Six suspects were arrested in India for the alleged gang-rape of a Swiss tourist in the northern state of Madhya Pradesh. The 39-year-old woman – the latest victim of India’s rising tide of sexual violence – claims she was attacked by a group of men as she camped with her husband in a remote part of Datia district.
The couple were on a cycling tour and heading north towards Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. They stopped near the village of Jhansi, where they camped about 700 metres from the road in an area of scrub.
The victim’s husband reported that at about 9.30pm, a group of men came into their camp, beat him with sticks and tied him up before raping his wife in front of him. Up to eight men could have been involved in the assault. The couple flagged down a passing motorcyclist about an hour later and were taken to the local police station. The woman was sent to a hospital in Datia, but there was no female doctor available to take medical evidence, so she was sent to the city of Gwalior about 46 miles (75km) away.
The issue of sexual assault – and particularly the seriousness with which police pursue cases – has divided India after the brutal gang-rape of a student in Delhi in December. The woman, 23, died after being attacked by a group of men as she and a male companion travelled on a night bus. The couple were allegedly lured on to the bus by four men and a boy of 17. The woman was repeatedly raped and her friend beaten before they were dumped at the roadside. The driver, who was accused of leading the gang, was found dead in his cell last week. Three other men and the 17-year-old are standing trial.
Tonight, a spokesman for Madhya Pradesh police caused anger by suggesting that the Swiss woman and her husband were partly to blame for the attack. Inspector Avnesh Kumar Budholiya said the tourists had been careless in travelling to a remote part of the country they knew little about.
“No one stops there,” he said. “Why did they choose that place? They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They would have passed a police station on the way to the area they camped. They should have stopped and asked about places to sleep.”
Neerja Ahlawat, sociologist and deputy director of the women’s studies centre at Maharshi Dayanand University in Haryana said: “This is typical of all the cases that take place in India. The police don’t want to take responsibility. Indian women are not safe, in small towns, villages or the big cities, partly because the police are not assuming responsibility for keeping women safe. They blame the dark, the clothes a woman wears, everything but their shirking of their duties.”
The Chambal valley region, where the rape took place, is renowned in India for being lawless and a refuge for some of its most infamous dacoits, or bandits. Criminals who seek refuge in this barren region of ravines and scrubland can often evade capture for years. Local reports last night suggested that five of the suspects had confessed to raping the woman, but Inspector Budholiya said they had not admitted to being involved.
Police have recovered 5,500 rupees (£67), a laptop and a mobile belonging to the couple, and confiscated a rifle from the suspects. The men operate an illicit distillery near the area where the rape occurred.
The Swiss foreign ministry, which issued a statement condemning the rape, advises Swiss tourists to avoid travelling at night in India.
Madhya Pradesh has one of the highest rates of rape in India.
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