Foreign women are shown participating in the annual carnival parade just before Lent in the Indian state of Goa in February 2017. (Photo by Bosco de Souza Eremita/ucanews.com)
The influx of domestic tourists to India's party state Goa has more than doubled in five years and is taking its toll on the culture of this former Portuguese colony, activists say.
With more visitors seeking sex, drugs and booze in this western state, it is inviting a backlash from locals who have grown tired of seeing their homes trashed and their women molested.
"Just as Pattaya is known for its sex tourism and Macau for its casinos, India has chosen Goa as its sexual playground," said Agnel Lobo, a Goan living on the tourist-heavy beach of Calangute.
He is among those who oppose the unbridled growth of tourism in the state of 1.8 million people.
State statistics show that in 2016 some 5.6 million domestic tourists visited Goa, more than double the 2.6 million who arrived in 2013.
Besides domestic tourists, some 680,000 foreigners visited recently, showing 100 percent growth since 2000 when 291,000 arrived, the data showed.
The palm-fringed beaches of this coastal state have for decades served as a magnet for backpackers and hippies, who first discovered the pristine paradise in the mid-1960s amid the Vietnam War.
But now locals appear to have had enough of seeing their land used as a "commodity" to generate income, particularly from uncultured Indians and more than a few undesirable foreigners.
Local tourists traveling on smaller budgets often arrive in buses equipped with kitchenware, cooking gas and stoves. Many of these campers cook meals, urinate and defecate in public and sleep parked by the side of the road, critics complain.
Goa emerged as a tourist spot soon after India liberated it in 1961 through military action, 451 years after Portugal claimed it.
The state saw its presence on the global radar begin to grow in the 1970s when foreigners were drawn by its lush scenery, cheap prices, warm hospitality and unique blend of Portuguese and Indian culture, cuisine, and architecture.
But recently Goa has been making headlines for the wrong reasons as cases of sexual attacks have come to the fore.
Playground of deviants
On May 20, three men from the central Indian city of Indore reportedly gang-raped a 20-year-old local woman on a beach in South Goa after her male friend had been subdued.
The rape was recorded on video and media reports said the trio were trying to extort money from the pair using the clip as a threat.
That same day, a 22-year-old tourist from Maharashtra allegedly groped a 17-year-old German girl who was on holiday in Goa, the Times of India reported.
Nine tourists from Pune were arrested a few hours later for assaulting a minor and her brother, the newspaper added.
"Sadly, these are not isolated instances," said Lobo. Many Indians began viewing Goa as a state "where anything goes" after the Portuguese were evicted over half a century ago, he said.
"There are so many examples of Indian tourists asking our women how much money they have to pay them to spend time together. It's so frustrating and humiliating," he said.
"We dread sending our women to the market" to buy groceries fearing harassment from local tourists, Lobo added.
With a rape happening every five days in Goa, mostly on its beaches, sexual crimes in the area are at a record high, local reports show.
Lorna Fernandes of the Goa Women's Forum (GWF) said locals are seen as easy prey, mostly by Indian tourists, because of the perception that Goan women are sexually open-minded.
She and Lobo said policymakers are well aware that many tourists head to Goa primarily seeking sex, drugs, alcohol and to gamble at casinos there.
Ten of India's 13 casinos are located in Goa, which along with Sikkim and Daman legally allows gambling. In most of the country it is heavily restricted.
People usually head to Goa to enjoy what they don't have access to back home but policing has not been effective in checking violations or the sexual harassment of women, Lobo said.
"Police have looked the other way for the last 30 years" said Fernandes, adding that groups like hers have been protesting the blatant flesh trade and foreigners' lack of social etiquette since 1987 when a Tourism Master Plan was released.
Hookers, swingers and gigolos
Goan police in 2017 booked 162 cases of illegal drug trading and arrested 172 peddlers after the state's chief minister Monohar Parrikar ordered a crackdown on drug users. Police claimed a 400 percent increase in prosecutions since 2016.
Of those arrested, 60 were Goans, 79 were from other parts of India and 26 were foreign nationals. For the last five years, 80 percent of the foreigners convicted there have been Nigerians.
Meanwhile, in June local media reported that intelligence agencies were cracking down on an international drug syndicate, which in Goa manufactured nearly US$4 million worth of the popular narcotic ketamine.
The narcotic is also known as a "date rape drug" as it can be administered to incapacitate and render people vulnerable to sexual assault.
Most of the people who work in the flesh trade in Goa are young immigrant girls from other parts of India, Russia and countries in Eastern Europe, according to local police.
Critics say the state is increasingly viewed as a sex tourist destination much like Pattaya in Thailand, with local women who have no relation to this trade but are still abused or molested serving as "collateral damage."
The sight of scantily clad women accompanying their "clients" to markets, villages and tourist destinations is offending local sensibilities in what is still a deeply religious and conservative state, said Lobo.
Western women can also find male gigolos to rent in Goa, he added.
One employee at a hotel there who asked not to be named said "some call girls fly in from big cities and meet their high-end clients at hotels. Other local tourists masquerade as husband and wife but really just come here to attend swinger [partner-swapping] parties."
Every aspect of Goan culture is being sold for tourism, Fernandes said. One example, she says, was an attempt by a website to use the name of the Catholic Basilica of Bom Jesus to sell "escorts" to tourists.
"Call girls in Basilica of Bom Jesus" is the site's tag line.
Fernandes said such moves offend the sensibilities of Catholics in Goa because icons such as the Basilica, which houses the mortal remains of Jesuit missionary Saint Francis Xavier, are important to the community.
Christians, mostly Catholics, make up a quarter of Goa's population.
Catholic leaders and churchgoers have been fighting for three decades against the ill effects of lopsided tourism on local people.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that mass tourism and the sex trade are natural bedfellows. This is emphatically so in the so-called 'third-world' nations," said Sergio Carvalho, a Goan native who has pioneered campaigns against unchecked tourism for over 30 years.