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A vacation to India? No, thanks

Who? A 39 year old Swiss woman tourist travelling with her husband.

Where? Datia district, Madhya Pradesh, India. The couple was on a cycling tour and decided to camp overnight in a forest a few yards away from the main road.

When? In the night of March 15, 2013.

What? Raped.

How? A group of men attacked the couple, beat the woman’s husband, tied him up and made him witness his wife’s rape.  The perpetrators fled with the cash and valuables that the couple possessed.

Why? I have to disappoint you my dear readers. I don’t have an answer to the question, “Why?” At journalism school, I was taught that every time I write a report, the first paragraph should contain the answers to the who, what, where, when and how.  But I am at loss for an explanation in this matter. I have more questions than answers.

What exactly was this Swiss couple thinking when they decided to go on a cycling tour in India? Were they bluffed by the colorful “Incredible India” posters? Did they imagine meeting white-toothed women grinning in colorful saris just like the ones on the advertisements, in the villages they were going to cross? What were they thinking when they decided to camp all by themselves overnight in a forest?

Incidents like these are not isolated and could have happened anywhere in the world, given the danger the tourists put themselves in. The couple was exposing itself to a robbery.  It sounds brutal on my part to say something like this but the unfortunate truth is that it will take a few decades for the majority of Indian men to change their attitude towards women.

In the year 2003, I was a fun-loving carefree 19 year old college girl. One of my favorite hangouts was the Siri Fort Auditorium in Delhi which hosted many international film festivals and had a great restaurant in its premises.  I remember clearly that winter was setting in Delhi. Diwali, the festival of lights, was round the corner when a disturbing event made it to the headlines. A Swiss diplomat was raped in her car in the parking lot of the Siri Fort complex.

My world changed from this moment on. I was no longer the carefree girl I used to be.  It could have been me that night in the parking lot. I often parked my car there and was proud that I could find my way to my car even in the dark.  But the news of the incident made sure that I never parked my car there again. And when I did, I made sure that a big group of my friends escorted to me to my car.

It has been 10 years and nobody has been arrested for the crime until now. A few years back, a young girl was raped in Goa. Television talk shows went ballistic. Many pointed out that white women running around in bikinis in India were inviting rape. A prominent politician said “When native women don’t feel safe how can western tourists go around provoking crime.”

Things changed in India after the rape incident in December 2012 where a girl was brutally raped by six men in a moving bus. Her death led to an outcry across the world pressurizing the Indian government to take action. Hundreds of people marched on to the streets to show their anger towards the injustice done to the rape victim. The incident sparked debates across various sections of the society.  The women unanimously agreed that they had had enough.

Indians are ashamed because some notorious elements disgraced the nation in front of the world.

Toyesh Shukla, an Indian tweeted “And now a Swiss girl getting raped in Madhya Pradesh? What’s this going on? Is this the image you want foreigners to keep of India?”

Nandini Mehta, a journalist in India tweeted “We are a country of sicker than sick sickos, maybe migrating is the best idea after all”

The New York Times India Ink article that carried the news of the incident got hundreds of comments. And many were from foreigners boycotting India. “Well, I’m willing to bet India will take this more seriously if we stop spending our tourist dollars there.”

Tourism will definitely be hampered this time around as man many foreigners voice their fear. “This latest incident only further makes India a country to avoid if you happen to be a woman.”

Another comment said “As a western potential tourist, I had already decided to boycott India after I heard about the brutal gang rape and murder of the 23-year-old woman on the bus. This even though I’d been longing to visit India since I’d been a teenager……This latest rape, involving a western tourist, merely adds a second basis for boycott: personal safety as well as moral outrage.”

Mariellen Ward, a, blogger and editor based in Toronto and Delhi posted an apology on her Facebook page today. “I have mistakenly given the world the impression that I think India is a safe country for women to travel in- and I have to take responsibility for that.”

I would never be able to forgive myself if I took a white friend to India on a visit and something were to happen to her. So, I will continue to tell fascinating stories of the festival of lights and cook butter chicken in Germany while I swallow the dark truths of my home, hoping that one day things will change so I won’t be ashamed to show them how incredible India is.

Author: Roma Rajpal

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan


22.03.2013 | 10:13