Spotlight on massage parlours

Thiruvananthapuram Dec. 7. Questions are again being raised about the safety of foreigners frequenting the tourist resorts of Varkala and Kovalam, with a 42-year-old Swiss woman alleging that her modesty was outraged by a masseur at an Ayurveda centre near Varkala.

The tourist, Esther Schwob, had gone to the centre for treatment on December 2 and was given a massage by the masseur, Rajan. Ms. Schwob had felt that there was something wrong with the way she was being massaged and had run out of the room. She had later lodged a police complaint alleging that the masseur tried to outrage her modesty.

The Varkala police have registered a case of attempted outraging of a woman's modesty against Rajan. The Sub Inspector, Santhosh, said the Ayurvedic centre concerned did not have a proper licence and it was being probed whether the masseur had abused his profession.

Last month, the city police had raided and closed an Ayurvedic centre in Kovalam on the charge that the massage facility there was being used as front for immoral traffic. Several men and women who were at the centre during the time of the raid were arrested by the police and booked under the Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act (PITA).

The police raid had sparked a controversy with the Ayurvedic centre owner alleging at a press conference that the charges were trumped up and that the centre had been raided because a section of corrupt local police officials had not received bribes.

However, the City Police Commissioner, Rajan Singh, said the police raid was ordered by him after he received specific and credible information that certain illegal activity was taking place at the Ayurvedic resort under the guise of massage and Ayurvedic treatment.

Mr. Singh said that with the tourist season on, the city police had adopted a non-intrusive kind of policing for resort areas such as Kovalam. There would be a crack down on drug peddling, beggars and abkari crimes. ``The police will be acting on specific information. One cannot expect the police to go into every massage parlour and hotel to verify whether there is any unlawful activity,'' he said.

Theft of property, loss of passport and costly electronic equipment, such as cameras, are common complaints from tourists, the police say. "There are several complaints of the theft of cameras. However, in many instances, the cameras would have been sold by the tourists and reported as theft with the local police to get insurance back at home,'' says an official.

The police feel licences should be issued to Ayurvedic centres and permission granted to start massage parlours only after proper scrutiny.

Says a tourist industry source at Kovalam, "Many persons who worked as waiters at hotels in Kovalam have become masseurs overnight. They are not even aware of the basics of human physiology and have not taken the mandatory six-month massage course offered by the Government Ayurveda College.''

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