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article imageOp-Ed: Palolem Beach in India: Russians vying for the Crown

By Armstrong Vaz     Dec 21, 2008 in World
A veritable cauldron of sex, booze, narcotics, gambling, corruption, crime, and sexually transmitted diseases. Welcome to Asia's new hotspot – destination Goa. That is the image it seems to have acquired over the years.
A crescent shaped bay lined with swaying coconut palms hemmed by a pair of rocky crags, Palolem beach is picture perfect. However the perfection ends right there and the place seems heading for all types of trouble. The once-romantic Palolem beach, which is easily the uncrowned queen of Goa’s celebrated beaches, has seen an incredible transformation over the years since its discovery by backpackers in the mid eighties.
Palolem then was a warm haven away from the cares and cold shoulder of an indifferent world and offered the perfect sanctuary of delicious anonymity to long-haired drug zombies. Today globalisation, liberalization and all the rest of the new mantras of a callous civilisation has not only altered the coastal landscape almost beyond recognition but has nibbled at the family life here.
All the rhetoric about how tourism has blessed Palolem is fine as long as you are only counting the rupees that flow in. The depressing part is largely swept under the carpet along with all the filth that litters this once serene coastal stretch.
Tourism has indeed drastically changed the standard of living of the people here for better but there are a few avoidable things about this beach that need the urgent attention of people in authority if they care for a place and its people headed fast from boom to doom.
One is nudism. Albert Fernandes, says, “It is difficult to take parents and children to the beach without squirming in embarrassment at the naked flesh lying on the beach.”
The Goa police could start by politely telling the foreigners that this is not a nudist colony and that it is against the law. But politeness and Goa Police are total strangers. And the only people, other than domestic tourists, who seem to be taking the titillating scenes happily are the cops. Hence any attempt to check nudism on beaches is likely to upset the cops more than the tourists.
Two: Drugs freely flow. An elderly man, responding on how it feels now that Palolem is a star village on the tourist map of the world, prefers to tread cautiously. “If it will not mean serious trouble or even endless trips to the court, I would like to say a few things.” And he starts shooting even without bothering to wait for my denial or confirmation of his apprehensions, “there are now hundreds of shacks, shops, bars and restaurants, hotels and small accommodations and drugs are often part of their menu, surreptitiously of course, but it is an open secret.
“No names please, I want to close the innings of my eventful life peacefully,” he adds quickly.
Most importantly, shattered family life. Perhaps Palolem best exemplifies the paradox of our time in history beautifully put across by George Carlin, gross and mouthy comedian of the 70's and 80's, when he said, “We can spend more, but have less. We buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses but little of family life, more conveniences, but less time…..”
Most of the parents there have money but family life has taken a beating. Says a mother of three children: “If progress relates to the acquisition of wealth we have improved, but if it has something to do with character and values we are regressing.”
In Palolem the government machinery is also non-functional as can be seen from the illegal constructions cropping up here like mushrooms in monsoon. The general attitude is anything goes as long as it pays. Without exaggeration the first words foreigners learn here are chalta hai (live goes on).
"It's a good place with a lot of lovely prostitutes," is how Vinod a domestic tourist responds describing his impression of Goa.
Distressing description indeed. Perhaps it would make some Goans want to knock Vinod's nose flat for his distasteful portrayal of Goa. However, Mr T Menezes an expatriate in Dubai dismisses such observations without much ado: "This could only be the opinion of one of those who visit Goa for cheap thrills and get glimpses of heaven in the bed of a prostitute."
But Mr Barreto, a non-resident Goan in Abu Dhabi feels that: "The emerging Goa does present a depressing picture to a discerning mind. It's largely true that drugs and sex are problems spoiling the picture perfect image of Goa."
In 1975 the then deputy managing director of Air India, N H Dastur, had said that the hippies, who introduced nudism, drugs, rock music and their sordid Philosophy of free-love and sloth to this unexplored heaven, had helped a lot in putting this tiny territory on the tourist map of the world.
Mr Dastur was not wrong. Goa, which is dotted with some 15 luxury resorts spread across its 103 kms coastline besides hundreds of others of assorted sizes, is indeed on the tourist map of the world. Ironically not for its golden charms, its famous beaches, perennial springs or ancient architecture, but as a haven for sun, sand, sex, wine, women and drugs and even paedophiles.
