Panaji: Massage parlours can't be wished away in a tourist state, said Goa Police chief TN Mohan, who thinks "police raj checking everybody" would be counterproductive to an industry on which the state's economy is so dependent.
Mohan said on the sidelines of a function organised by a women's rights group that extreme action against massage parlours, a booming almost unregulated industry along Goa's tourism oriented coastal belt, could even be counterproductive in a place that thrives on tourism.
"Goa is a tourist place and many people come from outside and you cannot have police raj around checking everybody, that will be counterproductive," Mohan told a news agency.
Popular beach villages like Calangute, Candolim, Morjim and Arambol in North Goa and Colva, Palolem, Benaulim in South Goa have in the recent past witnessed a mushrooming of massage parlours or upmarket spas, which have in turn seen a lot of debate in the civil society as well as in the state Legislative Assembly over regulation of the industry.
Raids and sting operations on massage parlours in the last couple of years revealed that many questionable salons, especially along the coastal belt, trafficked women and shoved them into prostitution under the garb of therapists.
This highlights the downside in massage parlours' operations in the state, a fact acknowledged by Mohan.
According to the police chief, while there were several rogue massage parlour operators, most were operating genuine businesses along Goa's tourism-oriented coastal belt that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
"There are four-five massage parlours who are repeated offenders. They open and re-open new places after being booked," Mohan said, adding that shady operations were under police scrutiny.
Mohan admitted that lower constabulary had been involved in extorting money from massage parlour operations and the responsibility of inspecting them had been now vested with officers of the rank of deputy superintendent of police.
"Only health officers and police officers of the rank of deputy superintendent are authorised to inspect these establishments," he said.
According to activist Arun Pandey, there is a trafficking angle to Goa's massage parlour industry. He added that the promotion of cross massages, where female masseurs massage men, fuels trafficking of women from poverty or conflict-stricken regions of India and Nepal.
"If we stop this, trafficking of girls to Goa by luring them with jobs in massage parlours will be stopped to a large extent," said Pandey, who runs ARZ, a Goa-based NGO specialising in rescue of trafficked women and victims of sexual abuse.
The newly formed Goa Salon and Spa Association (GSSA), however, defends the rights of their members to offer cross massages.
"We offer customers a gender choice. Gender segregation would actually mean discrimination against women which form the bulk of the spa and salon industry," said GSSA general secretary Sumit Bhobe.
"Banning cross-gender massage will not guarantee an end to illegal activities. With the gay and lesbian community on the rise, sexual favours are no longer a heterosexual domain," Bhobe added.