Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Goaah, Ouch!

From being a hippie destination in the Seventies, Goa has come a long way to become the prime holiday destination for Indians and foreigners alike. December and January are the months when the tourism season at its peak. But this December, a cloud of doubt hangs over the tourism industry in Goa. Not because domestic or foreign travelers are keeping away, but because the rising crime against tourists has triggered a debate which is unintelligible and Goa politicians are making claims which the civil society finds outrageous. Goa's tourism minister wrote to his boss, the chief minister, that if law and order is not strengthened Goa may well become the rape capital of India. Chief Minister Digamabar Kamat's reply was shocking to say the least. He said tourists are equally to blame for crime against tourists, especially women.  They should be careful as to not mix with the local populace and dress appropriately. Congress MP from the state scandalized the Rajya Sabha by hinting that recent victims of rape had invited it upon themselves. Some members of the august house were furious at this insinuation and termed it a misogynist idea to blame rape victims for rape. The National Commission for Women criticized him and the Russian consulate said they do issue travel advisories to its nationals but Naik had crossed the line. A Russian woman was recently raped in Goa and the police initially refused to register a case, saying the woman should not have gone with a man in the dark of the night. A similar argument was made when British teenager Scarlett Keeling was raped and murdered. Giving out advice to tourists is not wrong but before blaming the victims, the lawmakers and the law-keepers must take a good look at the law of the land. A husband can be charged with rape if the woman has not given consent. Violation of anyone under 16 is considered rape in the eye of the law. It does not matter whether the victim was walking with the offender or friends with him. A rape is a rape.

What Kamat said is not entirely rubbish. The government must warn tourists against dangers and possible threats in Goa. It should also advise tourists about appropriate dresses for places. That's part of the government's job. But the government must make residents and visitors confident about their security. That's the government's job too. Kamat and Naik should know that crime is committed only when the criminal thinks he can get away with it. It is not decided by the clothes on the victim but the lack of fear of law in the offender's mind. Goa politicians need to stop talking and start working. The state's prime industry is at stake, its image is being shredded in public. They should assure tourists of their safety and not scare them. And for that, they need to secure justice for the victims. A promise to act is any day better than an excuse to not act.

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