A recent surge of rape incidents in India over the last few months has tarnished the image of the country across the world. Female tourists worry for their safety and are no longer keen on India as a holiday destination.
A series of rapes over the last months has terribly damaged India's image, scaring away many female tourists who had planned on traveling there.
Twenty-five percent fewer foreign tourists have traveled to India so far this year. Among women, the decline is even more drastic: 35 percent fewer women have traveled to the country between January and March. These are the sobering results revealed in a survey conducted by the Indian Chamber of Commerce which recently examined the development of the tourism industry.
The findings, however, were dismissed Wednesday, April 3 by Indian Tourism Minister K. Chiranjeevi, who told the media that the survey was not accurate. According to the ministry, the number of foreign tourist in India in January and February was up by 2.1 percent.
Indian tour operators are distraught over the decreasing number of tourists. Over the last few years, there have been massive investments to improve the infrastructure of the tourism industry which aimed to attract rich tourists from the West.
Praveen Pal, Representative of the Olga International Travel agency based in New Delhi played down the results of the study, saying, "We are experiencing a moderate decline in the number of tourists travelling to India. But if the situation does not change soon or if there are new rape cases, it could worsen considerably."
The incident that shocked the world
The reason for the decrease in foreign tourists traveling to India has to do with recent past events. On December 16, a female university student was brutally gang-raped and beaten on a moving bus in the country's capital, New Delhi. The government's lukewarm response to the incident provoked thousands of Indians to protest for weeks on end and was reported across the globe.
When the young woman died two weeks later in a hospital in Singapore, the government could no longer look away. The accused men in her case are currently standing trial in a newly created fast track court in New Delhi. They could face the death penalty. Despite the recent measures taken by the government, the problem of violence against women in India continues to make headlines and to cause an uproar.
Women Rights groups in India say there is a fundamental lack of respect towards women. One reason is the skewed male-female ratio which is a result of female feticide practiced on a large scale in the country.
India is, however, going through a transition. Young Indian women, who in some cases are better educated than their male counterparts, are moving to the big cities to study and work. They are no longer willing to accept that their security is not guaranteed in the cities, nor are they willing to accept that antiquated perceptions of women still exist there.
Parents worried for the security of their daughters. And they have reason to. In New Delhi alone, 700 cases of rape were reported last year. Between January and March 2013, 300 cases were reported. But in many cases, no charges are pressed. The situation is similar in other big cities throughout the country.
Jyotsna Ojha works for a multinational company in New Delhi. She speaks what is on the mind of many women in the country: "Indian parents worry about their employed daughters, especially when they travel to and fro. Working women make sure that they make their way back home at the latest by 6 pm. After that it gets dark and dangerous."
Violent attacks on foreign women
Not only Indian women are attacked in the country. In March, a Swiss woman was brutally gang raped while on a cycling tour through Central India with her husband.
Shortly after that incident, a British woman jumped out of the window of her hotel room in Agra, home of Taj Mahal, after as she tried to escape the Hotel manager who was trying to force himself into her room in the middle of the night. Out of fear of being assaulted, she decided to jump from the second floor of the building, seriously injuring herself.
Indian travel agents have meanwhile started issuing warnings. Praveen Pal told DW: "We request the guests to not to talk to strangers. We also recommend that they don't leave their hotel alone after 9 pm. They should travel only in groups and should immediately call us if they face any problems."
The survey showed that 72 percent of the tour operators were affected by cancellation from female tourists from countries like the UK, US, Canada and Australia. Tourists that had cancelled their trip to India chose other, safer, destinations such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
The trend is such a serious setback for India's tourism industry because the months from January to March are the second half of the peak season tourism there. In 2012, 6.6 million tourists travelled to India and spent around 13 million euros.
Jyotsna Ojha has hope things will improve. "The good thing is that people are now speaking out. 5 or 6 years ago, rape and sexual assault were simply ignored. It will take time, but the Indian mindset will eventually change."
The question is though, how long will it take for the country to re-establish its reputation.