Religious groups oppose gay-friendly Goa tag

Published: October 20, 2011

PANAJI, India — Church and right-wing Hindu groups in Goa say they will fight any attempt to make the Indian state a gay-friendly destination, after the government said it was open to the idea.

State tourism director Swapnil Naik said this week that even though it was not actively courting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) market, Goa could not ignore it because it was an emerging industry trend.

But his comments have attracted outrage from religious conservatives and one has now filed a police complaint to prevent the subject being discussed at an upcoming tourism trade fair.

Former Indian Army captain Dattaram Sawant said the image of the former Portuguese colony and popular tourist spot had suffered in recent years through sex and drugs, adding: "We don’t want another tag."

Sawant is a member of the hardline Hindu Janajagruti Samiti outfit, which in 2008 objected to the screening of a film by the late Indian painter M.F. Husain because he had depicted female deities in the nude.

Goa attracts 400,000 foreign tourists every year to its white sandy beaches. Its laid-back attitudes are also a draw and contrast with the social conservatism still found throughout most of the rest of India.

India decriminalised homosexual acts in 2009, delighting gay advocacy and human rights groups but angering Hindu, Muslim and Christian groups who denounced same-sex relationships as against divine and natural law.

Sawant was joined in condemning the government by the Bharat Swabhiman Trust, which is linked to the popular Indian guru Baba Ramdev, who once said that homosexuality could be "cured" through yoga.

Its spokesman, Kamlesh Bandekar, said the state government’s stance was "weird".

"Goa government has already allowed drug trafficking, casinos and prostitution. Now LGBT. What else is remaining to be invited in the state?" he said.

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