If a country gets its women travellers uncomfortable, tourism is hit, often severely.
Sadly, India has never had a great reputation outside its territory. For years, there have been innumerable complaints about the country’s bad infrastructure, aggressive touts, harassing beggars and other forms of irritants.
Adding now to this slate of black marks is rape.
Years ago, I remember a foreign woman diplomat being raped in a car as she was about to get into her own in the parking complex of New Delhi’s Siri Fort, where the prestigious International Film Festival of India was going on.
Years after that, a teenage British girl was raped and murdered on the beaches of Goa, one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in India along with Rajasthan and Kerala.
In an important way, if a country gets its women travellers uncomfortable, tourism is hit, often severely.
Now in Venice to cover the 70th edition of the world’s oldest movie festival, I came across several women who were anxious about safety in India.
Now, security is a major add-on to an already long list of worries which India presents to a foreign visitor. And it can only be a matter of shame that some foreign women travelling to the country are bringing their own guards and body bouncers! Apparently, they do not trust the local police.
This, of course means, that only the wealthy among the lot will dare to step inside India. The others may just about decide to go elsewhere.
The recent rape of a 23-year-old woman photojournalist in a Mumbai cotton mill who had gone there along with a male colleague in pursuit of a story does not augur well not only for the nation, but also the city, often touted as the safest for women. It does not appear any longer so.
Five men tied up the man, and raped the woman, and one of the rapists was 17, and while all the accused have been arrested, the Indian judicial system is caught up in a dilemma.
Sense of panic
Should an accused in a rape case who is just months away from turning 18 (the legal age in India to become a major) be tried like an adult – at least when the crime is as heinous as rape.
The judiciary was also in a fix during late last year’s rape of a young woman in Delhi – who ultimately died from the wounds inflicted on her by several men who raped her in a moving bus. One among them was again a guy about to turn 18.
Although, I have always been against capital punishment – which is being demanded in India today for rape – I feel that anybody above 16 must be treated like an adult in the case of murder or rape. And the incarceration must be for life, not 12 or 14 years as is often the case now.
Beyond all this, if India is not going to make life safe for its women, a sense of panic may well grip the country’s large female workforce that is routinely called upon to do night shifts.
Besides, in a scenario like this where fear rules, why would any foreign woman want to come to India on a holiday? She may as well go to Sri Lanka or Malaysia or Thailand or…
Of course making India safe is not possible unless the fear of law is instilled into all those veering towards crime. Courts must be swift in the dispensation of justice, punishment hard and police patrolling strengthened.
With almost three-fourths of India’s policemen engaged in protecting ministers (many of whom do not require this), the force is terribly understaffed to take good care of the common man and the woman.
Till policing gets more effective, courts are hard on rapists and cases dealt with quickly, criminals will continue to have a free run. And India will not quite shine for the rest of the world.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]