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The Bikini and Pub Wars of Goa

Photo Courtesy Monty Sally

And The Threat of Talibanisation
(Not to worry. It’s not happening… Yet)

Call it a Goan identity crisis. You’d think the issue would have been decided by now – after all these decades of hippies, full-moon raves and beach psychedelia. But crazily, and against all odds, we Goans are still trying to decide whether we want to be Ibiza or Kabul, a free-spirited seaside paradise of silent noise and scant coverings or a bastion of “Indian” values that are menacingly beginning to look more like “Afghani” ones.

“In Afghanistan, girls could wear shorts, sleeveless tops, anything they wanted without worry,” reminisces a young Afghani student in Panjim. “Then the Taliban took control of our city, and instantly, women had to wear burkhas. If they were not accompanied by a male member of the family, they were not allowed to leave the house.”

Ok, let’s be real here. No one is saying that’s where we’re headed in Goa. But with the BJP in power both at the centre and at home, palpable changes are in the air. Some of them, to be sure, are welcome, especially the feeling that our economy may get a much needed boost. But what about those bikinis and pubs that our PWD Minister Sudin Dhavalikar spoke so disparagingly about?

First, let’s be clear. This is about more than just beachwear and beverages. It’s about who we are, and who we strive to be. It’s about our culture’s lure for the rest of the world, our extraordinary blend of East and West that has been drawing visitors from around the globe for decades. At heart, we are an easy-going people who’ve always displayed a broad-minded tolerance that provides stark relief in a region still battling unspeakable outrages like female infanticide. So when the likes of Dhavalikar speaks out against our “bikini and pub culture,” it feels like he’s shooting down much more than that.

Judging from the reactions of the people of Goa, it seems the good minister will have his work cut out for him in replacing our enlightened worldview with a medieval one. People from all walks of life, exemplified by Goan fashion designer Wendell Rodricks’ open letter to Dhavalikar suggesting he wear a loin cloth if he opposes Western attire, spoke out against the minister.

No, “young girls in short skirts in nightclubs” are not a threat to Goan culture, Mr. Minister, many of us declared. But you may well be!

Unfortunately, the minister is far from alone in his Taliban-like attitudes.

pub cover

As a female who dresses largely for her own convenience, I invite glares and frowns all over the state. I am treated deferentially when I wear a salwar kameez, with suspicion when I wear jeans and with utter incredulity if I happen to bring out a short-skirt.

“What’s wrong with what he said?” exclaims Minaxi Dhume, housewife from Mapusa. “Why we need to wear bikinis? Tem sagrem shobna chalyyank, this sort of dressing does not suit Indian girls. We need to keep our respect among others.”

“You liberals are all hypocrites,” says a like-minded Hindu professor at Goa University hailing from Madhya Pradesh. “Always you are complaining that Goa is shown in a bad light in Bollywood movies. Now this Minister wants to change that and you have problem with that also?”


Tito’s club, Baga


Among the cacophony that followed Dhavalikar’s remarks, the sane voices included that of Goa’s Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, who steered neatly out of controversy by siding with no one, simply pointing out that it would not be possible to ban bikinis or pubs in our democratic society.

Goa Streets spoke to the managers and owners of several pubs in Panjim who seemed relaxed and unperturbed by the Minister’s hostility towards their bread and butter, so to speak. “This is a democratic country,” says the manager of a pub in Panjim. “We have the right to spend our money as we wish. If it is a pub we wish to spend it in then we will, no one can stop us.”

So, no panic yet. Prahlad Sukhtankar, owner of one of the nicer pubs in Goa (the Black Sheep Bistro), believes pubs and bikinis are decidedly NOT under threat, and even went so far as to ask me why I’m “wasting space on this story.”

 “The Chief Minister made it clear what the law is, so there’s no question of a ban on pubs,” he said.

vishnu wagh

MLA Vishnu Wagh wearing dhoti

Why write about it? Well, for one, let’s stop and consider for a moment if a recent upsurge in Goans beseeching Indians from the rest of the country to invest in swimwear and not display their chuddis along our coastline has come back to bite us on our briefs.

Of course Dhavalikar has expressed no issues with underwear being paraded along the shores, so long as it is worn by paunchy men.

Outside Goa, the reactions have been more incredulous. “What’s with your Minister,” asks a young female software professional in Bangalore, where this correspondent found herself fielding such questions immediately after the statements were made. “That is so backward. Why is he saying this?”

To help answer that question, it’s worth looking at the company Dhavalikar keeps. A member of the Sanathan Sansthan, which boasts the disrepute of harassing and on occasion beating, “loose” women across the border in Karnataka, Dhavalikar may be looking to flex his Hindutva muscles at the general public. Maybe a drink or two at BSB could calm his bluster.

All entreaties to the minister to focus on his own work and maybe even ensure a few roadworks in Goa are completed before his tenure is up have fallen on deaf ears. It seems he and like-minded politicians have more pressing matters at hand, such as discussing the relevance of bikinis in a woman’s wardrobe or of pubs to the average boozer’s requirements.


PWD Minister Sudin Dhavalikar

On the other hand, social networking sites have exploded with indignance. Wendell Rodricks, Goa’s state treasure in the department of dressing, did well by pointing out that Indian culture promoted styles of dressing that could make a Frenchman blush.

So who’s going to wear saris to the beach, again? How about cargo pants, or is that simply too American to pass? What is the point? Decency? Safety for women? Or simply the age-old, now-transparent attempt to keep women in line, like the black sheep of BSB.

In a scathing post on Facebook, an anguished young lady from  Pune expressed that she is sick and tired of politicians in India making life difficult for women, “as if it isn’t difficult enough already.”

It has nothing to do with safeguarding culture or safety of women, she explains, and everything to do with that old male need to control his and other women.

While little children are raped in schools, while those perpetrators go free, while women are harassed in public transport in Goa, while eve-teasers know they will get away with just about anything, the focus is perennially on how much more our society could do in terms of subjugating the rights of women.

“Why, were they (tourists) hoping to wear bikinis when they come to Goa?” says Alina Saldanha, with a twinkle in her eye, as I accost her on this subject, while she’s on her way to an assembly session.  One of Goa’s three women MLAs at present, and a woman who knows how to dress, one could expect Saldanha to stand up against the Dhavalikars and for her women constituents. But what we’re seeing instead is more of a silent spectator. Wake up, Alina!


Photo Courtesy Monty Sally

Perhaps the only MLA to have made his stand abundantly clear, not just through word but by action, has been the flamboyant Vishnu Wagh. With his razor tongue, a gift of gab, and poetic inclination, Wagh has this time chosen to make a statement through his dressing. Mocking the minister who clamoured for an Indian dress code, Wagh decided to don a dhoti, laughing derisively at the proclamations made by Dhavalikar, who has, to date, not put his own words into clothing. “It’s easy to talk,” says Wagh.

The talk however, is sending ripples of insecurity among Indians outside of Goa. Indians who reserve the tiny state for their more raucous holiday ventures, who think of Goa as rather their own, and who come here precisely to wear what they would never dare to back home. Pronouncements like this will only hamper Goa’s tourism, quoted as they were in every major international media, right from the BBC to newspapers Down Under.

Our humiliation is complete. The attempts at Talibanisation are in full swing. Thankfully, most of us love our bikinis and pubs – and the freedom they represent – too much to let such attempts prevail.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Bevinda Collaco

    Nice job Aparna Raut Desai! i particularly like the Sanathan angle, but I found the Alina bit uneccessary. Oh and you mentioned 3 women MLAs. Who’s the third one after Alina and Jennifer? I haven’t been elected. Yet.

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