Flesh Trade : The Unseen Connection between Goa and North-East India

John S Shilshi
The name Goa is synonymous to attraction. Though very small in size, featuring on the map of India almost like a little turtle ducking between two giant States of Maharashtra and Karnataka, Goa is easily one of the most sought after destinations for tourists worldwide. Nature has blessed this place with beautiful beaches, rivers, and waterfalls, and early men who scripted Goa’s history left behind Churches and Temples that are iconic and awe-inspiring. Also the lively culture of Goa, marked by songs and dances, food etc. is attractions that mesmerize and gravitate travelers from around the world as no other place. Therefore, between October and April-a period commonly known as ‘Tourist season’-Goa literally becomes the world’s capital of holiday lovers.
From the law and order point of view too, the State is one of the most peaceful places in the entire of India. Barring stray incidents of criminal activities, where the accused are mostly from outside the State, there are hardly instances of road blocks or traffic jams on account of bandhs or blockades, which are so common in India. In the case of other sought-after destinations in India, such as Srinagar, parts of Himachal Pradesh, and some States of the North-East region, all go through such disturbances every now and then. In its true sense therefore, Goa does provide the perfect environment for people to come and relax, leave all stress behind and enjoy a variety of interests the place has to offer.
In recent times however, the thriving tourism sector that attracts lakhs of people every season and beyond, is being manipulated negatively. Goa is slowly but steadily being turned into one of the hot-spots for flesh-trade. Unscrupulous traffickers operating through a well-knit syndicate clandestinely bring in women and force them into commercial sex activities. These men and women who are into crime against humanity lure women on the promise of decent and honourable jobs. But once in their control, victims are pushed into performing the disgraceful task. At times, the insensitivity of the officials, who choose to conveniently close their eyes, except when the victims are their own people, also allow traffickers to operate with impunity.
And in the entire scheme of things, it is often victims from geographically detached States, such as the North-East region, who suffer more–their plights unknown to even own family members.
According to a well-researched report brought out by Anyay Rahit Zindagi (ARZ), an organisation working for emancipation of commercial sexual activity victims in Goa for the last twenty five years, women from the North East are now filling up the gap earlier dominated by those from Nepal. The intake from India’s northern neighbour has since reduced in the last few years because of tighter measures by their agencies, and also commendable work done by vigilant NGOs. They also say that rescued victims from North East region are often disadvantaged on account of a few officials refusing to accept them as victims since most of them speak English. The NGO is also candid in their finding that women who accepted the profession by choice constitute very low percentage of victims rescued over the years. So in majority of the cases, victims were dragged into a trap, and then circumstanced into continuing in the profession.
Modus operandi
Recruitment of girls/women for this deplorable activity is done in the most unsuspecting manner. Some are contacted directly through people who are already connected to the racket, and also through advertisements in local newspapers for positions such as receptionists, beauticians, housekeepers etc., promising decent pay packages and incentives. Once hooked to the network, the women are provided air tickets to fly to Goa. They are specifically advised to dress decently.
This serves two purposes; one, the recruits are psyched into believing that they were indeed being hired by a company of repute, secondly, it helps in hoodwinking authorities who might have been hawk-eying suspicious looking travellers.
Once in Goa, inductees are lodged into decent hotels/guest houses and allowed to relax for two/three days, introducing them to all good things Goa can provide. Upon being completely emerged into some of the irresistible tastes of Goa, they are gradually nudged into selling their bodies, either in massage parlours and spas that allow such activities, or privately soliciting clients at non-descript locations, like residential flats. Reluctance to entertain clients and attempts to exit from further indulgence would invite stern reprimand from local handlers, with demand for immediate refund of airfare, hotel and other allied expenses incurred on them. Helpless, the journey of bondage begins despite the unwillingness.
One key reason why recruiters use Goa as a temptation is because unlike other big cities of India, where tales of racial discriminations for people from the North East are rampant, parents perceive this place as one relatively safe and secure for their daughters. Therefore, be it for holidays or to take up jobs, Goa as a destination hardly evokes suspicion and concern. In a report “Trafficking of Women; Children for Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Goa (2014 -2019),” ARZ analyzed, “Majority of the girls rescued felt that condition for commercial sexual activity was better in Goa compared to other parts of India”. This in a way suggests that a few amongst those already exploited preferred Goa by choice when they reached a point of no return.
Way forward
Human trafficking is not only a crime against individuals, but also against human societies in general. Therefore, the need to reduce instances of such crime, if not stopped completely, needs no elaboration. However, it will be unfair and unrealistic to expect that the crime be controlled by the law enforcing agencies, Government departments and Non-Governmental Organisations of the destination States alone. As people involved are members of networks spread across the country, any attempt or effort to thwart the unholy nexus would need a concerted effort from all the States. Frequent sensitization to potential victims and vigilant monitoring of suspicious moves by source-states stake holders would go a long way.
For example, it is reliably learnt that in some States of North East India, recruiters had inserted attractive looking advertisements, specifying requirements for women candidates for certain positions in Goa. Had such suspicious-looking invites been cross checked by concerned authorities for veracity with their counterparts, many victims could have been spared the ordeals that they went through. Also job seekers need to do background check of companies intending to recruit people before accepting offers merely on face value, salary and incentives mentioned in advertisements. They should consult knowledgeable people before taking the final call. Care should also be taken to avoid being carried away by people they do not know. For these strangers could be the ones dragging them to perpetual shame and damnation. Last, but not the least, people working in areas to prevent trafficking need to approach their profession as a mission and not as mere daily chore. The only way a society moves forward is when all stakeholders contribute sincerely.

(The writer is a retired IPS officer, now residing in Goa. He can be reached on [email protected] Views expressed are personal)