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Goan Catholics Worried As Tourism Draws Bad Publicity

India

March 19 2008

A Church official in Goa says the western Indian state has lost a generation to tourism.

"We ought to admit that Goa has lost a full generation," Father Maverick Fernandes, secretary of the Diocesan Council for Social Justice and Peace, told UCA News mid-March.

The priest´s comment came against the backdrop of a 15-year-old British girl´s death in Goa. The police say Scarlett Keeling died on Feb. 18 after a drug overdose and repeated rapes. Her body was found on the Anjuna beach, north of the state capital of Panaji, 1,910 kilometers southwest of New Delhi.

Keeling´s death prompted Indian newspapers to demand a cleanup of Goa, one of India´s top tourist destinations. "With its rich cultural and religious traditions, Goa offers a heady mix of the old and the new," The Times of India noted in its March 15 issue. The daily newspaper regretted, however, that Goa has become "an attractive hangout for socially dysfunctional people," and it urged Goans to "come together and clean up their home."

The Pioneer, another newspaper, lamented the "West´s urban trash" has spoiled Goa. Its March 14 editorial titled "Paradise Lost" said the international publicity over Keeling´s death has "dented" Goa´s image. It called for a cleanup, especially of law-enforcement agencies. "Meanwhile, we need to ask ourselves whether we need this kind of tourism," it concluded.

Father Fernandes says tourism today in Goa is linked to evil, so the Lenten season is "an appropriate time for introspection." He regretted the state has no tourism policy, and instead "everybody is welcomed."

Tagged a "hippie paradise" in the late 1960s, Goa has become a haven for backpackers. In 2007 Goa received 2.5 million visitors, including 380,000 overseas tourists, according to state government records.

According to Father Fernandes, gangs of different nationalities have taken over various stretches of beach, sell drugs and buy land. The Church official also lamented that tourism has spoiled the local young people, who now earn "fast money" by doing errands and jobs -- even selling drugs -- on beaches. "They do not respect parents and even lead their own life," he added. The priest also noted an increase in school dropouts.

Tourism has affected traditional values in general, he claimed, observing that some decades ago only Catholic men frequented bars, but now even Hindu women do this. Father Fernandes warned that Goan society would decay further unless "we reverse this trend" by controlling tourism.

Some welcome the adverse international publicity the latest incident might generate. "Let the tourists go away," commented Maria Ninette Peres. "We require a respite, so that a new form of tourism emerges. The existing trend has deteriorated our culture, values and morals," she told UCA News.

The Catholic woman pointed out that great economic disparity among local people is the other side of the economic prosperity tourism has brought for coastal residents.

"What is going on today is virtual abuse of money power by those who had never seen money," she charged, citing the example of a fisherman who she said used his shack to sell drugs and then built a hotel for 20 million rupees (US$500,000).

Agnelo Lobo, another Catholic, told UCA News he moved his family from the nearby village of Calangute after "blaring music" from Anjuna beach disturbed the family´s peace.

Jenny D´Souza, whose husband runs a hotel in Calangute, agrees the beach is "the worst place" to raise kids. "I hardly allow them to move out of the compound," she said. As she sees it, tourism must continue but with a better "breed of tourists."

Meanwhile, the Keeling case has prompted the state government to raze some illegal beach shacks and introduce legislation to bar foreigners from buying land in Goa. Plans are being considered to close liquor outlets including restaurants and beach shacks by midnight.

Father Fernandes said the Church is already working on an alternative tourism plan. A newly initiated Centre for Responsible Tourism is preparing an in-depth report on tourism today along with suggestions on how to improve it. The report is scheduled for release in September, and the government could use it as a policy document to frame its tourism policy, the priest added.

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