The gangrape of two underaged girls on Goa's Benaulim beach is the recipe for certain and justified outrage. Citizens and Opposition cornered the state government this week, seeking answers.
Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant left them angrier. During an Assembly debate, the chief minister, who also has the police reporting directly to him as he also holds the home portfolio, reportedly said: "When 14-year-olds stay on the beach the whole night, the parents need to introspect. Just because children don't listen, we cannot put the responsibility on the government and police."
He said parents have a duty to ensure their minor children's safety and should not let them stay out late at night.
There is a grain of truth in what Sawant said. Parents ought to be responsible for where minors go, what they do. But does that mean his government can absolve itself of its duty to keep the state safe?
Sawant has managed to shoo away two precious birds with one stone.
He sent out a message to the world that Goa is not safe, and that it is up to the visitors to ensure their own safety.
He also signalled that his government may not understand and be sensitive about how urban teenagers think or behave.
Goa is one of the most happening destinations in not just India, but the world. The tourism industry directly contributes 16.43 percent revenue (nearly $2 billion) towards the state's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to a 2017 KPMG study. About 35 percent of the state's population is directly employed by this sector.
Tourism is just limping back to normal after it suffered a Rs 2,000 crore to Rs. 7,200 crore loss and job losses of 35 percent - 58 percent because of COVID-19. It needs tourists from India and abroad now more than any time in the past.
If the chief minister's remark has triggered such outrage at home, imagine its repercussions abroad. Concerns about safety are a lot more acute in the West. To put things in context, foreigners spend three or four times more than Indian tourists per capita.
With so much at stake, it is a lot wiser for Goa to invest in much enhanced tech and human policing than lecture teenagers' parents.
But that is just one part of the chief minister's self-goal.
Tourism destinations worldwide ought to take into consideration Gen Z behaviour. They demand freedom and often take their freedom for granted. They are unbelievably connected globally through the internet, so they expect Indian destinations to be as safe as those in Spain, Chile, Japan or Scandinavian nations. It may sound impractical, but nobody ever credited teenagers with great pragmatism.
And finally, with revolutionary progress in communication and an emerging culture of freedom and travel, it is not always possible for parents to track and control every moment of their teenager's life. Administrations will have to make places safer.
Goa saw a 17 percent surge in crime rate in 2020 compared with 2019. But to its credit, the crime detection rate went up to 92.5 percent from 89 percent. Reporting of crime was made easier, which could be a reason for the higher crime rate.
But that is not enough. Governments will have to radically change their approach to public safety. They need to deploy way more manpower and technology, ensure criminals are convicted and given exemplary punishment.
Goa needs to attack and clean up its dark underbelly before another Scarlett Keeling murder or Benaulim gang rape hits its stunning shores.
PS: Two days after scoring two self-goals, Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant said on Friday that his remarks were taken out of context. "My statement about unfortunate incident was taken out of context. Both as head of a responsible Govt & as a father of a 14-yr-old daughter, I was deeply pained & disturbed. Pain of this incident is inexplicable. At no point, I've tried to deny the right to security provided by our law. Goa Police has been truly professional force especially when it comes to security of women & children. They have already acted swiftly and arrested the accused. Let me assure you that I shall ensure that the culprits get the most stringent punishment under the law. The safety of our citizens is always my Govt's top priority," Sawant said.