days ahead of the foreign charter tourist season, are seen as a bane here, peddling massages, tattoos, ear cleaning services, jewellery, besides joining in the pimping/prostitution/drug peddling/massage parlour networks. With the local police unwilling and unable to stop hawking, business establishments on the beach have had to pool resources and hire private security to deal with illegal hawkers. "There are so many things going on here, but if we complain, we are singled out and harassed by the authorities, so we remain silent sufferers," says a shack owner.

From selling a laid-back beach and nature holiday to families, Goa's tourism pitch entered new areas with the setting up of a string of nightclubs in the nineties. To the pub/nightclub scene, was added the gaming industry and casinos, and the corollaries of the vice industry. "Tourism is growing in Goa, but it is definitely not family tourism," says Roland Martins, a close watcher and campaigner on tourism issues. He says YouTube uploads and websites that go unmonitored sell the sleazy versions of Goa. Nightclubs with rules that disallow stags, have fed a whole new industry for women escorts and dance partners. "Girls are being trafficked from West Bengal, Bangladesh, the North East and from Maharashtra's former dance bars. They come on a contract basis from 20 days to three months, are housed in flats and are supplied to massage parlours, lodges and hotels, discos and pubs, based on an intricate system of contact," says Arun Pandey, social worker at ARZ, a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) that rescues trafficked girls. He is confident that a small state like Goa could have effectively dealt with trafficking if there was political will, a view backed by a police officer who served in the coastal hub.Coastal politicians are as much on the take from the vice industry, as are sections of the local police, the former more often than not, acting as mere brokers easing the passage for north Indian businesses to enter the burgeoning local market.
"Ultimately, Goa will have to decide if it wants this kind of tourism at all," says Judith Almeida.

Story highlights
>> Goa's tourism landscape is in rapid flux. 
>> First there may be a lone wolf, now men arrive in hordes or groups to ogle Western women on the beach.
>> Rising crime and hooliganism in Goa.
>> Affecting the symbiotic relationship between local and beach-crazy Western tourist.
>> Goa needs to decide whether the Indian lager lout kind of tourism is worth it.

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