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 Goan. 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.
(Albertina Almeida is a lawyer and activist based in Goa)
Infochange News & Features, April 2010