NEW DELHI - The recent gang rape of a Danish tourist in the Indian capital has again focused attention on sexual violence against women in India and heightened perceptions that the country is unsafe as a travel destination.
Days after the incident, which occured close to a popular market in the heart of New Delhi, the city’s police chief, B.S. Bassi, gave a brief message.
He said the city’s police force is taking every possible step to keep people safe.
But this has failed to reassure international travelers heading to India.
On Thursday, the British Foreign Office issued an advisory cautioning its citizens about travel to the country.
The 51-year-old Danish woman was a so-called backpacker tourist who was robbed, beaten and gang raped at knife point as she stopped to ask for directions to her hotel. Three men have been arrested in connection with the assault.
In December 2012, the brutal gang rape of an Indian physiotherapy student in New Delhi underlined the huge issue of sexual violence targeting women. Since then there have been reports from across the country of similar crimes.
Among the targets of sexual assaults have been some foreign tourists, including those from the United States, Switzerland and Britain.
Tourism industry officials say the reports of rapes have tarnished India’s image in the past year and heightened fears among women tourists heading to the country.
An advisor to the Travel Agent Association of India, Rajinder Rai, fears the latest gang rape will aggravate a slowdown being experienced by the industry.
He said similar to how Iraq got associated with bombings, India is unfortunately getting associated with rapes.
“If you get headlines every month, obviously it has got to have a huge impact on inbound tourism, that is already very discernible. It is impacting the overall credibility of the country as a safe country,” said Rai.
International tourist arrivals to India grew only marginally last year, increasing by three percent compared to six percent in 2012 and nine percent in the previous year.
Hiring security guards
In the last year, some foreign tourists have even started hiring security guards as they travel through the country. Denetim Services is one such company offering bodyguards for tourists.
Anubhav Khiwani of Denetim said business has been thriving since the reports of sexual assaults heightened fears that traveling in India is not safe. He said most business comes from tourists in Western countries and cites a recent query that came from a group of four women wanting to visit India in March.
“The e-mail I have received today clearly states that they have traveled to the Middle East, China and Africa and they have not faced any problems. But they are feeling slightly more scared about India, specifically after what happened two days back,” stated Khiwani.
Director of the Indian Association of Tour Operators Gour Kanjilal said crimes happen in big cities all over the world. He said the sexual crimes are “aberrations” but are giving a bad name to the country.
“It hampers our future tourist movements. They [tourists] are asking how safe it will be, what steps government is taking," Kanjilal said.
In the past year the government has tightened laws for such crimes and made efforts to ensure swifter justice to the victims in India’s slow moving legal system.
Last month, three men were convicted for gang raping an American tourist in June and in August six men were given life imprisonment for a similar attack on a Swiss tourist.