The Shrinking Goa: State caught between clash of cultures,dependence on tourism

The Nigerian row exposes a brewing resentment against foreigners in Goa.

Written by ZEESHAN SHAIKH | Published: November 24, 2013 6:12:57 am

Amidst the sun and sand of Goa’s indulgent beaches,it is easy to miss a turning tide. However,the murder of a Nigerian here a fortnight ago and what followed have brought to the fore undercurrents of a building resentment in this state against foreign tourists,who have long been its mainstay.

Photo: IE

A poster in one of the busiest thoroughfares of Mapusa city till recently asked residents to be wary of Nigerians. “Say no to Nigerians. Say no to drugs”,it read,till it was removed following the incident involving the Nigerian. Panchayats in villages like Parra and Siolim have passed resolutions stating that homes not be given to foreigners without documentation. Others want businesses catering to foreigners to be shut down.

Concerns of growing drug addiction on the one hand and cases of violence on the other have convinced Goans that their state,known for its “Sussegado” outlook towards life,has been far too welcoming of visitors,particularly their “blatant disregard of the law”. And the two groups towards whom the anger is particularly directed are Nigerians and Russians,even if facts only remotely back this.

The immediate trigger was the October 31 incident in which around 200 Nigerian youths went on a rampage. A day before,around 20 men had attacked Nigerians outside Catty Christ,a restaurant and bar frequented by Nigerians in Parra village. Obinna Paul Obi and Abodo Uzomao Simeon were attacked by a mob again,in which Simeon was killed.

Nigerians went on a protest against the murder. There were reports of them attacking policemen who tried to stop them. Angry residents accused the police of cowing down. Resentment had already been brewing,given the belief that the state’s drug trade is largely run by Nigerians.

When police arrested 54 protesters later and none barring one was found to be carrying original passports,it only strengthened the conviction that the law was misused by foreigners.

“The influx of foreigners has helped the economy but has had a negative effect on our society. The criminal elements that come in the garb of tourists have brought a culture of drugs and alcohol,” says Annette Lobo,a resident of Parra.

Ashley Lobo accuses the Nigerians of destroying Parra. “We have decided we will not give our houses to them. We have also proposed to cancel the licence of Catty Christ restaurant,” he says.

While the national average of foreign-origin convicts in Indian jails was 1.94 per cent in 2012,in Goa the number stood at 7.35 per cent,second only to the border state of West Bengal. Ten years ago,the percentage of foreign convicts in Goa was only 2.01 per cent.

Same is the case with foreign undertrials. The national average is 1.56 per cent,while for Goa it is 10.11 per cent,a steep rise from the 2002 figure of 4.43 per cent.

“The Russian mafia in Goa is not only involved in real estate deals and the drug trade,but also the flourishing flesh trade. Young Russian,Yugoslavian and Romanian girls are being trafficked into Goa,” a report by the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime states.

Russians form the largest chunk of foreign tourists coming to Goa. In the last three years,the state has initiated deportation proceedings against 20 of them. Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) Superintendent of Police Tony Fernandes doesn’t deny the involvement of Russians in crime,“like those of other nationalities”. “However,over the last few years,their number has been low,” he adds.

In fact,in the past two years,only three Russians have been booked by police. The figure for Nigerians is 241 arrests since 2010.

Such is the influx that areas like Morjim have come to be known as mini-Russia. In Morjim and Anjuna,Russian signboards almost equal those in English. “A lot of the Russians work at home for six months and come to Goa in winter. Mandrem has places where there are crèches that cater exclusively to Russian kids,” says Ajay Sethi,a restaurateur from Mandrem.

People accuse several of them,who have been staying here for long,of running businesses illegally. This year,520 Russians registered as staying on a business visa.

“There was recently a case of a Russian running a tourist guide service. This led to protests and he had to shut it down,” says Sethi.

Police claim they have acted against any such illegal activity. “We have been prompt in taking action,” North Goa Superintendent of Police Priyanka Kashyap says.

Another flashpoint the locals talk about is an incident on New Year’s eve. “There was a fight between two club owners at Morjim,which led to a shootout in which the Russians were involved,” says Rockwell Pereira,a shack owner of Morjim.

The incident led to a public fallout,with the residents of Morjim accusing the Russians of being brash and violent. Following this,the gram panchayat passed a resolution seeking that Russian signboards be taken down.

If the police figures don’t reflect the public anger,locals say that’s because the Russians bribe their way out of trouble. “A lot of people get away as they are hand in glove with local politicians or because they pay the cops,” says Narendra Arware,a social activist.

