British volunteer’s rape triggers fear among tourists

June 20th, 2009 - 3:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Richard Gere Shimla, June 20 (IANS) Many foreign tourists in Himchal Pradesh, which lures hordes of backpackers every summer, say they are scared and worried about their safety following the alleged gang rape of a British teenager in the popular tourist destination of Palampur in Kangra district.
The 18-year-old British girl, who was teaching poor children in the region as part of an exchange programme, alleged that she was repeatedly raped by two men Thursday night. They were arrested Friday.

“We are now too scared (after the rape incident) to venture out alone or to frequent the once lively restaurants and bars after dark,” David Jones, a tourist from Switzerland, told IANS. He and his wife are on a holiday in this tourist town.

“Crime is everywhere in the world, but its rate is quite high in India, especially at those places which are frequented by the foreigners,” Jones added.

Bob Hopson, a 23-year-old sociology student from Ireland, who arrived here a week ago with his mother, said the rape incident is really shocking.

“Everyone’s really shocked… it’s been pretty bad. You just stay indoors after dark and try to avoid mixing up with the strangers and street vendors,” he said.

Similarly, there is an unfamiliar chill in the air in Dharamsala, which has become a new-age Shangri-la for backpackers.

It has been attracting a steady stream of Tibet enthusiasts, scholars, volunteers and Hollywood stars such as devout Buddhist Richard Gere, Goldie Hawn and Pierce Brosnan since Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama settled here in 1959.

This town is close to Palampur where the British volunteer was raped.

“This place is so peaceful. Look, all the monks in maroon robes are wandering around, chanting spiritual notes. But now that’s all been shattered,” said Nancy Hilton, a US tourist who is here to meet the monks.

“The rape of the British teenager has exposed the darker side of this epically beautiful hill station,” she said.

One British woman who has lived in Dharamsala for quite some time attributed the rising violence against foreigners to the huge disparity of wealth between most locals and the tourists.

Himachal Pradesh has seen a relentless surge in footfalls in the last few years.

According to the tourism department, the state received 9.37 million domestic and 367,000 foreign tourists last year.

The number of foreigners went up three-fold from 111,000 in 2000 to 367,000 in 2008.

Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) S.R. Mardi said the tourists have been advised to take help of tourist traffic police.

“More than 400 police personnel have been trained to assist the tourists. They have been deployed at prominent tourist spots. We will soon initiate steps to check antecedents and register all maxi cab operators in the state,” he added.

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