It was Walter Mendis, a French copy editor who about 30 years ago came up with the term ‘God’s Own Country’ as the ad campaign for Kerala Tourism Department.
The natural landscape and the experiences while he travelled from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram are what prompted him to describe the state with the phrase. He observed that what turned Kerala into the paradise on Earth are the particular terrain of the state, the people here and the government machinery. Since this tagline was also supported by legend, Kerala came to be known thence as ‘God’s Own Country’. That Kerala found a place on the world tourism map thanks to this advert campaign, is also an undisputed fact. However, Mendis’s soul might be regretting having suggested such a tagline. The mysterious death of a foreign woman tourist Liga Skromane (33) and the new controversy related to it are the latest instance of the fact that the scenery and experiences gifted to Mendis by Kerala have already faded. It is yet to be found who is responsible for her death. However, it is clear that there have been serious lapses on the part of the police during the initial stages of the probe. Alongside, everything ranging from the irresponsibility of the authorities in the tourism sector to the policies of the government should be subjected to analysis by linking them to this incident.
Liga’s missing set off a debate after pictures of her husband Andrew Jordan sticking posters all across the state, spread through the social media. Liga, a Latvian national had been living with her husband in Ireland for the past five years. She had come to Kerala with her sister Ilze for an ayurvedic treatment for depression. After spending a few days at Mata Amritanandamayi Ashram at Vallikavu in Kollam district, they had come for treatment at the Ayurveda Centre at Pothencode in Thiruvananthapuram. Liga went missing from the centre on March 14th. Since there was no result even five days after filing a complaint with the police, Jordan and Ilze went on a search for Liga with her picture in all the places where she was likely to have gone. After coming to know that Liga was spotted at Kovalam, they searched for her in every corner of Kovalam and in neighbouring areas. When there was hardly any response from the police, Jordan filed a complaint with the police chief. It was after this that a special inquiry team was appointed and Liga’s rotting corpse was found in a wetland near Kovalam the other day. Several reasons including the fact that the body was found at the hub of anti-social elements, deepens the mystery regarding her death. It also corroborates her sister’s claims that Liga was murdered. She also alleges that the investigation team has been trying to establish the death as a suicide.
The problems start from the very fact the no vigilance, which should be shown when a complaint is received regarding a foreign woman tourist who is also sick, was seen on part of the investigation team. It was only after the people took the matter into their own hands through the social media that the authorities woke up from their slumber. The state police was trying to hospitalise Jordan who came to the hotel in search of Liga, as a patient suffering from mental illness. Despite credible statements of seeing Liga at Kovalam, the police refused to carry out a proper investigation on the pretext of technicalities. The body has now been found from a place only six kilometers away from Kovalam beach. The question as to how Liga ended up at a place where she is least likely to go alone, naturally points fingers towards the drug mafia there. Who is ignorant of the fact that Kovalam, one of the most important tourism hubs in Kerala, is under the control of the drug mafia? The media and social activists have warned many a time about the foaming liquor menace in the coastal regions of the state, in the name of tourism. The tears of Liga's family can be said to be also an outcome of ignoring all such warning.
Although there is no dearth of rhetoric by authorities on Kerala's tourism, the fact is that the graph of is moving south in the last few years. Despite the increase in revenue from the tourism sector, growth has been downward, as per the economic survey report for the last two years. When we realize that the growth rate of 2015 is just half of that in 2013, it tells a rather unpleasant tale. This setback can be attributed to the facts that many foreigners, especially women are being subjected to different kinds of attacks, and the security mechanism in tourist centres is not robust enough. Furthermore, in many such places the liquor mafia rules the roost. The government, through its new liquor policy, is trying to let more alcohol flow in the name of tourism. This will in fact serve only to aggravate the situation further. The call of the hour, to avert the recurrence of such tragedies in the future, is to evolve a tourism policy that ensures enough security to the tourists. At the same time, we are also bound to be in solidarity with the struggle of Liga’s family for justice. More so when they have expressed reservations about the enquiry.