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar acknowledges that corruption is deep rooted. “Goa is a small state and they believe that if the other politician comes to power,they will get into trouble,” he says.

There are some who bear only goodwill for the Russians,pointing to the money they pump into the state. “For a house which will get a rent of Rs 6,000,a Russian will pay double,” says Donny Furtado,a resident of Arambol.

For the Nigerians though,not known to be big spenders,there is no such concession. Police acknowledge the growing trend of Nigerians staying illegally and indulging in crime.

“We believe that there are around 150-200 Nigerians staying in Goa. However,only 19 are registered with me,” FRRO Superintendent of Police Fernandes says.

Since 2010,the Goa Police has arrested 241 Nigerians,he adds. “Most do not have their documents and some of them seem to commit a crime to ensure they can stay in India,as a person cannot be deported until his case is heard.”

However,Nigerians staying in the state claim to be victims of racism. “Indians overlook the misdemeanours of foreigners from European countries. Not all Nigerians are involved in the drug trade,however the perception is that all of us must be thrown out,” says Thomas Odoyo (name changed),a footballer playing for a club in Goa. After the October 31 incident,Odoyo was called to the FRRO office to get his papers verified.

Parrikar denies police are biased. ‘We have repeatedly said that police are not targeting anyone and will only take action against those who are here illegally,” he says.

Goa is currently home to residents of 60 nationalities,staying on extendable visas. Many of these 4,417 individuals have made Goa their home. Some like Greek national Marikretty Grana,the owner of the iconic Thalassa restaurant on Anjuna beach,have created a successful business. Others like Englishmen Roger Cowley,residing in Candolim for the past decade,have made Goa their post-retirement jaunt.

“The weather is fabulous,the people are friendly. What more do you want in life?” Cowley says.

Even as people like Grana and Cowley co-exist peacefully with the local population,it was the sub-culture that came in along with the backpack tourists that stirred the first resentment against foreigners. The first tourists brought in drugs for self-consumption,and then the more enterprising ones started smuggling substances in for sale. The dope pushing on the street was left to the local youths,permeating what many call the “permissive culture” into their homes.

“The hippies first introduced drugs. This business later attracted a lot of undesirable elements,” says Goa DGP Kishan Kumar.

There have been other incidents which are seen a result of the influence of foreign culture. None more so than the rape and murder of 15-year-old British national Scarlett Keeling in 2008.

To the locals,the details of the case only showed a clash of two cultures,with the state ending up being painted as unsafe. Keeling’s mother Fiona MacKeown had come to Goa with her eight children. Police claim all eight were neglected by her.

Goa is also struggling against an influx of migrants from other states. “The living standards in Goa are better. Because of this,the state never had a good labour class. So a lot of people from Uttar Pradesh,Bihar,Karnataka and Nepal entered. They have eased the labour problem,but with limited resources and an expanding population,local residents have now realised that they have to compete with them,” Nitin Kunkolienker,an entrepreneur and chairman of the Manufacturers Association for Information Technology,says.

Chief Minister Parrikar acknowledges a “genuine fear of our cultural identity being hijacked”. “Of the 14 lakh residents of the state,only 10 lakh are original inhabitants. There is a definite need for the local migrants to assimilate themselves so that no problems occur,” he says.

It hasn’t taken the form of ugly parochialism as in neighbouring Maharashtra. But such talk leaves Santa Katrina Dsouza,owner of Catty Christ restaurant,worried.

“We need to realise that we are all children of God. I do not understand why there is so much anger against the Nigerians because I did not see them do any wrong. The anger should be directed against police who have not managed to find the killers of the Nigerian boy. Goans need to be more afraid of the inability of the Goa Police to maintain law and order,than blame foreigners,” says Dsouza.

However,in this season of anger and counter-anger,voices of reason such as Dsouza’s are few.

Not so sunny state

Average stay in Goa: Indians 5 days; foreigners 9 days 

Number of tourists: In 2012,23.37 lakh domestic; 4.5 lakh foreign; Russians make up 25% of foreign tourists

Foreign convicts in Goa in 2012: 7.35% (2.01% in 2002)

Foreign convicts in India: 1.94% (0.88% in 2002)

Foreign undertrials in Goa: 10.11% (4.43% in 2002)

Foreign undertrials in India: 1.56% (0.97% in 2002)

Convicts in drug cases in Goa in 2012: 13.94%

Convicts in drug cases in India in 2012: 5.41%

Undertrials in drug cases in Goa in 2012: 17.85%

In India: 5.63%

Nigerians arrested: 68 in 2010; 31 in 2011; 72 in 2012;

69 in 2013

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