Sunday, September 15, 2013

India: Update--Headlines That India is a Magnet for Sexual Predators Will Not Change Quickly

According to The Economic Times (ET), in January of this year, Bosengkham Vongdara, the culture and tourism minister of Laos, told his Indian counterpart, K Chiranjeevi, that Buddhist tourists of his country were keen to visit Bodh Gaya, a pilgrimage site in the Gaya district of Bihar, but that the Mahabodhi temple and its surroundings needed a major clean-up.  

Unfortunately, for India, Bosengkham Vongdara's message to his Indian counterpart was concerned not only with the commonly accepted practice of unrestricted defecation in public, but more importantly the bigger concern that foreigners have about India is the unchecked frequency of attacks on foreigners by sexual predators. 

COMMENT: Friday's (September 13) judicial death penalty decision for four defendants who gang-raped and murdered a 23-year-old medical student in New Delhi on a moving bus remains a flash-point in contemporary Indian history, as only terrorists have been executed since 2004, with the likely result that the offenders will be a ward of the state for 50-60 years.

The December 2012 incident which resulted in the gang-rape and murder of the medical student in New Delhi was tragically followed by a string of sexual assaults on tourists involving a 30-year-old American hitchhiker in Manali; a Swiss cyclist and a Korean woman, both in Madhya Pradesh; and a 21-year-old Irish charity worker who was allegedly drugged and raped in the home of an Indian man in Kolkata

To be sure, the tardy growth of foreign tourist arrivals, which made India richer by $17.7 billion in 2012, has become a concern for the government. 

Foreign tourist arrivals in India during the first eight months of calendar year 2013, disclosed a growth of only 3.6% over the corresponding period of 2012, even as the steep fall of the rupee against the dollar has only marginally improved the situation. 

Such scant growth in tourist arrivals is a far cry from the double-digit growth in tourism tat India is accustomed to seeing prior to 2012.

According to tourism ministry data, six of the past 10 years saw a double-digit growth, the highest being 26% in 2004.  

There is no official estimate available in the ministry of tourism which could suggest how much of the fall in growth can be attributed to the negative perception about India caused by the sexual assault, rape and gang-rape.

The industry lobby group Assocham surveyed 1,200 tour operators in India in March 2013 who felt that foreign tourist inflows into India had slumped, of which some 25% observed a slump during the tourist season of  January through March over a year ago, largely because of sexual predators.

It is essential that Indian leaders and legislators take advantage of opportunity to mandate formal training at all levels of education, so as to change the male mindset in India that it is acceptable that women be culturally and sexually exploited, not to mention being treated as second-class citizens.

Only until Indian men begin to look at women differently, and in a positive light, will attitudes begin to change. And only then will double-digit tourist arrivals return.