Tuesday, 9 April 2013

India tourist visits down 25% following fatal Delhi gang rape

Golden Temple of Amritsar in Amritsar, Punjab, India
(by snapsandblabs.com)

I recently sent a link from the UK Guardian to a friend from Ireland who lives and works in Chennai. Erin (not her real name) is a 40-year-old business woman who has lived in India for eight years (off and on) and acts as a business liaison for Irish companies considering doing business in India. She has her own consulting company based in Chennai.

It was an article with the headline:  

India tourist visits down 25% following fatal Delhi gang rape - Tourism industry survey contradicts rosy government picture, showing tourists are shunning India over sexual assault fears

Photograph: Manpreet Romana/AFP/Getty Images
 To read the entire article, click the following link:

I had just hit the 'send' button when two minutes later I got an email back from her saying, "I can't believe your timing. I was just attacked in a guesthouse in Mahabalipuram (a popular coastal tourist area one hour south of Chennai) two nights ago by a man with a knife."  

According to Erin, a man had knocked on her door at the guesthouse not long after she had retired for bed. Thinking it was her friends who were in the room next door, she opened the door a crack but the man pushed his way in, threw her on the bed and drew a knife. She tried speaking a few words in Tamil to the intruder, but he did not respond so she began to shout and ran for the door. My friend is tall, an avid surfer, does yoga and is in great physical shape. (She was actually in town to surf with her friends that weekend.) She was able to push past him and began shouting and pounding on the door of the room next door where her friends were sleeping. The intruder ran off into the night when her friends opened their door, but Erin was very shaken up, needless to say.

It's not surprising that tourism is down in India due to the recent sexual assaults making the international news. What is particularly troubling is that the Delhi incident, the Swiss tourist incident, and my friend's attack all occurred when there were other people close by like husbands, boyfriends, and groups of male friends (as in Erin's attack).

The response by the police and other officials has been less than reassuring. My friend reported the assault to her embassy but did not report it to the local police since she waited more than 24 hours and it was too late to make a report, she was told. 

Tomorrow, my friend heads back to Ireland for an already planned trip home. She still loves so many things about India and is in the business of encouraging others to do business here. She says that she has already gone back to the guesthouse in Mahabalipuram and shared a room (this time with a friend), because she does not want this incident to keep her from enjoying her passion, surfing, at a place she has been visiting for the past eight years.

The locals who know and love her were outraged by the incident and believe that the attacker was from another town. He was observed again on a surveillance camera at another hotel in town, so hopefully, he will be caught before he can assault anyone else.

It would be a shame for tourists to by-pass India since India has so much to offer, but officials will have to take these cases of assault very seriously to encourage travelers, especially women, to continue to visit this exotic and mesmerizing country.