In Goa, life's no longer a beach
24 March, 2008
By Pamela D'Mello
A Google search on the Scarlett Keeling murder shows up over 1,200
articles. With its ingredients of rape, sex, narcotics and a
homicidal drowning, the incident put Goa in the spotlight as never
before. Aside from the tourism region's trouble spots, it put the
region's policing under a scanner.
Blanket negative coverage in the British and national media portrayed
Goa as a drug haven where narcotics are easily available and crime overlooked.
Protests from director-general of police B.S. Brar that crime rates
in Goa are lowest in the country made no difference.
It took some time for the local administration to react. When it did,
it cancelled the licence of Lui cafe, the site of the Keeling
misadventure. All of the state's 280 beach shacks have been asked to
close by 11 pm. Patrolling in coastal areas has especially been
stepped up, says Goa IGP Kishen Kumar. The police began checking and
questioning those found on the streets after 2 am.
The state tourism department demolished some 50 illegal shacks, and
adhering to a high court order, scores of beach beds clogging the
narrow Baga beach stretch were cleared overnight.
Police prowl around Anjuna the heart of the hippy and backpacker
haunt and patrols have been increased on tourist frequented beaches.
The police rounded up a 100 persons, and another 20 were picked up in
south Goa, where a German tourist reported being molested on a lonely
beach stretch a week ago.
Curbs on night life may be a temporary measure and it comes at the
fag end of the tourist season, but the administration, nevertheless,
is keen to rein in the beach shack culture that has grown from simple
thatched beach eateries to an entire subculture. Over the next week,
the administration will hold a series of consultations with various
tourism stakeholders to evolve a community awareness strategy on
Officially, the state has been hankering for some time to for an
image makeover, keen to reinvent itself as a premium exclusive
destination, but ground protests have stalled setting up of golf
courses, a prerequisite for this segment.
Goa has a multi-sectoral tourist package. At the top end are premium
beach resorts fronting long stretches of near private beach, virtual
tourist SEZs. A mid sector of one to four-star accomodation caters to
charter tourists, while budget hotels cover the budget end domestic
market. Alternative counter culture backpacker travellers hone in on
select beaches, Patnem and Palolem in south Goa, and Morjim, Asvem,
Mandrem and Arambol in north Goa with Anjuna, the former hippy
hangout, at its epicentre.
"Problems here may be localised, but it takes one rotten egg to spoil
an entire basket," says Goa chief secretary J.P. Singh. In tourism,
perception is everything and the state took a major hit with the mass
of negative publicity generated.
Anjuna has always got bad press for its trance parties and drugs.
Past attempts to stop its Wednesday flea market or clamp down on its
raves led to local protests from a section of villagers who have
developed their own symbiotic relationship with their guests. "We
don't want to use a sledgehammer where only a hammer is required, but
criminality, whether in drugs or land purchases, will have to be
addressed," said Mr Singh. Dealing with Anjuna will require community
support, the administration concedes.
A special tourist police force is being considered for Goa, in
consultation with the Union tourism ministry, chief minister Digambar
Kamat announced. The force will require specialised training to
patrol beaches round the clock and deal with other tourism-related issues.
A DIPPY HIPPY'S SHAME
Fiona MacKeown, the mother of Scarlett Keeling murdered in Goa, has
gone into hiding, saying she fears for her life.
Fiona seems determined to portray herself as the victim in this tragedy.
But there is only one victim. In the hours before she was raped and
murdered, Scarlett was stoned, drunk and very much alone.
With her batty hippy mother and assorted siblings 100 miles away, the
15-year-old was left at the mercy of the kind of men who haunt the
bars of Goa in the early hours of the morning.
What a pushover she must have appeared to them.
This helpless child without anyone to protect her - not even the
25-year-old tour guide who, God help her, she had shacked up with as
a means of being fed.
Scarlett's mother is guilty of grotesque negligence.
The men who killed her deserve to be brought to justice, but so does
the mother who put her child in that situation.
It doesn't matter that Scarlett knew about drugs, that she was
sexually active or that she looked like a woman.
She was a child and deserved the protection that every child should
have. She did not get it.
Fiona MacKeown has never expressed any regret about dumping her
15-year-old daughter in the squalid underbelly of Goa.
"I certainly do not feel I was negligent," she says. And that is why
she deserves to be in the dock with the men who raped and murdered that child.
Fiona MacKeown is in hiding. So she should be. Hiding her face in shame.