WOMEN UNSAFE IN GOA

ACQUITTED: Both accused in the murder of 15-year-old British teenager Scarlet Keeling were acquitted due to failure of the police and the Central Bureau of Investigation, and the destruction  of evidence

HISTORICALLY, it is perceived that Goa is the safest place for women, much more than Delhi where Nirbhaya was gang raped in front of her boyfriend; much more than Noida’ where Aarushi died mysteriously in her own house in a suspected case of honour killing. It’s even safer than Mumbai where TV actress Pratyusha Banerjee of Balika Vadhu fame was found dead, with her boyfriend the main suspect, and a young IT engineer was kidnapped from Victoria Terminus station and brutally murdered.

It was the pride of Goa that girls like those in the film ‘Pink’ were safe – single working women who shared an apartment, who like to party on their own, who like to have a drink or two in a hotel, who were willing to accept the invitation of respectable young men for a few drinks and dinner, who believe they were the masters of their destiny and of their bodies.

The fact that they come from North East India, or are willing to talk and laugh with men or have a drink and dinner with them does not give a man the right to molest them. As Amitabh Bachchan, who played the lawyer’s role in the film, pointed out in court “No is No.”

A woman has a right to say ‘no’ even if she has shared a drink and partied with a man. Pink makes it clear that whether a woman is a wife or a sex worker, she has complete right over her body and has the right to say ‘no’. And the man has to respect this.

In the wake of the judgement in the Scarlett Keeling case where all the accused were acquitted, the faith in Goa being safe for women was undermined. Keeling was a 15-year-old girl from the UK whose semi-naked body was found on Anjuna Beach nearly a decade ago. There have been other cases of women, particularly foreigners, being attacked on lonely stretches of road leading to and from beaches in South Goa. Many have not been pursued by the police because the women could not stay back for the investigation which often takes years even if fast tracked.

The lack of public transport in Goa makes it even more unsafe for women who want to party at night. The only consolation is that though taxis in Goa may loot you there has not been a single case of a sexual assault by a Goan taxi driver, unlike several such cases involving even international taxi companies like Uber in the national capital region.

Women are also unsafe at trance parties like Sunburn, where a young woman from Bangalore died allegedly after a drug overdose. In fact, they are warned by parents and staff of respectable hotels to never leave their drinks unattended when they go to famous night clubs like Titos. There is a risk of their drink, even non-alcoholic, being spiked with ketamine, a liquid anaesthetic which disorients and paralyses the victim.

Apparently women are not safe even in the privacy of their homes in Goa, as evidenced by the recent shocking murder of perfume specialist Monica Ghurde. Originally from Nagpur, she had settled in Goa with her photographer husband. She was separated from him and was staying alone in a premium gated colony in Sangolda.

On Thursday morning she did not respond to the door bell or phone calls from her maid and brother who lives in Mumbai. When a neighbour, an American citizen entered the house with the maid, she was found dead naked in her bedroom. Her hands were tied to the bed and there were injury marks on her face and neck. There were signs of a scuffle on the bed. Police believe she was suffocated with the pillow.

Coincidently, the very next day, a 65-year-old lady in Kakoda was found murdered in her home. Police suspect that she was strangulated. The motive was apparently robbery as the television set, cash and jewellery was missing. The woman named Shobha Arvind Karmali was alone in her bungalow along the main Curchorem road.

The last she was heard of was when she called her husband at around 9am and asked him to send some fish. This is really alarming because Goa is full of old ancestral houses where spinsters and widows stay alone to look after their family house. In most cases, their sons and daughters and other relatives have migrated. They are as unsafe as Shobha Karmali who was brutally murdered. This is not an isolated incident and there have been many cases of senior citizens being murdered in their bungalows and even their flats in gated colonies.

The issue is not only of young foreign teenagers like Scarlett or young professionals like Monica in their high-society flats costing over `1 crore per unit. Even though the builders made a lot of money selling flats to high-profile people like her, they did not install CCTV security cameras to monitor visitors. In Monica’s case, it appears as if she knew the killer and let him into the flat. The question is the consistent failure of Goa Police to find the culprits.

In the Scarlett Keeling case, there was evidence that two locals had shared drugs and were friendly with the British teenager. There was evidence that drugs were consumed and sold in the notorious Curlies shack in Anjuna. The first post-mortem report claimed that Scarlett had died of drowning though she was found in the shallow part of the beach and not in the water.

The second showed that there were many injuries on her body though it is still not clear whether she was raped before she died. Her mother Fiona MacKown –who has been monitoring the case and was present in the court at the verdict – has alleged that former home minister Ravi Naik and his son Roy had destroyed the evidence. The judge had passed severe strictures against the police for this.

Murders and sexual assaults will take place in any part of country. We do not know whether it is a coincidence that the number of cases of sexual assault and murder has gone up following the increase in the population of migrants. It is possible also that many Goan youth who have become drug addicts are involved in sex crimes and murders.

But the bottom line is that the people of Goa have lost faith in the police, who have been shown on video selling seized drugs back to the peddlers. They have lost faith in the police who threaten to plant drugs on foreigners on hired bikes who refuse to give them bribes in dollars and pounds. They have lost faith in police who delay the arrest of in-laws in dowry death cases of victims like Vanita Gaukar.

It cannot be an excuse that the police are busy with the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit starting October 15 and have no time to protect citizens. It is absurd that the entire police force has been diverted to provide security for heads of government at the meet.

The police claim that they do not have enough staff even to provide security at FC Goa’s first home game in the Indian Super League. If the centre wants to organise high-profile events like BRICS in Goa it should take responsibility for the security as well.

Goans and tourists should not become victims because the entire police force has been diverted to the BRICS summit. In fact the renewal of my passport was delayed because there was no officer to sign the police verification as they all were busy with BRICS.

If the police cannot protect locals and tourists, can they be relied on to protect the top leaders of China and Russia not to mention our own prime minister Narendra Modi?

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