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Goa’s tourism fabric has been torn bloodily with knives and koitas

16 Jun 2017 06:15am IST
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16 Jun 2017 06:15am IST

The deep gash on the fabric of Goa’s reputation as a state whose identity is derived from and indebted to tourism, developed a further tear as 47 tourists stood in shock in Merces on Wednesday, attacked by knives, sticks and koitas by local goondas.

The deep gash on the fabric of Goa’s reputation as a state whose identity is derived from and indebted to tourism, developed a further tear as 47 tourists stood in shock in Merces on Wednesday, attacked by knives, sticks and koitas by local goondas.

Some were writhing in pain from their bruises and fractures, attacked by goons on bail, who had no right to the freedom that they misused, and shamed Goa in the process.

What happened in Merces, will not stay in Merces. Goa’s battered image as a state where tourists are not safe, will get further validated as pictures and videos of the broken bus, the driver of the tourist bus on a  wheel chair outside GMC with his leg fractured, and those of children getting hurt, in the attack go viral. Goa is upset and angry and the overwhelming feeling is that of shame.

And the intensity of Chief Minister Parrikar’s reaction to the assault on tourists is indication that beneath the shock, there is also shame.

Hoodlums in Goa simply cannot have the liberty to go around beating tourists. The three main accused Lawrence Dias, Vishal Golatkar and Suraj Shetye alias Babu are all on bail in separate offences registered against them. There can be an argument that this kind of an attack by criminals, on a tourist bus, is an aberration and this is not how local Goans behave with tourists, but it is unlikely that this argument will hold or will be a takeaway. Apart from what the world will get, each of the forty-odd tourists will go back with these memories and will out pour their angst. Goa will get shamed several times in many drawing rooms and street corners where no one will look at the criminal history of the three accused, but see them only as local Goans who thrashed them to the point of near fatality.

Tourism Minister Babu Azgaonkar, who too has reacted swiftly and strongly and even passionately, should also be reminded of his own statement, not too long ago. He said “We have set the agenda for tourism in Goa, with safety and security of tourists being the No 1 priority for the tourism department. The Goa government, through the home department, is augmenting budgets for improving safety and security measures in the state keeping in mind the tourism industry and the importance of providing a safe holiday for tourists visiting Goa.”

The images of the violence at Merces, will haunt the Minister if he reads his statement yet again. And if Merces doesn’t force the Goa government into converting the stated priority of the minister into practice, we will stare into an abyss with a body blow befallen on the tourism industry of Goa.

The goonda act at Merces, could have been passed off as just that and not as a reflection of the manner in which Goa treats its tourists, if this was a stand-alone incident. But with constant reports of skirmishes between taxi drivers and owners and tourists, including physical assaults on tourists for using forms of transport other than hiring taxis at whopping rates, the Merces attack will not be seen as an aberration but a norm.

But there is a key piece in the picture without which the picture is incomplete. While protection and safety is a precautionary necessity, equally critical is the response of the state to attacks on tourists.  There have been 245 foreigners who have died in Goa in the last 12 years. It is fair to assume that 70% of these deaths were due to unnatural causes including murders. And this is where the state has been found seriously wanting according the relatives and friends of tourists killed in Goa. In a letter written to the Prime Minister last month, a group of relatives of victims, “The quality of the work of the police in Goa should be investigated. Instead of investigating the murders and killings, the local police want to cover up the truth,” the letter states.

It goes on to say “The police are resistant to solving these cases and those who are responsible for murder remain at liberty to reoffend”

Bringing the culprits to justice, is non-negotiable, whether it is a murder or an assault on tourists or even taxi drivers  bullying tourists into not taking any other form of transport including “outside taxis”.

The message that needs to be re-emphasised is that in cases when there is absolutely no doubt who the guilty is, the slackness of investigation and legal preparation, allows criminals to get away.

The creation of a special armed and professionally trained tourist police force with the best weapons is a given. They need to be backed by the technology of CCTV cameras at all junctions, fast moving vehicles and laboratories for various tests especially for murder cases.

The budget for this augmentation should be cleared and listed under the tourism budget.

Having said that, there is a sad irony in all this. 

When a land with a history of warmth, hospitality and friendliness, has to be governed with an iron hand to be tourist friendly, there is a decay in its society. It is perhaps this fabric that needs to be repaired before re-painting  Goa’s fresh canvas of friendly tourism. 
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