Like a tracer bullet travelling beyond the speed of light, the people and the government of Goa, reacted virulently, and justifiably, to the assault on Mumbai tourists by the goons of Merces
There is absolutely no denying that the optics of the attack, caused a violent wrenching in the gut, almost as if it was a kick on the solar plexus of Goa, as a destination to go to. But the reaction was obvious and it was easy. It was easy because the attackers have all been arrested for criminal cases, with one of them, Lawrence Dias, convicted – yes convicted – for raping a British National in 2008. The other two are also members of Goa’s hall of shame, arrested for kidnapping and threatening to murder. The response to the attack has been focussed, entirely, on how could these criminals now roaming free, because the law has allowed them to, have the audacity to attack tourists. This is certainly a valid ask but somewhere in this line of thinking and questioning, we are perhaps missing the wood for the trees. The fact that Lawrence Dias, Suraj Shetye and Vishal Golatkar have a criminal record, and serious ones at that, does not make them more guilty of tearing apart the fabric of Goa’s eternal DNA where guests were friends, than all others with no apparent criminal records, who have done so, and continue to do so. They, who have not raped and have no registered cases of threatening to kill, but who land a blow to Goa’s tourism by their words and acts, are no less guilty than the Merces goons, of bringing Goa down in the eyes of the world.
The athithi (guest) was a ‘bandhu’ (friend). Goa’s guests were friends first, even before the smart marketing phrase Athithi devo bhava (the Guest is God) was released in the tourism market. Far from being ‘deva’ the guest is now a ‘shatru’, the principal enemy number one to many, surprisingly those whose livelihoods and identity, potentially depends on tourists arrivals.
From a land which was loved, we are slipping towards becoming a land which will be despised. And this can never be measured in terms of footfalls.
Unlike a pollution control board which monitors the ambient quality of air, there is no marketable contraption to measure the happiness quotient of tourists. Yes we have footfalls, but they are not “happy feet”. Like the tourists from Mumbai, who will go back with bruises which are far deeper than the physical cuts on their bodies, how many of those who make those footfalls, wow never to return. And for those who say, that is impossible, do get a reality check.
Tourists buses are attacked, tourists are pulled out of private cars and other taxis because they are not in one of the taxis parked in front of their hotels, any form of transport with a MH or KA number plate is seen as a cruise missile from enemy territory. This is how the anger quotient of tourists towards Goa rises.
And the flood of stories of how tourists have been humiliated and hurt does not cease. This weekend, a 48-year-old Bio scientist and a long time Goa lover, landed for a quiet weekend with friends. When he went to the cab counter, he was asked to pay Rs 900 from the airport to Bambolim. He asked, isn’t there a Uber or a Meru cab I can order? The reply he got from one of the local taxi drivers stunned him, “We will kill the Uber guys if they come to Goa”. When the bio scientist asked them the basis of the Rs 900 fare to Bambolim, he was told, “Look at the board, it’s written there, it’s a government rate”. The question is, shouldn’t we look at on what basis the rates have been fixed. And if there is a cabinet decision that meters have to be installed on taxis, then why are there so many extensions being given to implement it? The so called “government rate” has no place when a decision has been taken to make taxi meters compulsory.
But before we proceed, ask yourselves. How is the fellow who told the bio scientist, that if Uber comes , (here Uber is the generic term for all radio and app based taxis) “we will kill them”, less of a goonda than Lawrence Dias, Suraj Shetye and Vishal Golatkar, the Merces goons.
The mindset, that provokes the Merces assailants, that we will teach these outsider tourists a lesson for being in our space, also applies to the local taxi man who says ‘Uber will be killed”. God-forbid, if this threat is ever carried out, Goa will turn into an instant graveyard of tourism.
It beyond this taxi driver’s comprehension, that an app based radio taxi service will involve him too and encourage him to switch to this system.
But Goa’s tourism killers are not limited to errant taxi owners and drivers. Take the case of Bichat Braga, accused of killing young British backpacker Danielle McLaughlin. Police sources have said that he committed petty crimes from the time he was 15 and wasn’t checked and in 2013, he has, reportedly according to the Goa police, raped a Scottish woman who left the country without filing an FIR. Thus he got away once. Now, Braga, is accused of raping, strangulating McLaughlin and slitting her throat. Like Lawrence Dias, Braga too is the son of soil. With 212 deaths of tourists in 12 years, there are several ‘Bichat Braga’s’ on the prowl in Goa. With very little fear of the local police, and with investigations into cases of murder of tourists, compromised by unprofessional evidence gathering techniques, seen in cases of about ten years ago, local criminals have had a free run.
Often the hands that “killed” tourists were the same hands which supplied a steady supply of drugs. Some signs of this being the case, are visible even in the Danielle McLaughlin case. And in the light of this, shouldn’t we ask, whether the Bichat Braga’s are any different from the Lawrence Dias’ of Goa.
And characters like Dias or Braga thrive because for far too long, Goa has taken its tourists for granted. Their arrival has been a given and for decades, they have not disappointed. But it’s no longer a blank cherub which is valid. And that will not change unless, the definition of goonda grade (as the CM very sternly said, would not be tolerated) is expanded to include those who supply drugs, rape and kill and also those who make it so difficult, scary and mind-blowingly expensive to get from place A to place B.
And while this might be beyond the comprehension of those who are killing Goa’s tourism, let them still know that the concept of Atitihi Devo Bhava came from this phrase in the Upanishads “matrudevo bhava; pitrudevo bhava; acharyadevo bhava; atithidevo bhava” (consider the mother as God, the Father as God, the teacher as God and the guest as God)
Can those who love their motherland and their family and treat them with Godlike reverence, really treat their guests as enemies?