Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent
March 10, 2008
Since the 1960s, when the first hippies arrived with their tie-dye
and LSD, Goa has been renowned for its pristine beaches, cosmopolitan
atmosphere and plentiful supply of narcotics.
But the suspected rape and murder of Scarlett Keeling, a 15-year-old
British girl found dead last month on the famous Anjuna beach, has
now shattered the Indian state's reputation as a "hippy paradise",
free of worldly evils.
Goan officials and many long term foreign residents were quick to
blame Fiona MacKeown, Scarlett's mother, for leaving her alone in
Anjuna. They insist that the place is no more dangerous than other
popular beach resorts.
Statistics from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office show that 40
British citizens died in Goa last year and ten have died so far this
year, but 60 per cent of those were from natural causes. They include
many British pensioners who have retired to Goa in recent years.
The same statistics also show that 847,000 British citizens visited
India in the year up to March 2006 and 111 of them died, while
381,000 Britons visited Thailand and 224 of them died.
Nevertheless, a series of recent rapes and deaths many involving
drugs and British citizens have created the perception that Goa is
no longer safe for young backpackers, especially girls. Last week
another British citizen, Michael Harvey, was found dead on March 1 in
his room near Ashwem beach, just north of Anjuna. Police do not
suspect foul play in that case, but are investigating whether
narcotics were involved. A neighbour who saw Mr Harvey the night
before he died described him as a "typical Goa train wreck".
Also last week two Japanese citizens were reported to have died from
overdoses in Anjuna.
Overdoses are nothing new to Goa, especially the more "hippy" parts
such as Anjuna. But long-term residents say that they appear to be
getting more frequent as ever-larger numbers of Western tourists
visit in search of ever-more extreme highs.
While the hippies of the 1960s took LSD, marijuana and opium, the
Westerners who pioneered beach raves in the 1990s were fuelled by
LSD, Ecstasy and amphetamines.
The latest wave of foreign visitors young budget tourists from
Britain, Russian and Israel in particular typically stay for two
weeks and look for Ecstasy, cocaine or ketamine. There are also
growing quantities of crack and heroin on the local market, which is
now worth millions of pounds every year, police and local people say.
"When I came back I thought I would stay," said one Goan owner of a
beach shack who spent several years in Britain. "Now I don't want to.
Many Goans and foreigners around Anjuna say that the links between
the drug dealers and the local police have undermined overall law and order.
There is also mounting evidence that local dealers target young
foreign women, often giving them cocaine and Ecstasy free, and then
sexually assault them when they are high.
"It used to be just that they would try to charm these girls like
beach bar boys around the world, but this is a lot nastier," said one
foreign resident who frequents Anjuna's beach bars.
Foreign women are particularly concerned by a string of recent sexual
assaults on tourists, including a British woman who was raped in January.
Denise Higgins, 52, a British citizen of Indian descent, was found
in a pool of blood with a kitchen knife in her neck in April 2007.
She was building a house in Goa. The suspect is a local man whom she
Stephen Bennett was beaten to death by a gang of men and found
hanging from a mango tree in December 2006. Police claimed at first
that he had committed suicide, then that he was trying to buy drugs
when he was killed
Adrian Duggan was found guilty in 2005 of killing his girlfriend on
Christmas Day in 2003 while on holiday in Goa. Duggan said they were
attacked by an intruder
A tourist, 43, was raped by three men in Betalbatim, southern Goa,
in May 2000. The gang stole her key, jewellery and money. It was the
third reported rape of a British woman in Goa in a year
George Wigan, grandson of the 13th Baron of Kinnaird of Rossie and
heir to a multimillion-pound fortune, died in February 1998, a week
after being mugged in Goa