Is Goa's Biggest Problem Really That Women Drink Beer?

Manohar Parrikar's remarks are in keeping with the BJP’s distractionary tactics at a time when the party seems to be struggling to handle some of the state’s more serious issues.

At the first edition of Goa’s youth parliament, chief minister Manohar Parrikar discussed his vision for the youth. Apparently, the only noteworthy news to emerge from his speech was his ‘fear’ around the discovery that women have ‘begun’ to drink beer. And in doing so, women are crossing some invisible ‘tolerance limit’.

Yes, Mr Parrikar, we do, in fact drink beer, along with other kinds of alcohol. We shit, we eat, we fart and we laugh too. In fact, we’ve been doing it for a long time. But as long as a woman is not underage, and isn’t being forced to guzzle down alcohol, why exactly is this information speech-worthy?  

In the past week, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has displayed a disappointing and alarming immaturity regarding women’s behaviour. Despite their keenness to rush to women’s ‘protection’ – beti bachao, their apparent support for the fight against triple talaq and so on – they seem incapable of accepting women as equals. From our prime minister’s jibe at Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury for laughing at him, to Parrikar’s fears around women consuming alcohol, leaders in the BJP seem to be on a drive to find innovative ways of passing sexist judgements.

Indian women are finding humorous and unique ways to respond to Parrikar. The hashtag #GirlsWhoDrinkBeer has gone viral, with women and even the odd man taking to social media to retaliate with wit.

A man writes a funny poem for Parrikar below:

But perhaps as their past actions have revealed, Parrikar’s remarks are merely in keeping with the BJP’s distractionary tactics. In Goa, the party seems to be struggling in trying to win the people’s confidence and successfully handle some of the state’s more serious issues.

After the mining scams and subsequent bans, the state’s growth and employment have suffered a blow. Specifically, women’s employment is vulnerable, with the rural women’s unemployment rate at 26.9%, significantly higher than the state-wide female unemployment rate of 17.2%, as per the 2015-16 annual employment-unemployment survey report

But Parrikar seems to think that the unemployment numbers only reflect young people’s laziness, as he stated at the youth parliament. According to the chief minster, the youth are ‘shying away from hard work’. Should we take that as an explanation for the high rural women’s unemployment rate? 

Even as the tourism industry expands, becoming one of the state’s main employers (tourist arrivals recorded at 6.3 million in 2016, up by 140% in six years), the rate of crime against foreigners is the fourth highest in Goa.

Casinos are another point of controversy for the state, especially as these attract tourists. Goan citizen groups and activists have been fighting against the noise and pollution caused by the floating casinos in the Mandovi river. Both the main opposition parties – the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party – had promised to shut these down. The BJP government, however, intends on keeping these open.

The push for coal transportation (arriving from Australia and South Africa) from Marmugao port to Karnataka factories has also met with resistance and protests against rising pollution. A total of 54 village councils have taken a resolution to stop coal trucks from passing through their streets. The BJP, however, is racing to increase coal imports to 51 million tonnes by 2030.

The government could do well to take this as an indication of its unpopular policies and weak performance. Let us not forget that BJP did not win a majority in the Goa elections. And while the coalition government has inherited many of these issues from their predecessors, it is displaying a certain level of ineptitude –  perhaps even indifference – when it comes to supporting the best interests of the Goan people.

Yet, Mr Parrikar would have us believe that our biggest problem is women drinking beer. Now that is truly fearful.

Ira Anjali Anwar is a research associate and writer in Goa.