NEW DELHI — A Swiss woman who was on a bicycle tour with her husband along central India’s tourist trail was gang-raped by at least seven men, police said Saturday, highlighting again the issue of poor safety for women in the country’s public places.
The incident served as a reminder that neither the national outcry against rape since the deadly assault on a student in New Delhi in December, nor recent government efforts to impose a tough law against sexual harassment, reduced crimes against women. On the contrary, the capital witnessed 150 rapes in the first 45 days of this year.
Police in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh said the 39-year-old Swiss woman and her husband were traveling by bicycle to the city of Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, the renowned 17th-century marble mausoleum.
The woman was treated at a hospital in the nearby city of Gwalior. A photo showed the woman walking while being escorted by police to the hospital. Her face was concealed with a hood, a common practice in India, where law does not allow rape victims to be identified publicly, protecting them from the stigma attached to rape in the conservative country.
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“They had veered off the main road after sunset into the jungle and set up a tent to rest during the night,” said R.K. Gurjar, the police station chief in Datia, the town where the attack occurred. “Nobody goes into these jungles in the night. The cattle herders, wood collectors leave before dark. They were all alone and without help. They could have stayed in the village nearby or taken shelter at a school instead.”
Gurjar said seven men raped the woman, beat her husband with wooden sticks and stole the couple’s money, cellphone and laptop computer. Police said they have detained 20 men for questioning and sent eight to be identified by the couple.
Madhya Pradesh has the highest incidence of rapes in the country, with more than nine reported daily. The state’s home minister, Uma Shankar Gupta, told the state legislative assembly this year that there had been 3,381 rapes in 2011, of which more than 300 were gang rapes.
“At a time when we are trying to promote tourism, especially tiger tourism and sacred Buddhist trails in the state, this kind of horrific crime will scare tourists away,” said Pankaj Chaturvedi, director of Air Aman Travels in Bhopal, the state capital.
Last year, Madhya Pradesh attracted about 650,000 foreign tourists, a figure that tour operators hoped to increase by 20 percent this year, Chaturvedi said.
The incident in Datia occurred a day after another woman was raped by three men in a moving bus in the city of Indore, also in Madhya Pradesh.