Sunday, March 23, 2008

Goa: A lesson in beauty, warmth, music & Indian law.

The tragic death of a British teenager ,Scarlett Keeling, in Goa has suddenly brought forth safety & security issues that confront international tourists visiting India.

Scarlett, a fifteen year old English teen, was found dead on one February morning this year. She was discovered at the Anjuna beach, which is one of the most sought-after beaches by both the international and Indian tourists.

As news of her unnatural death spread , all the television channels were spot-on Goa. Fiona, Scarlett’s mother had lodged a complaint with the administration that she did not believe the post-mortem report which talked about “accidental-death-by-drowning” at the rocky Anjuna beach. And she suspected that the local police were trying to cover up.

Within days, the media laid bare the history of the Keeling family; painting them as a dysfunctional family with history of marital separation, promiscuity in relationships & substance abuse. Fiona , the mother, was characterised as a “subaltern” Brit, a bad mother and a backpacker who came to Goa with her daughter for a cheap vacation with psychedelic vision.

Family side over, the media then focussed on the drug scenario in the late-night trance parties, the corruption of local culture by foreign influence, availability of free-sex as a trade off for accommodation & food etc. The cue-picking and glib-talking anchors were trying to conclude that the Scarlett’s death was inevitable. Whether she died due to accidental causes or incidental was somehow made to appear irrelevant.
“In India, we will not allow our teenage daughter(s) to be left alone with an unknown man in an unknown and unsafe place;” was how a local minister seemed to preach on national television. (It is another matter that, in India, daughters are often left alone with known men , in a known & safe place like home to suffer increasing domestic violence and/or child abuse.)

Scarlett could not but meet this tragic end! What a bummer, eh?- all the channels seemed to scream the same

And all through last month , Goa & India tourism earned a bad name. A paradise was torn apart completely by the print and television media. Traditionally, Goan beaches are attractive for the beautiful breakers of warm water pounding the sunburnt winter sand , miles of beaches to walk on, the local music , multi-cultural food and home made wine & alcohol. Goan music is lively, boisterous, fun-loving and joyous. You can’t but get affected by it. Whatever else that go with these traditions, in the guise of drugs, trance music & sex, are largely confined to a section of tourists with minimal interaction with the uninitiated locals. Media seemed to gloss over this part a wee bit more.

But more importantly, the media quite forgot the case. The covering up of a case by the local administration & police. A case of murder being converted so smoothly to a case of an accidental drowning after an OD of drugs, as the first post-mortem report seemed to suggest. Fiona challenged the post-mortem report ,successfully .
After sixty years of independence; it again had to be a British, and a "subaltern" one at that, to civilise local legal authorities that the fundamental rule of the criminal law is to call a spade a spade - a rape a rape , a murder a murder- and anything else would be a compromise with the law or what is called a "cover-up."

I think the media did not focus on this issue at all. The issue of a individual's right to a fair investigation by the police. If they had done that, they would have probably done some justice to voice the silent distrust of millions of Indians on the indian police and legal system. Because, these silent millions believe that fair law & fair police , in India, are meant for those people who can afford to buy them whether in the police stations or in the court.

Go to Goa. Its as safe as any other Indian metro. Enjoy the blue warm water breaking waves while the law ,hopefully now , takes its rightful course in convicting the perpetrators of a heinous crime on a teenager, who deserved to live as much as any one of us.

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