Women travelers have turned their back on India after the notorious gang rape and murder of a Delhi student in December highlighted the scale of sexual violence in the country.
A survey by Indian chambers of commerce found a 35 per cent decline in the numbers of female foreign tourists since the 23 year girl was raped and mutilated by six men on a Delhi bus before she was dumped on the road and left to die.
The attack provoked protests throughout India and forced the government to introduce new tougher sentences for sexual assaults on women and fast track courts to reassure women it was concerned for their safety. It also led India’s media to give greater prominence to reporting rape and sexual assault cases amid wider soul searching about the attitude of India’s men and families to women.
But according to the survey of Indian tourist businesses by Assocham, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, thousands of men and women planning holidays in India are no longer prepared to take the risk.
Two brutal attacks on foreign visitors in India in the last two weeks have reinforced the fear. The trial of six men accused of gang-raping a Swiss woman who was attacked in front of her husband in Madhya Pradesh as they camped overnight in a forest during a cross country cycle holiday, began on Saturday. The men held her at gun-point and restrained her husband back as they each raped her.
A British woman was attacked in her hotel room in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, one of India’s most popular tourist destinations, by the hotel manager. He tried to force his way into her room at 3.45 am in the morning to give her a shower and an oil message. The woman, 32 year old dental hygienist Jessica Davies from south-east London jumped from her second floor room window to escape.
Other reports include stories of men being beaten for objecting to gangs of young men sexually harassing young women in public. The crime is known as ‘Eve-teasing’ in India reflecting how it has not, until now, been taken seriously.
“[As] India attempts to enhance its image in the eyes of foreign tourists, a brutal rape case in Delhi and recent incident of Swiss woman in Madhya Pradesh, or to the young British woman who had jump out of the window in Agra to avoid a sexual attack has raised concerns about the safety of female travelers to the country. The crime and the woman’s subsequent death generated international attention”, said Mr. D.S Rawat, Assocham’s secretary-general.
Of 1200 tourist businesses surveyed more than 70 per cent reported significant numbers of cancellations from British, American, Australian and Canadian women tourists, and a 25 per cent decline over all. Many of them were choosing Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia instead. “During last winter season, Goa, Jaipur, Agra, Kerala happened to be highly congested tourist spots but due to recent incidents in India, there has been substantial fall in the tourist traffic”, Mr Rawat said.
The decline and the plummeting reputation of India as a safe tourist destination is a blow to the government which had expected tourist numbers to increase by 12 per cent this year as part of its plan to double foreign exchange earnings by 2016. More than six million foreign tourists visited India last year and helped generate more than £10 billion for the country’s economy.
The country’s reputation was damaged further when a number of foreign governments, including Britain, changed their travel advice to citizens following the gang rape on the Swiss woman last month. While they had previously urged women traveling alone to be cautious, following the attack they warned even those traveling in groups may not be safe.