Sunday, March 23, 2008

India: Check Sexual Assaults on Foreign Tourists

India: Check Sexual Assaults on Foreign Tourists

Syed Ali Mujtaba

The death of a British girl Scarlett Keeling, 15, on a Goa’s beach, suspected to be of 'foul play' has once again caught the attention of the nation towards the growing crime against foreign tourists in India. Thanks to the media, the darker side of incredible India is at full display on our TV sets.

Scarlett’s case is not the first of its kind. Newspaper columns are often filled with reports of alleged sexual assaults on the foreign tourists from different parts of the country.

Earlier, a 32-year-old British woman was raped in Goa while two more from the same country were sexually assaulted there. Another report says a British freelance journalist was raped by a guesthouse owner in Udaipur. An American woman was molested at a temple in Pushkar. Two Japanese were gang-raped in Agra. A South Korean was raped near Manali. Two teenage girls from Canada were sexually assaulted by security guards at a hotel in Kerala.

One can add on to the list but suffice would be to say that these cases are assuming alarming proportion. If one tries to do the psychoanalysis of them, the common thread among all such cases is that most of the victim happens to be fair complexioned. Not a single report of sexual assault has been reported against any black female. Why?

Sudhir Kakar, an authority on human behavior says Indian men prefer fair skin to the dusky ones. And there is nothing fairer than white. If one needs to be convinced on this point, one has to turn to the matrimonial pages to find that all the potential brides are fair complexioned!

Kakar says there are very wrong impressions that some Indian men carry about the white females. They are widely regarded as promiscuous who treat sex as casually as shaking hands. So, if an Indian youth bothers a white woman walking alone on the street, there is nothing abnormal about it. Seeing such sight, it’s the psychic disorder that comes into play.

Notwithstanding such pithy comments, one has to accept the fact that the tourists are a vulnerable lot anywhere in the world and India is no exception. They usually haven't been long enough and their ignorance leads to their exploitation. Their polite responses what seems to be a helpful, friendly gesture are often construed as something else. Their ignorance to distinguish between the right and wrong signals can easily make them fall prey to the criminals. This is the most important factor that makes the western tourists vulnerable in India.

The Government seems to be seized of the matter and had reviewed the security measures with the tourism ministers of different states. The state governments were reminded of their commitment to deploy tourists’ police to all the important sites. However, so far only ten states have complied with the government order.

The problem of sexual assault on foreign tourists is not as simple as to the issuing of the orders or raising the tourist police force. There are five million foreign tourists expected to visit the country this and their security issues needs to be given a serious thought. It’s high time that the Indian Tourists Development Corporation ITDC should play a much proactive role in this regard. The ITDC offices which has a presence in almost all the tourists locations have to assume more roles and responsibilities to handle the tourists and their related problems.

Since the tourists can connect with the ITDC much more, than the police stations the tourists offices should be made the nodal point to register cases by the tourists. It can then take such cases with the local police and pursue them long after the tourists are gone.

The tourists’ body should also see to it that the airports are cleaned up from the touts and the taxi drivers that fleece the tourists’ right since the time of the arrival. It should man the separate tourist’s counter of pre paid taxi system at the airports, railways and bus stations. The ITDC should also look into it that tourists face no discomfort at the place of their stay or at the shops they may frequent for purchases.

Unfortunately, the ITDC offices are functioning like a white elephant in India. They have work with little responsibility. They are of little help to the tourists except in few cases. One need to find out from the tourists themselves how much ITDC has been of really assistance to them and what they expect from it.

The grey area of security of the tourists needs to considerable attention if tourism has to be promoted in a big way in our country. What is seen is when ever there is some hue and cry is made in the media, the situation improves for a while, and thereafter its business as usual after some time.

The onus of the security of the tourists also rest on the other stake holders in the hospitality sector. They must realize that the tourists are “gooses that lay golden eggs,” if they maltreat them or fleece them, they may be risking their own livelihood. The tour operators, the hoteliers, the cab drivers, the guides, the shopkeepers and all those involved in the hospitality sector should act as a watchdog to ensure that tourists have a pleasant stay in the country.

Unfortunately, this is not happening. There are some unwanted elements within the hospitality sector that are denting India’s reputation as a safe and easygoing tourist destination. It’s high time the stakeholders should act as watchdog against the black sheep who are spoiling the name of this growing industry. They should identify such people, who are basically criminals operating under the cloak of hospitality sector, and report them to the police. They should take up the cases against the tourists and see to it that the criminals are brought to justice.

The stakeholders must also realize that all the white tourists are not ‘money bags.’ Many of them could be less wealthy then the average Indians. They are here not to throw their wealth but to see this beautiful country and its people. So, a great deal of understanding is required in dealing with them.

Last but not the least, the tourists themselves has to take precaution rather becoming victim of any unsavory incident. The Lonely Planet guide has cautioned the female tourists of the dangers of traveling alone in India. It advises them to refrain from wearing sleeveless blouses; tight-fitting clothing or to present any bare dare look.

The Lonely Planet says; "Getting constantly stared at is something you'll simply have to get used to in India. Just walk confidently and refrain from returning male stares, as this may be considered a ‘come-on’. Try freezing someone who is too persistent in his attentions or getting uncomfortably familiar, and walk in a manner that puts out a clear signal: ‘don't mess with me.’ Don't accept invitations for a drink or a movie or a ride from men they do not know.”

The Scarlett Keeling case is not the first incident of its kind that has taken place in this country. It definitely would not be the last. However, it has highlighted the problem that is continuing unabated. If such incidents of national shame are not checked immediately, there is little meaning to the high profile advertising campaign ‘Incredible India!”


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at



Dear Dr Syed Ali Mujtaba ,
It was glad to read your comments/ letter regarding tourism in India. I agree with your all proposal 100% what you have narrated on 3/26/2008 letter.
Thank you once again for your letter. I have also having a Tourist Company and operating from abroad, specially working with India & Nepal. Yes, unfortunately, it repeated once again on 27.09.2008, the same case in Chandigarh with young German Tourust girl. I regret & really it is shameful for me as an Indian.
Thanking you & best regards,
Ranjan Chakraborti


I have just read your article on rape of tourists in India and I would like to tell you my story of rape on the 24/2/09 by the tour leader of a trek I was on, and ask you what I can do about it.
I reported it to the Australian High Commision while in Delhi but the problem was it occurred in the Hemis National Park while treking and by the time we got back to Delhi it was to long a time to have tests taken to prove it. I thought that I could seek justice through World expeditions, the tour company involved but apart from initial support and the firing of the perpetrator and there willingness to provide documentation to the police I can't get info about my rights and the chances of bringing him to justice. I have details that I can send you about the incident if you are interested.
Regards Esther Grant

Esther Grant