Safe Goa for all citizens’

Recently at Kala Academy, I came across a map which was looking to capture citizens’ experiences of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. There were several red and yellow stickers already placed on different locations indicating areas where people claimed they were commented, stalked or ogled at.  

I was intrigued by this map and started to investigate the issue and ask questions. This particular initiative was by a group called SafeGoa that aims to create a platform where data on sexual harassment in public spaces can be collected by making the process more accessible and anonymous. They have been collecting information through printed open maps placed in key areas of Panjim and Ponda.  

Now would you say is such an initiative even required? Isn’t Goa safe?  

Firstly, quite a few women I have spoken to have said they have faced all kinds of public street harassment in Goa. This ranges from commenting to being pinched and groped to being ogled at. If you don’t believe me, just visit any of our beautiful beaches and observe what goes on around you. This kind of harassment has become so “normal” that it is no wonder that women and girls do not report it.  

One of the partners of the SafeGoa project has several reports logged on their site which indicate that 30% of all abuse is non verbal in nature – ogling, staring, taking pictures without consent, 27% is verbal – commenting, sexual invites and the rest is physical like touching and groping, stalking and sexual assault.  

I believe this initiative is innovative as it not only brings this issue, which is often not spoken about, into the open but it also puts the power back into the individual and community. Imagine if we can report through these new technologies be it online or offline and compare these with the official crime statistics, what would we find? Definitely a huge gap in reporting. But it also makes this information available to us as citizens which we can then use in many ways – by individuals, communities, business owners and even government.  

For years Goa has been one of the top destinations on the world’s tourism list. People all over the world know Goa for its sun, sand, beaches and relaxed lifestyle. Loads of charter tourists have graced our shores for decades. In the more recent past, our own domestic Indian tourists have discovered us – for weekends, longer breaks, during the monsoons, Christmas and New Year and during the music and film festivals. Everybody in Goa must treat safety and security with the utmost importance given that Tourism is our number one industry. If women and girls, tourists or residents, are not safe, it should make us feel ashamed of ourselves. The police can use this information to provide increased vigilance in key areas that are being reported. Apart from the police, every MLA and MP has budgets for women’s safety and public safety. We can pressure our own elected representative to provide for better infrastructure that will lead to increased safety and security.  

What about the role of hotels, restaurants, pubs and bed and breakfasts in our state? Are our tourists safe? Do women feel safe to travel alone to our state or along with other women? We should be encouraging more single women tourists to travel and visit rather than frighten them away. And furthermore are our own women and children safe?  

A few years ago, Goa was known as the destination for paedophiles after British national Raymond Andrew Varley and late German-national Freddy Albert Peats allegedly molested hundreds of orphaned children at a shelter home. Recent police statistics indicate that there are increased number of physical and sexual assault cases of children in Goa, often by parents. Goa state commission for protection of child rights chairperson Sushma Kirtani explained that socio-economic conditions, single-parent, alcoholism, and drug addiction are some of the causes for the physical abuse of children.  

But women and children are not the only ones who feel unsafe. Even men could feel unsafe. Rising crimes pertaining to drug cartels, local mafias, land disputes and general robbery like chain snatching is on the rise. The haphazard traffic with increased number of bikers and out of town motorists who disregard all traffic and road safety norms are also a contributing factor towards general feeling of being unsafe.  

Can we as citizens be more active in making our neighborhoods’ safer? We can demand information on a regular basis from the local police, partner with them to have more community “eyes and ears”, build a rapport with them so that no citizen feels afraid to lodge a complaint and regularly have meetings with them so that we ensure that complaints from citizens are filed in a timely manner with least insensitivity and under the right section of the law.  

Can we as citizens demand better accountability from our municipal authorities? Once again regular meetings with them are required to ensure they provide conditions that facilitate safety and reduce chances for violence. It may not appear to be correlated but – paved footpaths, regular garbage collection, clean public toilets, adequate street lighting, CCTV cameras at bus stops, railway stations and public awareness messaging advocating on the issue and informing on the legislation will go a long way to improve safety.  

Finally, we should demand focused spending from our elected representatives who have budgets for women and children’s safety. After all it is their responsibility to ensure that all citizens, including women, actively participate in society and economy.

 Ultimately this is what would make a Smart City. The time is now and we need to make use of this opportunity to demand a Safe Goa for all citizens – resident or tourist.