Police in India say they’ve arrested six men who confessed to raping a Swiss woman who was touring the country by bicycle with her husband.
The horrific news of the rape surfaced over the weekend from a country where sexual attacks against women have been described as a “national problem” by the UN’s chief of human rights.
It raises the issue of whether it’s safe for women to travel by bicycle or other means through India. Rape is reported at the rate of one every 21 minutes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, although police say only 1 of 4 rapes are reported.
The attack on the Swiss couple occurred on Friday, according to news reports. The two arrived in Mumbai in February and were traveling through the Madhya Pradesh state when they stopped to camp in a wooded area in the Datia district.
They had visited the Ram Raja Temple in Orchha and were riding the 150 miles toward the Taj Mahal in Agra.
A group of eight to 10 men approached them and beat the man with wooden staves and tied him up. Several of the men then raped the woman. The men fled with the couple’s lap top and some money.
It took about an hour for the couple to flag down a passing car. They went to a local police station, but had to wait to report the crime until an interpreter could be summoned that night. The woman had to transfer to a hospital about 70 miles away for a rape examination.
The home minister for Madhya Pradesh appeared to deflect the blame to the victims. Umashankar Gupta is quoted:
“The rape of the Swiss national is unfortunate but foreign travelers should inform the police about their movement so they can be provided with adequate protection. They often don’t follow the state’s rules.”
Nandan Dubey, the Director General of Police, Madhya Pradesh, told the Christian Science Monitor:
“Thousands of women tourists come to our state and we have already made three arrests in this case. This unfortunate case happened in an area that is not a regular camping site and tourists are encouraged to inform the local police of their presence in such areas.”
These bureaucrats should be more concerned about ending the violence against women rather than whether travelers are following the rules. Since India has a serious problem, however, bike travelers should be careful.
Although the U.S. State Department doesn’t currently recommend Americans avoid traveling in India, the agency does have the following warning for women:
U.S. citizens, particularly women, are cautioned not to travel alone in India. Western women, especially those of African descent, continue to report incidents of verbal and physical harassment by groups of men. Known locally as “Eve-teasing,” these incidents constitute sexual harassment and can be quite frightening. Eve-teasing can occur anytime or anywhere, but most frequently has happened in crowded areas such as in market places, train stations, buses, and public streets. The harassment can range from sexually suggestive or lewd comments to catcalls to outright groping. Southern India is very distinct from the other major cities and has a strong reputation for being very traditional. If you are a woman traveling in India, you are advised to respect local dress and customs. While India is generally safe for foreign visitors, according to the latest figures by Indian authorities, rape is the fastest growing crime 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. If you are a woman traveling in India, you are advised to respect conservative local dress and customs. Keep your hotel room number confidential and make sure hotel room doors have chains, deadlocks, and spy-holes. In addition, only hire reliable cars and drivers and avoid traveling alone in hired taxis, especially at night. Use taxis from hotels and pre-paid taxis at airports rather than hailing them on the street. If you encounter threatening situations, call “100” for police assistance(“112” from mobile phones).
The Christian Science Monitor relates a series of rapes against foreign women in India.
The Swiss bicycle tourists were wild camping or stealth camping, basically pitching their tent on their own. This is common among many bicycle tourists who find themselves between towns while traveling or who are on a budget.
Friedel and Andrew Grant have written about their worldwide bike travel experiences at the website The Travelling Two. They’ve spent many nights camping out under the stars in exotic locations. They offer the following guidelines for wild camping:
- Find a spot away from houses and hidden from any roads. You want to be out of sight of passersby. Look on your map for areas marked as woodland, which often offer good camping potential. You may also find that small hills by the side of the road can give you cover if you just haul your bike up to the peak and over the other side.
- Don’t deliberately trespass. Look for somewhere you can camp without jumping fences or crossing onto marked private property.
- Don’t camp in dry riverbeds as they can come to life overnight with a little rain. The rain may fall several kilometers away from you but a stream still ends up flooding through your tent! Equally, camping spots near water like a lake or riverbank can be cooler at night than more inland areas.
- In bear country, cook at least 200 meters away from your tent and string all your food and garbage up in a tree.
- Don’t start a fire or do anything else that might attract attention, like playing loud music.
- Leave early the next morning and take all your garbage with you.
Interestingly, see what they say about India:
“Generally you will be left alone while wild camping but be prepared for inquisitive visitors, especially in countries like Morocco and Asia. In India, numerous cyclists report waking up to find dozens of people outside their tent or even inquisitive farmers unzipping the tent door to find out who is inside!”