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Opinion: Goa is no rape capital

The media has been too quick to vilify all of Goa for a few, isolated instances of sexual misconduct.

Tourists relax at a cafe on Baga beach in the western Indian state of Goa, March 16, 2008. (Punit Paranjpe/Reuters)

GOA, India — India's smallest state has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The recent rape of a 9-year-old Russian girl in Goa's Morjim village has resonated far beyond the beaches of this former Portuguese colony.

Foreign journalists have picked up a quote here and there, and used the stray incident of rape to create an element of sensation for their story. It is not entirely their fault. They have to do their job. Controversy sells, and Goa tourism officials have certainly provided enough fodder for the news corps.

Micky Pacheco, the provincial minister of tourism, went so far as to call Goa the "rape capital" of India.

More damage was done by the deputy director of tourism, Pamela Mascarenhas, who told New Delhi's Mail Today newspaper: "You can't blame the locals [for acts of sexual violence toward foreign tourists]; they have never seen such women. Foreign tourists must maintain a certain degree of modesty in their clothing. Walking on the beaches half-naked is bound to titillate the senses."

To call Goa a rape capital, as Pacheco did after one particularly horrible act, is going too far. Moreover, to say that rape occurs because of what someone is wearing is woefully misguided.

I am a native Goan, and for me the place still retains its old charm, despite the vices of tourism. The real Goa thrives in the villages, where the rich cultural heritage is on display. Folk songs, dances (fugdi), music, dramas (tiatrs), visual arts and stories are the key to the true Goan experience.

In many ways, Goa is a progressive state. Daughters are treated better than they are elsewhere in India, and women play prominent social and economic roles.

The "free love" beaches, which gained notoriety among hippies in the 1960s and 1970s as places where drugs are rampant and anything goes, are, truth be told, limited to only a few, isolated areas. Referring to all of Goa as a "free love" zone where questionable acts go unaccounted for is an insult to the entire Goan society.