Goa has grappled in the past with the issue of prostitution, and to an extent, it was under control. It seems that COVID has left a legacy other than that of death and devastation. Prostitution has been growing in leaps and bounds, heralding a repugnant image for the once golden Goa.
The age-old profession of prostitution is undergoing a rapid change in Goa. The number of transgender persons and gigolos (male prostitutes) in this business has increased significantly.
At this moment in time, Goa has become a veritable paradise for these elements. Currently, the issue of transgender persons has come to the fore again since some of them were physically assaulted by another transgender person named Bobby in Calangute.
Arun Pandey, the founder of ARZ, an organisation that has been working in Goa for the last 30 years to rehabilitate prostitutes, while giving information about this, said that although we do not have the exact statistics of how many transgender persons and gigolos are in the prostitution business in Goa, there are at least 500 people of in both categories.
The conflict between the two groups is a given because they tend to have an identical customer base. Pandey informed that the number of prostitutes has increased in the last four years. After COVID, the numbers have spiraled out of control.
Venturing more information on the issue, Pandey said that before COVID the police were willing and able to tackle prostitution. However, in the last three years, the police have completely turned a blind eye to the problem.
This has allowed transgender persons and gigolos, who were previously engaged in prostitution activities in Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi, to establish their base in Goa. This has led to the supply being higher than the demand since the clientele is limited. Ergo, the ensuing embattlement between the two groups.
According to an estimate, more than 7000 women, men and transgender persons are currently engaged in prostitution in Goa. Most of them have been lured with the promise of work in casinos, dance bars and hotels, and then been forced into the business.
The number is high in North Goa, and the two cities of Mapusa and Vasco are rapidly coming under the grip of these professionals. Pandey said, “Due to the lack of customers in Mapusa, fights have broken out in the streets between prostitutes. And if this situation continues, it will not take long for Mapusa to become like Baina.
The internet has become another viable means of soliciting customers for the prostitution business in Goa with more than 500 sites active in the state.
A customer is charged 10,000 to 15,000 rupees per night for a female prostitute. However, that girl receives only 1000 or 1500 rupees. The situation has become even more lurid as pimps are openly attempting to draw customers into their nets on the beaches and in major cities.
Earlier, the police used to take action against the agents involved in the prostitution business and rescue exploited girls and women. By 2020, an average of 100 girls were rescued every year. However, in 2021, the number increased to 38, while in 2022, only 19 girls were rescued. In 2023, not a single girl was reported to have been rescued.
Goans reacted to this phenomenon, which will hamper Goa's image in long run. Auda Viegas, the president of Bailancho Ekvott, believes that the exploitation of transgender persons, women, children or men should not be allowed in Goa. Goa is known for its tourism all over the world and needs to be made a safe place for tourists.
She further said, “There is prostitution and other commercial sexual activities happening online in Goa. The state government needs to curb this online sexual activity. Goa has to improve its tourism image and should try to resolve the issues of street begging, homeless beggars, prostitution, gambling, etc.
Stanley Barros Pereira, a businessman from Cansaulim, said, “The rise in the commercial sexual activities, sex crimes, gambling (matka), etc is very much detrimental to Goa's peaceful tourism image.”
He also said, “In North Goa, drugs, prostitution and gambling are happening on a bigger scale as compared to South Goa. The government machinery has failed to save the positive image of Goa. In a way, the film industry of India is also responsible for portraying Goa in a wrong way.”
Shailendra Velingkar, a member of Shri Parshuram Gomantak Sena, Goa, opined that the Goa government in its promises and speeches tells people to make Goa a spiritual destination. This is being done by the government to whitewash the present situation in Goa. But in reality, the government is supporting and encouraging casino culture in Goa.
He further added, “In the name of offshore casinos, prostitution, gambling, sexual crimes, etc are being promoted in Goa. This is very bad for the future of Goa, considering its image as a most sought-after tourist destination.”
Siddhi Mahajan, an educational content creator from Ponda, feels that Goans and the Goa government should try to preserve and protect Goan culture, ethos and tradition. The increase in sexual crimes, prostitution and drugs will not do any good but will chip away at Goa's image as a hospitable tourist destination.