Caution for Women Heading to India: Rape, Assault Await

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Washington, DC – Indians always love to cite the age-old saying: “Atithi Devo Bhava” (The Guest is akin to God). On being presented with the new travel advisory from the United States for countries including India, Mita Roy, the first Indian woman political cartoonist, cited that and asked, “Do people in India truly believe or abide by it?”

India has been ranked Level 2 (exercise increased caution), which the US State Department identified “crime and terrorism” for Americans to exercise increased caution.

“Indian authorities report rape is one of the fastest growing crimes in India. Violent crime, such as sexual assault, has occurred at tourist sites and in other locations,” noted the travel advisory.

Echoing these sentiments, Roy told IAT: “India has more recently than ever gained the image of being the rape capital,” but she questioned: Is it really so recent, is it about the morality of dress codes, behavior, work place or it is the misogynistic attitude carried by the majority of the citizens, and if it is so then why would the misogynists differentiate between women from India or from anywhere across the globe, after all they are women and thus must be treated as same.”

Discussing tourist security in the famous north Indian city of Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, Indian Culture and Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma said, “For their own safety, women foreign tourists should not wear short dresses and skirts,” Sharma, who belongs to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi added, “Indian culture is different from the western.”

Blaming economic, social and political motives as factors in further aggravating of gender violence, Roy said, “Rape, honor killings and sexual harassment is rampant in India and the increasing attacks on tourists has only prompted the US Travel Advisory to move India to Level 2 (exercise increased caution).”

According to figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the total number of rape cases reported in India has gone up to 33,707 in 2013 from 24,923 in 2012. Statistically, New Delhi, the capital of India is also the rape capital of India as four rape cases on an average, were reported there everyday in 2013. The number of rape cases in Delhi was followed by 391 cases in Mumbai, 192 cases in Jaipur and 171 cases in Pune in 2013.

The NCRB statistics show 92 women are raped each day in India, but most organizations working in the field term this as an underestimated figure. Another common phenomena of street harassment and violence, called “eve-teasing”, is rampant and may be experienced by as high as nearly 80% of Indian women.

When this week, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed at Delhi airport on a six day visit to India, Indian Prime Minister Modi unexpectedly received him at the airport. Modi, then tweeted in Hebrew: “Welcome to India, my friend Prime Minister Netanyahu. Your visit to India is historic and special. This visit will strengthen the close ties between our countries.”

Whether the ties will strengthen or not, time will tell but for now the visiting Israeli women are not feeling safer than before as most recently in July 2016, an Israeli national was sexually assaulted by a gang of men in the Himalayan resort town of Manali. An American woman was raped in the same town of Manali in 2013 by three men when she took a ride with them in a truck. In 2012 an Australian woman was also raped in the same area, located in the picturesque Kullu valley of Himachal Pradesh state. Among other reported cases, a Japanese woman was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in 2014 in Bihar and a Russian assaulted by an auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi in 2015.

But Shipra Mathur, editor, social worker and founder, PEN movement from Jaipur in Rajasthan state, was optimistic about the role being played by the Indian women to fight the menace of rape and assault. “Despite poor safety and crime data in India, she dares to step out for work, to be part of social, political and economic empowerment drives,” Mathur said of the Indian woman.

For now, women from any country including the US will do best by following these tips:

  • Do not travel alone, particularly if you are a woman. Visit our website for Women Travelers.
  • Review your personal security plans, and remain alert to your surroundings.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • Follow the US Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Review the Crime and Safety Reports for India.
  • US citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.
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