Delhi unsafe? No, say many visitors, residents (Feature)

August 2nd, 2010 - 4:58 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Aug 2 (IANS) Sebastian Wright, a junior attache in a European mission, and his Romanian wife Maria sip coffee and nibble at sandwiches at a cafe in south Delhi. The sun has long set, but they do not mind lingering for another hour.

“Security has never been an issue for the last two-and-a-half years that we have been here. We go out to parties that last till the wee hours of the morning. Our children go to school in the city,” Wright (name changed) told IANS at the Barista cafe located in a shopping enclosure in South Extension-I.

Delhi unlike in the Seventies and the Eighties is no longer the “early-to-bed” staid capital city that discourage late night revelry. The entry of multinational coffee and bistro chains like the Barista, Costa Coffee, Cafe Coffee Day and Coffee Beans has made the metropolis a “night animal” - one which wakes up after sundown.

Add to it, the five star hotels, lounge bars, the handful of happening nightclubs, international diners’ type restaurants and the 24X7 family McDonald’s vends; they keep Delhi on its toes till the wee hours of morning.

A rough estimate cites that Delhi and the NCR region has nearly 250 coffee bars, tea bars, bistros, quick eating vends and midnight snack bars.

Contrary to doubts being expressed in many circles about the security situation in the Indian capital during the Commonwealth Games, - the captain of the New Zealand netball team was quoted as saying in Auckland that she had asked her family and friends not to come to Delhi as it is not the safest of places to meet in town for coffee - a cross section of expatriates, tourists and others aver that Delhi is as safe, and may be even safer, than many big cities across the world.

“We have never been harassed in Delhi unlike many other capital cities across the globe where foreigners are looked upon with suspicion,” says Wright.

A lot seems to have changed for the capital, with policing becoming stricter, in the last two years after it started preparing for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2010 scheduled for Oct 3-14.

Delhi Police Commissioner Y.S. Dadwal last week said the crime graph in Delhi was not only under control but had “in fact dipped”. “The crime graph is at an all-time low in the history of Delhi and the case of both henious and non-heinous crimes except snatching and motor vehicle thefts has gone down. The Indian Penal Code crimes per lakh population has dropped from 372 in 1991 to 264. Last year, the figure was 287,” Dadwal briefed the media.

Many foreigners who have lived here add teeth to the commissioner’s claim.

“We found Delhi a safe city, although it did take us a year to pluck up courage to walk around. Once we started walking, it felt like 16th century Cairo. Delhi is a fantastic place to live in,” Mike Bryan, a former CEO of Penguin-India who has been living here with his wife since 2007, told IANS.

Orlanda Ruthven, a British citizen working in India, agrees.

“In London, one is at the risk of being mugged by armed gangs. I had to run for cover several times, but Delhi presents an opportunity of disarming armed attackers. Someone can always engage with them unlike in London,” Ruthven, a singleton, told IANS.

Her companion Anita Roy, another British citizen, believes, “Delhi is one of the safest capital cities in the world. The incidents of robbery, theft and mugging is minimal as compared to London and other cities of Britain.”

The reporter of a leading media house who covers late night events said: “As compared to other Indian metros where working women are becoming soft targets, Delhi is safer with a vigilant police force that works in tandem with citizens and the government.”

Novelist Advaita Kala, a native of the capital who has spent several years abroad, says: “The city fosters a sense of belonging and safety that no one can take away. You can go anywhere any time. I remember visiting Sarojini Nagar a day after the blasts and feeling reassured.”

Alleviating fear, Minister of State for Tourism Sultan Ahmed, said: “Safety should be a concern during the CWG.”

The tourism ministry is working with the police and industry stakeholders to implement a safe tourism code with an eye on the Games.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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