Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Psychedelic Travel

This morning I was leafing through the April 7 edition of India Today (imagine how bored I was!) and I saw they had a big piece on Goa. This long and badly-written article addressed the issue of drugs and violence in Goa, the interest in which was sparked off by the notorious Scarlett Keeling case. The article, surprisingly, actually voices, with evidence, the possibility that it might just be more than just the corrupt and ineffectual legal system of a brown country that is at fault.

The most often seen explanation for a terrible thing like this is that us brown countries don't know the first thing about law and order, we can't keep our cities safe, we don't enforce the law and most police officers are easily and cheaply bribed, local mafias control everything, there are no reliable sources of tourist information, everyone is looking to make a quick buck off of the innocent, pure and gullible white tourist, who has only come there to appreciate the wondrous exoticism of said country and doesn't even speak the language, etc.

First off, yes, law and order and safety have a LONG way to go. I have wished on several occasions that it were possible for me to feel safe at night, or on my own, or in whatever clothes I want to wear. But, when I am in New York, where, ostensibly, I AM safe to do these things, I don't go cavorting about with diminished judgement. If I'm drunk, I stick to my friends as far as possible and I make sure people know what I'm doing. If I'm out of my own house, I do NOT get so drunk that I cannot assess my surroundings for threat. Most importantly, when I was fifteen, I was barely allowed to drink COFFEE! The fact that a parent, however hippie, hep and matey, takes a child to a place where it can access hard drugs and then leaves it there to access them while she toodles on further on her holiday makes me so angry I want to have the power to expel her from the gene pool.

When I was in Goa last week, I saw about twenty little English children, under the age of sixteen, in various groups, holidaying there unsupervised. They spent the day drinking beer and smoking pot, and when I saw them at night they were so incredibly drugged I could have chopped a hand off and they wouldn't have noticed. Now I'm guessing drugs are cheaper in India than they are in England, but that doesn't mean they are free. Where do these children get the money to make these trips? Who signs off their visa applications? Who pays for the plane tickets? Daily expenses in Goa can easily be accommodated under 10 quid a day, so I imagine pocket money or a paper route could cover that. But who are these parents who let their children run off like this?

Secondly, when I go to a foreign country, or even a different state where I don't speak the local language, I don't hop into a random cab. In Mexico City I made the hostel owner who called the cab from a well-known and trusted cab company write down the cab's number and the driver's name before I got in. Because cabs in Mexico City are DANGEROUS. I do the same when I take a prepaid taxi from Delhi airport when it's dark. I don't take lifts from random people, I'm very cautious about making friends with strangers, and, most importantly, I don't partake of cerebral activity diminishing substances with them!

Thirdly, and most importantly, why does this white tourist come here? Because most of them want a nice tantric psychedelic experience. Several of them, especially people from Europe who live on welfare, come here because they can have luxurious intoxicated lifestyles without paying tax, doing any work or taking any social responsibility. We can't help it, if you earn in GBP, Euros or USD India is CHEAP. India's GDP per capita is about 1000USD, but in rural areas and for the majority of the people I'd go so far as to say it's about 300USD. OBVIOUSLY cost of living has to be low. Our population is 1,100,000,000 people. Yes, one billion one hundred million people. Of our own. Can you imagine how difficult it is to keep track of visitors? Especially when we have been conditioned to think "Oh, white person from white country can't possibly mean any harm to us! Dollars will come in! Dollars are good!" If on a resident visa or a work visa foreigners are supposed to report to police stations. But if on a tourist visa a person can just disappear. Gregory David Roberts for one. Just as US immigration worries about illegal Mexican immigrants and ignores all the illegal Canadian ones, we are more worried about Nepalis and Bangladeshis and Pakistani and Afghani terrorists than some nice person with a UK passport and a cache of cocaine.

And here's the thing about drugs: With all the people we have, possibly 0.0001% of Indians actually use hard drugs on a scale for their import to be profitable. Yes, marijuana and hashish are widely used traditionally, but cocaine and heroin are not. We simply can't afford them. So who are these drugs for then? I'll give you one guess.

Tourism is a very important part of the economies of places like Goa, as well as being important to the country as a whole. The impulse to attract dollars is a very healthy one; Cuba, for example, gets all its foreign exchange from remittances and tourists. However, there is a desperate need for controls and order in India today. We need some sort of ethics of visa-issuance, or at least to instil some sense of consequences into visitors so that they will treat out country with the same respect they accord their own ones. Why don't people take ecstasy in rave parties on Brighton beach? Because they'll be caught and shoved in jail, that's why! I'm not saying become a fine country like Singapore; but surely we can do something? Of course the entire tantric/spiritual hoo haa about India definitely contributes to attracting a hippie crowd that likes to do drugs and find themselves (don't get me wrong I love hippies), but at least one can say they are adult and as such have some understanding, in theory anyway, of their responsibilities and of the consequences of their actions.


  1. The press over here generally seems to feel the Mother was to blame for leaving her daughter alone.

  2. yeah i know dave, and im glad to see they are demanding some responsibility from the mother, but i guess i'm also worried by the larger trend of how many holiday spots in india are vanishing into foreign controlled drug and sex mafias! and this is not a conspiracy theory!

    veo, :D thnuku! im actually not too happy with it. I'm going to split it up to pay proper attention to both subjects cos that's the best way to give both parts their due...

  3. If I ever manage to come to India, I trust you'll ensure I don't get caught up in any drugs or sex mafias.

  4. You're right - this really is two posts. I do understand where the Goa one leads into the general drug rant but would work better in sections.

    So, about the Goa bit - well articulated and an interesting point you brought up about the girl being 15 and what was she doing there.

    Mostly agree with you. This was waiting to happen and I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner, more often and more publicly (because I'm sure these rapes happen but are oft hushed up as the police tried to do in this case).

    But being a place where much of the income does come from tourism, the government will have to step up and think about what it can do to ensure safety. Because while in this case the child/mum were part of the hippie set, it is very conceivable (and amazes me that has not happened yet) that molestation or rape can happen in the non-hipppie but sparsely clad set. Telling them to dress/behave appropriately will only lose Goa its tourists.

  5. ya am splitting as i type.

    definitely we need to do something to make it safe, but i think that sending out patrols of cops with lathis and thumbs rubbing forefingers is not a solution. i agree that the phoren tourists are a big source of income but it becomes more complicated when you realise that indians are often not welcome in parts goa and manali anymore. probably other places, but hey these one i know about.

    also dressing and behaving appropriately will never be a solution because who gets to define appropriate

    appreciate your input :) above being just comments not argumentssss