In the flurry of promises made, how many political parties in their manifestoes thought that it would be advisable to promise the women of Goa security from prowling predators? Just as the Central Bureau of Investigation appealed in the High Court of Bombay at Goa the acquittal in the Scarlett Keeling case, there came reports of the rape of an American tourist in the northern taluka of Pernem. Past crimes tumbled out when the accused in this case was found to have been arrested earlier for a similar crime and is currently facing trial for the rape of a Russian woman tourist.
If the Scarlett case is a grim reminder of how vulnerable women tourists are in Goa, the fact remains that local women are just as susceptible to sexual harassment and crimes.
Last week there came reports of sexual harassment in the pinnacle of Goa’s higher education institute – the Goa University. Girl students residing in the women’s hostel complained that the security supervisor appointed by the security agency was sexually harassing the female security staff as well as the students. A girl student told Herald that they were afraid to complain as the university is an open campus. A case was filed with the police, after the internal complaints committee of the University ascertained the allegations made by the student. But when the police began the probe, the lady security guard stymied the investigation by denying all the allegations. The university is now revamping the security system that it has in place and also appointing new female hostel wardens to ensure that its girls students are safe in the university at all times. But why should the women of Goa feel afraid to file a complaint? And why does it take a crime for the authorities to wake up to the plight of the women in Goa?
The Goa University case is not one in isolation. There have been many crimes against women that remain in the news for a few days before they are forgotten. Six months ago, there have been two deaths that while shocking to the people, had also been traumatic to the families of the victims. The first death, a killing, occurred in Marcel, when a young man walked into a girl’s house, entered into an argument with the girl and her family and then allegedly shot her in front of the rest of the family. The other was the death of the woman from Quepem who consumed poison when the harassment from the in-laws, for the money she had received from the Laadli Laxmi scheme, got too much for her. The Quepem case is a horrific reminder that women in this State are not safe and that dowry, in varied forms, is a practice that still exists in Goa.
Women in Goa deserve a better deal. Financial support in the form of the Laadli Laxmi scheme may work in certain cases, but this economic wellbeing needs to the augmented with physical security, at the very least the reassurance that the authorities will take action, if a woman is threatened by anybody, even if it includes her family members. The authorities to handle crimes against women exist. Goa has a Women’s Police Station, a Women’s Commission, and there are a number of NGOs who devote their time and efforts to the welfare of women. In the Quepem case, an NGO has taken up the cause, but the road to justice is long, as seen in the Goa University case. Can the police change their investigation angle and probe why the alleged victim of the Goa University case is denying the allegations? There could be another crime there.