“I partied every single day, at every different venue possible.” In 2021, these words from Hardik Katariya, a 25-year-old blockchain consultant from the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, can induce anxiety in many. Last week, Kataria was in the western Indian coastal state of Goa. Much before the pandemic made India one of the riskiest places to visit in 2020, every year-end celebration in India demanded a rather cliched pilgrimage to the infamous “party capital” of India.
India has over 10 million total COVID-19 cases, the second-highest in the world. In Dec. 2020, as the country inched closer to New Year’s Eve (NYE), news reports speculated whether the pandemic would be a damper on the beach state that normally hosts millions of tourists around this time. In fact, fears of COVID-19 spike led other states in the country to impose curfews to avoid large gatherings.
Not in Goa, though. Goa’s Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, on Dec. 31., told the media that the government had not decided to impose night curfew. This is despite the fact that the spread of the new COVID-19 variant was being reported in many parts of India. Last month, health authorities in Goa were trying to trace over 600 people who arrived from the UK and UAE.
Despite that, Goa reported “near-normal” flight arrivals just before NYE. “On Dec. 27, when I went to Goa, I was chilling by the beach almost every day,” Katariya told VICE World News. “No one was concerned about COVID-19. No one wore masks. People were swimming in the sea in crowds. Even my friends and I wore masks just to make sure we don’t get fined by traffic cops while we drove around in our rented cars.”
Katariya said that away from his hometown where they still have daily lockdowns between 9 PM and 6 AM, Goa felt liberating. “I wasn’t afraid of coronavirus, to be honest, because I almost forgot that it even existed.”
In India, the rising COVID-19 infections coincide with the swift opening up of state borders and commercial activities. Despite restrictions on large gatherings, crackdowns on illegal raves and parties imply that rules, including that of COVID-19, are just meant to be broken.
Over the weekend, visuals emerged from Goa’s various party beaches. Unlike the hopeful photographs of countries that successfully contained COVID-19—such as Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia and even China—scenes from Goa gravely concerned many. The state’s health minister issued a warning on Jan. 3, predicting that the December party season would contribute to a massive spike in cases in the state.
Goa has reported more than 50,000 COVID-19 cases since March last year. However, India has been witnessing underreporting and misreporting of COVID-19 cases. Goa is among the 10 worst states for COVID-19 data reporting.
VICE World News spoke to some of the estimated four million NYE revellers, who travelled to Goa to spend NYE. “It felt like a stampede waiting to happen. Nobody gave a flying fuck,” Tanmay Chauhan, a 24-year-old marketing professional from Delhi who attended a rave in Goa on NYE, told VICE World News.
Harneet Kaur, a 30-year-old content writer from India’s capital Delhi, recalled visiting a casino located in Goa’s capital, Panaji, around NYE. “It was packed with people,” she told VICE World News. “The staff was reminding people to wear masks, but casually. Many people took off their masks once they sat at their tables. People were standing over each others’ shoulders to observe games. Many were touching each other.”
Revati Rane*, a 22-year-old writer who hails from Goa, said that while illegal raves had been happening since April 2020, she felt more confident to party on NYE after seeing her friends do the same without getting infected for months. “I told myself I would be careful and at least wear a mask. But I also did ecstasy after nine months, and once the drugs hit, I forgot about coronavirus and masks.” Rane added that for many ravers like her, taking drugs at these parties eased the anxiety around COVID-19.
Besides the open restaurants and beach shacks, Goa also saw a series of live performances including international artists. Some clubs in Goa posted photographs of large groups of people attending gigs and performances. Many faces were seen without masks.
“It’s as if COVID-19 doesn’t exist in Goa,” said Rane. “It still baffles me, but people are incredibly careless—myself included. So it feels like a farce when organisers say shit like ‘No mask, no entry’ because nobody, not even most waiters or bartenders, wears masks.”
As a state that relies heavily on tourism revenues, December is an important month for the Goan economy. Particularly in a year when the state faced its steepest contraction, the party season became even more essential. “The events and festivals bring in millions of rupees to the state, and that’s not even counting the bribes given to local authorities to keep these parties on till morning. So even COVID-19 did not disrupt the celebrations,” said Anish Thadaney*, 28, an events promoter based in Goa.
Kajal Desai*, a 24-year old artist from Mumbai, said she wanted to party in Goa because she had recovered from COVID-19 in November last year. “I got infected even though I barely even went out. Now that I’ve recovered, it feels like I have a sort of hall pass to party for the next one or two months,” she said.
Even as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across India, for many, attending overcrowded parties was a way to end a difficult year on a high note. “This December, Goa was an absolute utopia of undiluted fun,” said Rane. “When I came back, I got a bad cold, and I’m currently self-isolating. I do feel sad being stuck at home after partying so much, but those few days felt like living in an alternate universe, where all the crippling negativity of 2020 ceased to exist. It was completely worth it.”
*Names changed to protect identity.
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