Things could not be worse for the Indian tourism industry. Recent incidents of rape and sexual molestation or harassment of visiting foreign women have had an impact on the tourist inflow.
Seven cases were reported in the first month of the year.
A Swedish teenage was molested at a New Year’s Eve party at Kochi in Kerala state, while a number of tourists were also heckled. Three foreign women reported sexual harassment in Goa. Also in Goa, two British women claimed to have been sexually assaulted by the owner of a resort.
The Indian government called the incidents isolated, but a recent BBC report on one of the British women raped in Goa stated, “She is just one victim among thousands. The numbers are horrifying. On average across India there are 53 rapes a day, and recently released government statistics suggest that it is the fastest growing crime in the country.”
While the issue may be affecting industry revenues, it has also brought out the fact that Indian policing has virtually collapsed. Women tourists are no longer safe in the country.
The impact of the incidents abroad has been bad. The American and British governments have warned women not to go to India for their summer break.
Crime statistics for 2006, released by the Home Ministry’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), show that 18 women are victims of crime every hour. The number of rapes a day has increased nearly 700 per cent since 1971, when such cases were first recorded by the NCRB. The number has grown from 7 to 53 rape cases per day.
Several sexual attacks have been reported in Rajasthan, the jewel of Indian tourism. It is one destination where culture speaks for itself and where the spirit of India is evident in its people, ambience and buildings.
With a record arrival in 2005-06 of more than 1.2 million foreign tourists and 17 million domestic tourists, Rajasthan has been one of the most popular destinations for tourists, especially those from France, Britain, Germany, the US, Italy, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Japan and Bangladesh.
Today Rajasthan is the tourist-rape capital of India. Just before Christmas, an American national was molested in Pushkar and a British journalist was raped in Udaipur. Earlier, a French woman was raped, also in Pushkar. In 2005 in Rajasthan, a German tourist was raped by an auto-rickshaw driver and his accomplice in Jodhpur.
“Rajasthan has always been considered a very peaceful state, but the recent rape and molestation cases have been affecting its image,” a tourism department official admitted recently.
There have been other incidents of rape elsewhere in India. Tourism department officials are “concerned,” but things may have gotten out of hand. A tourism department official was recently quoted saying, “The reports could deter potential visitors to the country. We have asked states to report to us what happened in these incidents.”
Travel guidebooks have started advising women traveling to India to wear “loose, long clothes” to avoid unwelcome attention.
India attracts around 5 million tourists every year. As a face-saving exercise the tourism industry plans to create complaint centers and dedicated phone numbers for tourist security in all the major tourist destinations. The tourism ministry has decided to hire retired defense personnel for security and to deploy police in the top 10 destinations frequented by foreign travelers. But whether these actions will help remains to be seen.