Fear of sex attacks threatens tourism in India

After rise in visitors to India helped by ad campaign, a disturbing series of rapes have caused growing concern over safety of foreign women

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 8:10am


Rising fears over the safety of female tourists in India are threatening to derail a marketing campaign that has boosted visitor numbers.

The tourism ministry's "Incredible India" adverts have helped increase the number of foreign visitors over the past decade to around 6.6 million a year.

But that push is now hampered by a growing sense that India is simply not a safe destination, particularly for women.

The fatal gang-rape of an Indian student in December shone a disturbing light on the levels of sexual violence and a series of subsequent attacks on foreigners have added to the unease.

Yesterday, a female British tourist was admitted to hospital after jumping through a hotel window over fears of a sex attack in the Indian city of Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, police said. The victim, who was not named but was in her early 30s, says two men tried to enter her room at around 4am.

Having earlier rejected the hotel manager's overtures offering a massage, she says he then returned with a second man and tried to open the door to her room with a key, police said.

A member of staff at the hotel said the manager had merely tried to wake up the victim in time for an early morning train.

That incident followed a more serious incident on Friday night, when a Swiss tourist was gang-raped while on a cycling holiday in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

Her husband was tied up by the gang, who are also accused of stealing a laptop, a mobile phone and 10,000 rupees (HK$1,432).

Other incidents reported since December include that of a South Korean student who said she was raped and drugged by the son of the owner of the hotel where she stayed during a holiday in January.

A Chinese woman working in Gurgaon, a town bordering the Indian capital, was also reportedly raped by an acquaintance last month.

Indian officials say there is no need for alarm, pointing out foreigners are victims of crime the world over and the vast majority of visitors have no problems.

But travel advice from a host of countries stresses the need for visitors to take care.

The US State Department's website warns female travellers to "observe stringent security precautions" and "avoid travelling alone in hired taxis, especially at night".

Britain's foreign office updated its advisory for India last week, saying that "women travellers often receive unwanted attention in the form of verbal and physical harassment by individuals or groups of men".

China's government has not issued any travel warnings, and the Hong Kong government has maintained an amber travel alert - the lowest level - since 2010 because of the high threat of terrorism and frequent demonstrations.

I have heard so much about rape in India that now I feel this persistent sense of danger

A security bureau spokesman said the department would continue to monitor the situation closely.

Danish tourist Judith Jensen said in Delhi she had taken precautions to help her feel safe during her holiday. She won't hail a taxi off the street, she won't stay in an obscure hotel and she won't go out after dark.

"I have heard so much about rape in India that now I feel this persistent sense of danger," said Jensen, 42.

At the Delhi office of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, executive director Gour Kanjilal said it was unfair to portray India as dangerous.

"Our industry is the first casualty when crime against foreigners is reported in India, but the reporting does not always reflect the truth," he said.