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On Tuesday this week, Goa woke up to the sexual assault and murder of a 28 year old Irish tourist on an isolated beach. Goa isn’t unsafe – what is unsafe is our culture of toxic masculinity.
There has been shock and public outcry at the heinous crime in Goa and it definitely affects the good image of the state and India in general. In my travels abroad I have had conversations with Westerners who know only one or two places in India – and one of those places is always the beaches of Goa.
The beaches of Goa are a lot of things for a lot of people in India and abroad. It is a ritual, a place where you can let your hair down, beaches, sand, sea and unfortunately – the marketing also includes babes! Babes just like the sand, the sea shells, the shacks; said in the same breath as if they are kept there for male enjoyment; babes who wear their swim suits so that it adds to the ambience!
As a member of this section of society who has been reduced to an object, the gaze that followed me bothered me greatly on this trip. I hardly got into the water this time around, much to the chagrin of my husband who had hoped for a lot more beach hopping. All around me on the beach I found men leering, with video cameras tuned to the sea to capture women in their swim wear. The argument which they have completely internalised is that good women don’t go out, don’t enjoy themselves and are always covered even if they are in the water and hence they are ‘allowed’ to do what they please with the ‘bad’ ones.
Since women from out of the country have not grown up in this oppressive culture, their natural point of view is of freedom which these men take for granted as they partake in their yearly ‘boys’ trip to Goa away from their families and (preferably fully covered) wives.
My last trip to Goa was on a New Year when Goa is packed with tourists both from within the country and from abroad. Goa this time around seemed different to me with tourism and its effects creeping up on menus, sign boards and everywhere possible. On New Year’s night we decided to go to Calangute beach which was a stone’s throw away from where we were staying. The shacks were brimming with families, men, women – old and young; however, closer to the water the scene was slightly different. The beach had many groups of men drinking, all the way from Calangute to Baga. It was New Year’s and I am not opposed to the drinking or merriment, but why does the merriment have to be at the expense of someone else?
In front of us three young Caucasian girls were walking, possibly on their way to Bagha beach and as they crossed, every group of men either catcalled at them, called them sweetheart, darling, or tried touching them as they strode past. Possibly because we were walking right behind them, it was some protection for them but not enough. The men however seemed pleased with themselves by calling three random girls minding their business darling or something more ludicrous. The glee the men had on their faces was what disgusted me the most.
As a responsible traveler I am not of the opinion that India is unsafe in its entirety or even that Goa is unsafe, because it is not. Many women and men travel across India and the tales of good times outweigh the bad and horrific incidents such as this recent murder. I pray for this young woman and her family and hope that we are able to shed these twisted and hypocritical rules and stereotypes that we have for women. These notions are causing damage to women every single day.
Editor’s note: While the police as well as some publications have revealed the victim’s name, we have chosen not to, since section 228A of the Indian Penal Code does not allow the name of a victim of sexual assault to be revealed. In cases where the victim is dead, the name can be revealed with the consent of the closest family members.
Top image via Pixabay, used for representational purposes only