Tourism marred by medieval mindset
Merely a few days after this episode, India’s tourism minister G Kishen Reddy announced, with some happiness, the latest numbers for foreign tourist arrivals in India.
GOA: Goa is celebrating the bravery of a man who saved the life of a Dutch tourist who was being molested by a hotel employee. To a state that earns 16.6 per cent of its GDP from tourism, Eurico Dias’s heroism must be really warming: He heard the woman’s cry for help as he sat down to dinner at 2 am, jumped over a wall and into her tent and fought off the knife-wielding assailant.
So, Mr Dias is being felicitated, deservedly, by the state government. However, the Goa government’s praise for the hero ought to have been matched by concern for the Dutch woman and by serious resolve to make Goa safe for all women tourists. Asked about the periodic occurrence of sexual violence against women tourists in the state, tourism minister Rohan Khaunte spoilt the story further by uttering the callous words, “crime incidents look big in a small state like Goa,” which suggests that the most popular tourist destination in the country sees sexual violence against women tourists as a question of perspective.
Merely a few days after this episode, India’s tourism minister G Kishen Reddy announced, with some happiness, the latest numbers for foreign tourist arrivals in India. More than six million foreign tourists visited India in 2022, compared to 1.52 million in COVID-affected 2021, representing a recovery of 300 per cent.
While we’re still not back to the pre-Covid number of 10 million, forex earnings from tourism amount to a sizable Rs 1.35 lakh crore. This is particularly good news for states like Kerala, Goa, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. However, to those who crow that these numbers are not even a fraction of India’s potential, the question must be posed why there are so many cases of rape and molestation of foreign tourists in India, and why tourist safety is rarely mentioned as a priority issue for all stakeholders in the sector.
For all their claims of hospitality etc., the tourism ministries, of either the states or the Centre, do not keep or offer data on crimes committed on women tourists, so we must rely on the FIR-based records of the National Crime Records Bureau, which began compiling the data only in 2014. No less than 12 women tourists were raped or molested in India in 2021, a Covid-affected year, mind.
To anyone who wonders why Incredible India does not pull in a commensurate number of foreign tourists, the reason should not be hard to find. In rankings produced by multiple agencies, India’s reputation on women’s safety in general, women tourists in particular, is the pits. In 2018, a global poll of 55 experts on women’s issues by the Thomson Reuters Foundation found India to be the world’s most dangerous country for women, ahead of war-torn Afghanistan and Syria, due to the high risk of sexual violence. In terms of safety ratings, India’s cities consistently skew lower.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest rankings of the world’s safest cities, New Delhi ranks 48th and Mumbai 50th out of 60 cities. In the Women’s Danger Index created by the travel blog site Asher & Lyric, India is fourth in the list of Top 10 Worst on the count of violence against women.
Given such poor metrics, it does no good to talk about the Indian traditions of hospitality or the great beauty of our land when the facts are so ugly. The least we can do to be welcoming to visitors whose forex dollars we covet is to assure their safety.