Panaji, Feb 7 : A senior Goa tourism official's remarks to a Delhi-based newspaper over the rape of a nine-year-old Russian girl on Republic Day has triggered a debate on popular social networking website Facebook.

'The Blank Noise project' (TBNP), a popular community-public art project which seeks to confront street harassment, has written an open letter to Pamela Mascarenhas, a deputy director in the state tourism department, on its home page on Facebook criticising her for comments to the Mail Today, a tabloid, last week.

"You can't blame the locals; they have never seen such women. Foreign tourists must maintain a certain degree of modesty in their clothing. Walking on the beaches half-naked is bound to titillate the senses," Mascarenhas had reportedly told the tabloid.

TBNP's letter, which is signed by "an Indian girl who loves her saris and her hot pants", argues that dress sense was not a factor when it comes to sexual assault.

"For your information, women from across age groups, be it three-month-old babies or 90-year-olds have been raped. They have been raped in saris, burkhas, salwar kameez, school uniforms, bikinis, jeans, skirts, shirts, lungis. Women have been molested, assaulted, raped at all times of the day, and in public places," the letter, which has been subsequently doing the rounds on nearly all Goa-related mailing lists, states.

The stinging letter also accused Mascarenhas of exonerating the perpetrators of sexual crimes and instead heaping the blame on the victim.

"By making the statement above, you are blaming women instead of taking responsibility of the issue. We hope this will direct you towards taking responsibility of these incidents by actually addressing male behaviour and men in Goa, for which you will first have to address yourself by accepting this truth," it states, adding that cultural inappropriateness was no excuse for sexual assaults.

'The Letter to deputy director of tourism' project, which was posted Feb 3 and will be open for comments until March 31, has already attracted several comments from internet surfers.

"I can't believe that they can blame a nine-year old girl for being 'too sexy'. I mean, it is horrible enough to blame a women for 'asking for it' by dress, which is already totally bull-crap, but to blame a nine-year-old girl?" Lindsey Rieder, from Syracuse, US has commented.

Mascarenhas, when contacted, said she was not willing to comment on the controversy, adding that she was misquoted by the newspaper.

State tourism minister Mickky Pacheco said it was impossible to insist that foreigners not wear bikinis on Goan beaches. "Goa is a popular tourist destination and is a window to the West. We cannot ask tourists not to wear bikinis here," Pacheco said.

The state tourism department has announced that it would withdraw photographs of women in bikinis from Goa's tourism promotion campaign.

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