By Ranjan Solomon, Director, Badayl-Alternatives
Tourism has long been a matter of concern for the Goan society. On one hand, there is a myth that tourism is a money spinner. The truth is different. After income leakages are taken into account, it is barely 12-13% of tourism income that remains in Goa.
The industry receives the tourist and makes them feel like Kings and Queens and reduces themselves to slaves and servants. The tourist comes to Goa for pure pleasure- a holiday sans responsibility and any real connect to the local population. When the tourist leaves Goa, she/he leaves behind a shadow of social, economic, and environmental problems. The ‘big fish’- 5-star hotels and resorts, golf courses, tour operators and other such enterprises close their eyes to the trail of devastation. For them profit counts above people- and for as long as they can pocket some gains, they remain satisfied.
The tragedy is at the grassroots of society where local communities pay the price for ecological havoc, social degradation, displacement and dispossession of lands and traditional livelihoods. Indeed the negative socio-economic-cultural impacts on Goa are severe. Instead of being an industry which brings economic benefits to the local population, Goa is exploited by those who see tourism a mere source of immense profit. The costs for the negative impacts have always been paid for by the host communities on the coast. Questions about environmental degradation, the urbanization of coastal villages, issues of garbage, overcrowding of beaches, exploitation of workers are some of the very serious dimensions of tourism’s slipover.
Perhaps, the worst that is happening is the rapid criminalization of tourist hot spots, the abuse of women and children and the emergence of sex tourism. Ask the average tourist why they come to Goa, and their answer is most likely to be: cheap booze, easy women, and drugs. These are hidden facts too that Goans live in denial over. The largest numbers of sex workers in the industry tend to be of Goan origin while pimps and drug dealers are also of Goan origin. The government and other law enforcement authorities chose to turn a blind eye to all of this. Or, they possibly get their share of the dividends from these activities. Recently, a sex worker who was declared to have HIV-AIDS reported that many cops had used her for sexual favours and that has created panic in the police force. Incidents of HIV-AIDS are growing and more than half of those how die from the disease are Goans. Much of the HIV-AIDS that has spread is from tourism- sex and drugs.
All these negative trends are eating into the very social fabric of Goan society. It must be combated with urgency and with a comprehensive approach to the issues. Furthermore, tourism planners and decision makers must be forced to look at things from an ethical perspective and seek to ensure that the actions initiated tied in values.
Drugs and the tourist
Perhaps, one of the most serious issues at hand that causes criminality and social discontent is the issue of drugs. Beyond it being a social problem, it has come to be linked with mafia operations, money laundering, and sexual exploitation. Goa will soon have the notorious distinction of being the sex tourism capital of the world. It will be too late when Goans realize that their daughters have been lured into the business of prostitution and pimping, agents of money launderers, sub contractors in the business of trafficking and so on. Goa is on its way to becoming the rape capital of India. Foreign tourists have been sexually assaulted in the past few years in the state – often raped. Not too long ago, a nine-year-old Russian girl was sexually abused, sparking a national outrage vis-a-vis safety of tourists in Goa. The drug link is all too obvious in all this
A recent write up by a tourist in Goa (name protected) is not just an epicentre, where drugs are sold at rave and trance parties. In recent years, it has become a transit point for drugs shipped out to various European countries and a production centre for synthetic party drugs. In keeping with the trend among drug smugglers worldwide of coming up with innovated ideas to escape the law, drug lords based in Goa are using minors (both boys and girls) as ‘mules’ and carbonised suitcases to ship their drugs to Europe. Carbonised compartments fitted in suitcases and bags hamper the detection of drugs, informed one customs official in Mumbai. Kids hooked on drugs are forced to carry the consignments to foreign destinations.
Nigerian nationals smuggle drugs out of the country brings into focus the newer and novel ways of drug smuggling resorted to in recent times. Heroin in large quantities are concealed in false bottoms of luggage. The drug traders have found innovative ways to dodge the police.
Narcotic substances like charas, ganja, estassy, LSD and cocaine are playing a key role in building Goa as a hot tourist destination among a section of its young visitors and also those who put this place on the world drugs map in the first place. The hippies left an impression that Goa is an easy place for drugs compared to even Indonesia, Singapore or Thailand and that sticks. Drug abuse has been rampant at hi-fi parties among visiting white tourists. Big money, narcotics, and an ambivalent attitude by the government go into making Goa a safe transit point for narcotics. A kilo of hashish is available for anything between Rs 4,000 and Rs 10,000 in the villages in the north of the country like Himachal Pradesh and Bihar. Once it lands on Goan soil, it fetches up to Rs 1 lakh. And when it crosses the Indian border, the price multiplies.
The way forward
It cannot be left to government to sort out this issue. Too many within government have their interests in drugs and unethical tourism practices. It is the task of civil society, particularly religious organizations, to act as monitors. To be alert and agile is the challenge and responsibility.
Goans cannot be protected by others. They must protect the future of Goa and its children and its children’s children. What is at stake in not tourism! It is the moral fibre of society.