There is organized prostitution that even involves little children, college girls and high society ladies, informal prostitution, casual sex, wife-swapping and neighbourhood aunties out for a good time. "From Baga to the north to Palolem down south, it is sex and more sex all the way. The after effects could be terrifying," says a social activist preferring anonymity. "There are prostitution rings and organized drug syndicates to cater to all types of tourists," he adds.
Foreign sex tourists, who for years have preyed on youngsters in south-east Asia, are believed to be switching to Goa because of its lax laws and child prostitutes and a reportedly lower incidence of AIDS. The problem was first highlighted in 1990 when the now deceased Anglo-Indian Freddy Peats who ran an orphanage in Goa was arrested for allegedly supplying children to British, French, German, Swiss and Scandinavian tourists.
Local authorities have long sought to dismiss this as one isolated case, and that other allegations were simply the work of a fertile imagination even after website-turned-national paper Tehelka told the story as it is in graphic detail.
National Human Rights Commission has also gone on record to warn that child sex tourism in India has assumed "serious dimensions" because of lack of open protest by citizens and slender chances that the abusers will be caught or punished.
British tabloid News of The World had also done a story on paedophiles in Goa years ago with a single journalist posing as a paedophile himself. Following News of The World reporter Roger Insall's expose, the police conducted 'surprise raids' over some suspects which hardly seemed to have any element of surprise.
In the sixties the hippies discovered Goa to indulge in and sell drugs. Today a growing number of them are 'available' to complete the picture of a flourishing flesh trade. "There are scores of foreigners selling their bodies and giving AIDS to a frustrated and careless youth," says Cabral a resident of Palolem in South Goa.
Another growing trend is college girls from affluent families joining prostitution rackets. A girl can earn anything between Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000 for one or two hours of service, according to a tourist taxi driver. Sources say that more and more students are being lured into prostitution and they usually work part-time and are only accessible through mobile phones.
It does not come as a shock to see young hot-blooded teenagers quaking with passion making no secret of premarital-sex. 'Going out' is the in thing. Where? At least most parents don't care anymore. "Young men are looking for adventure and for a man of 20, the woman in her 40s is notching it up," says Rao a pharmacist. "It's dangerous chemistry at work," he adds.
In the maze of sex and sexually transmitted diseases that Goa is, nobody is really safe. You don't have to go to a red light area to get a deadly dose of the dreaded human immuno deficiency virus it could be lurking right next door.
Veeijay, a marketing executive with a multi-national company, was a happy man with a beautiful wife when suddenly he discovered he was dying of AIDS. He died. Veeina's world caved in. She knows it is only a matter of time before she joins him and their child perhaps will not go beyond his first birthday.
This imperceptible drama of passion and death is increasingly being played in middle class homes across this tiny state with a population of less than 1.5 million people. Experts are seeing clear indications that the killer that prowled red-light areas and seedy road-side dhabas is now stalking bourgeois neighbourhoods and beginning to attack conservative households in Goa.
The official figures for HIV patients from 1987 up to September 2007 add up to over 12000. But statistics could be misleading. Few private clinics or public hospitals keep a record of HIV+ cases making comprehensive data collection virtually impossible. Worse still the social stigma associated with the disease has ensured that it remains a silent killer snuffing out its victims behind closed doors. The result: no one quite knows the extent to which AIDS has sneaked into our backyard. "The reported figures are not reflective of the actual position in the absence of proper epidemiological data due to non-reporting/under-reporting by the patients and hospitals," says an official at Goa AIDS Control Society (GSACS). "The youth especially are under peril because they cannot accept they are vulnerable to HIV/ AIDS and if there is any problem, they, especially young girls avoid going to a doctor," he adds.
Weeding out the irritants from picture-perfect Palolem could indeed help promote it as the ultimate 365 days tourist destination. But far from improving, things can stop going from bad to worse only when somebody or something wakes our cops from their infamous slumber and incompetence and we start sending unprincipled and shameless politicians to the oblivion of the desserts of Siberia.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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