The Platform


India would prefer to ignore its rape crisis but the problem is getting harder to ignore.

India, renowned for its rich cultural tapestry and awe-inspiring beauty, is grappling with a pervasive and deeply troubling issue—sexual violence against foreigners, particularly women.

Despite the country being a global tourism destination, India has increasingly come under scrutiny for the alarming rates of harassment and sexual violence committed against foreign women. While this issue is far from unique to India, its prevalence has ignited significant international apprehension.

Understanding this crisis requires a nuanced exploration of India’s cultural backdrop. Although its cultural diversity is lauded, it also serves as a breeding ground for divergent, often regressive views on gender and social behavior. This confluence of traditional tenets and modern norms forms a complex milieu where these harrowing incidents occur with disturbing regularity.

At the crux of this issue is the inadequacy of accountability mechanisms. Law enforcement sluggish and often equivocal response further entrenches the victims’ sense of powerlessness. Further exacerbating the problem are cultural norms that at times diminish the gravity of such incidents.

The statistics are as disquieting as they are revealing. Official data, often only the tip of the iceberg, belie the real scope of gender-based violence in the country. According to government data, over 28,000 rape cases were reported in 2020 alone, a figure compounded by more than 370,000 reported crimes against women the previous year. Experts caution that the true numbers are likely far higher, sketching a somber tableau of the status of women’s safety.

While these numbers are not representative of India as a whole, they cast a stark light on a significant segment of the population that perpetuates patriarchal norms and objectifies women, thereby sustaining an environment conducive to gender-based violence.

One glaring indictment of the system is the conspicuous lack of judicial accountability. Rape is officially a non-bailable offense in India, yet legal loopholes and complications often enable the accused to secure bail. In some instances, perpetrators find protection from influential figures—law enforcement, politicians, or lawyers—further eroding public faith in the judicial process.

High-profile incidents, such as the rape of a British woman in Goa and the gang rape of a Danish tourist in New Delhi, have thrust the issue into the international spotlight, raising pertinent questions about the safety of women—both local and foreign—in India.

In response, several countries, including the UK, the U.S., France, and Switzerland, have issued travel advisories specifically cautioning their female nationals. This poses a tangible threat to India’s tourism industry and its international standing.

Nevertheless, efforts are underway to curb this endemic problem. Legal reforms have been instituted to expedite trials in sexual assault cases, while awareness campaigns aim to educate locals and tourists alike on safety measures.

The issue is inextricably linked to India’s intricate political landscape, which plays a crucial role in shaping the country’s response. Policymakers are often caught in a quagmire, needing to balance various priorities including diplomatic relationships, economic imperatives, and global image. This could result in delays and compromises in implementing effective solutions.

Confronting this crisis demands a multifaceted strategy. Strengthening the legal framework, championing cultural sensitivity, bolstering accountability mechanisms, and fostering international collaboration are vital steps. Only through such a concerted effort can India hope to reestablish itself as a secure and hospitable destination, ensuring the well-being of all who venture within its borders.

The issue of sexual assault against foreign visitors in India is a complex challenge requiring comprehensive, immediate solutions. Far from just jeopardizing individual safety, it casts a pall over India’s global reputation. A unified approach involving legal reforms, cultural shifts, and institutional accountability is non-negotiable for preserving India’s status as a welcoming and secure destination for all.

Humma Rehman Qureshi is a researcher at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.