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Salons, spas may become a no go in India's Goa

Salons and spas have been placed under very close scrutiny by state authorities in the western Indian province of Goa, with police claiming that many massage parlours are simply a front for prostitution

GOA: Moral policing is becoming more intense in the western Indian province of Goa, with salons and spas placed under very close scrutiny by state authorities.

However, some worry that this will harm the tourism industry in one of India's foremost tourist destinations.

Goa's police claim that many massage parlours are simply a front for prostitution. Police records for 2013 indicate that 76 girls were rescued and at least 31 people arrested on charges of prostitution and human trafficking.

"Certain spas and parlours have been working as prostitution dens,” said Kartik Kashyap, superintendent of police for Goa’s crime branch. “As and when the police get any information in this regard, it is our duty to verify in case there is any illegality or any kind of prostitution activities or any human trafficking activities taking place in any such mentioned spa and parlour."

The Goa spa industry is a source of employment for thousands of people and generates revenues of around US$3 million (S$3.74 million) annually. One of the other major issues between the authorities and the spa operators is the practice of cross gender massages - male masseurs for female clients and masseuses for men.

The leading salon and spa owners have now come together to fight against these charges.

"It's going to affect our industry negatively and think… that's going to send a very negative message to the rest of India and the world that Goa is going backwards, it's not going forward, that's what this rule is going to say," said Sumit Bhobe, president of the Goa Saloon and Spa Association.

The controversy comes at a time when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party coalition is seeking to ban short dresses, bikinis, pubs and illegal casinos, claiming they are corrupting the youth and against Indian culture. Detractors however, argue that such decrees will only affect the state's tourism industry.

"The tourism in Goa is dependent on the number of tourists coming into the state,” said Rajiv Shukla, a Congress Party leader. “The economy of Goa depends on tourism. If there are no attractions for tourists, if you close down restaurants and pubs, then why would anyone come to Goa?"

Those involved in Goa's tourism industry claim that a more balanced approach than simply imposing dress codes on beaches, and banning pub culture will be required if the nation's foremost tourist destination is to maintain its allure and it tourism revenue. 

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