India tourism down as women's fear of sexual violence is up

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"Women Only" street sign New Delhi, India
A sign painted on the street in New Delhi, India guides women to the entrance of the  ‘women only’ Metro train railway on May 7, 2011. Image: Chris Brown/Flickr

(WNN) New Delhi, INDIA, SOUTHERN ASIA: As media fallout hits the nation of India following the exponential rise in sexual assaults in India within the last year, including the gang rapes of women who are visiting the country as foreign tourists, the economics for India may be showing a downward spiral.

“Foreign tourists continue to shun India over sexual assault fears and concerns over bad civil governance,” said The Hindu in a recent January 15, 2014 report.

The violence against women visiting the region from other countries has not seemed to abate as reports of sexual harassment, intimidation and violent rape continues. One of the latest cases of gang rape of a foreign tourist in India has caused a 51-year-old Danish woman tourist to leave quickly for home following a gang rape ordeal. Before she returned home she asked for her rape case to be filed with the police in New Delhi. Meeting her ordeal as she lost her way back to her hotel she asked a group of young men for directions in a ‘backpackers’ area of New Delhi. Her experience after asking for directions was only the beginning of her terrible ordeal.

Ongoing incidences of rape violence against tourists in India has been occurring in the region for decades, but some advocates say that reports in the media are only more recently reaching a larger world audience. As increasing public reports are made in the news media fear for women travelers has increased.

“Foreign women are often a target for unwanted attention. Reports of assault, rape and sexual aggression against foreign women have increased. Women should avoid travelling alone, particularly at night, on public transportation, taxis and auto-rickshaws, as well as in less populous and unlit areas, including city streets, village lanes and beaches. Dress conservatively and respect local customs. Should you feel threatened, dial 100 (112 from cellular telephones) to reach police,” says the Canadian government travel advisory on India for 2014.

Niche tourism for women inside India can be separated into numerous different personal interests such as: shopping, wellness, food, religion, art and adventure, as numerous women arrive in India to explore the culture and beauty of the region. They also want to get to know the people, but caution is given for women from ‘the west’ to be careful in the way they dress and act in public.

But not all of the women coming to India from the west feel the terrain is a necessarily a dangerous one for women. A 27-year-old travel blogger named Candice sees it a completely different way:

“I am all too aware that bad things happen in India – we need look no further than the gruesome gang rape that took place in Delhi last December. I am aware that just because I was never groped or stalked does not mean that it doesn’t happen there every day, both to local and foreign women alike. But I am also aware of the intense warmth and beauty of the country, and it breaks my heart to see it stereotyped and generalized in such a way. I don’t say this to see the world through rose-colored glasses, but for me it ultimately comes down to a choice – do we choose to focus on the bad, or do we remember the Chotelal’s and Tara Singh’s and Pappa Kumar’s who changed us forever, and for good? Women – be smart, be sensible, be safe, but please do not stop going to India,” outlined Candace Rardon in her blog.

Wellness trips for foreigners may include yoga intensives and ayurvedic healing, while trips to India for shopping or cultural journeys bring numerous women from other countries into the region. Religious temples and spiritual study also bring women to India as they explore the vast history of the region’s predominately Hindu culture. But dangers have been rising for women in the region, especially for those who insist on traveling alone in the region.

“Travelers should be aware that there have been reported cases of sexual assault, including rape, of U.S. citizens traveling throughout India. U.S. citizens, particularly women, are cautioned not to travel alone in India,” said the United States Department of State in one of their latest online travel advisories for India.

While government reports on tourism in India up to 2013 show increases, reports of violence in the country after November 2012 also show a dramatic increase in sexual violence. Women from other countries are cautioned to be hyper-vigilant on the streets if they are alone in both urban and rural regions inside India. Women have also been warned about the dangers of sexual harassment which can sometimes be pervasive and severe. Women have also been warned to use great caution while using public or private transportation.

“While reported incidences of sexual assault have been isolated, Indian authorities report rape is one of the fastest growing crimes in India. Among large cities, Delhi experienced the highest number of crimes against women. Although most victims have been local residents, recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas underline the fact that foreign women are at risk and should exercise vigilance. Women should observe stringent security precautions, including avoiding use of public transport after dark without the company of known and trustworthy companions, restricting evening entertainment to well-known venues, and avoiding isolated areas when alone at any time of day,” continued the U.S. State Department.

Worry for the Ministry of Tourism is also rising in India on the issues of foreign tourism, which is most recently showing a continuing drop in the number of women visiting from other countries to India’s diverse regions. The number of women visitors to the country has fallen 35 percent since the fatal gang rape of a New Delhi student on a bus in December 2012.

“International tourist arrivals to India last year grew at their slowest pace since the 2008 global economic downturn, rising just 3%, compared with a year earlier. That compares with a nearly 6% rise in arrivals in 2012 and a more than 9% jump in 2011,” outlined the Wall Street Journal on January 8, 2014.

But along with this the ideas about traveling alone in India continue to be countered by numerous women, like Candace Rardon and Flora Baker, who have personally traveled inside the region as they describe both the pros and cons of India for women from the ‘outside’. Intense staring, or more intense groping can occur, but so can healthy contact with men who are not disrespectful outlines Flora in her blog, “Flora the Explorer.”

“From my experience, most Indians are a very friendly bunch. And while this can be really lovely – particularly when you’re traveling on your own – you still need to exercise the same amount of caution that you would if you were back home. And because you’ll often be in unfamiliar locations with total strangers, keeping your wits about you is of the utmost importance.,” Flora says as she gives other women her advice about making solo travels to India.


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