Home >Opinion >Why tourists don’t feel safe in India

As soon as I entered my coach in the Gatiman, India’s fastest train, I discovered a Black woman sitting in the seat designated to me. I asked her: “Excuse me, I think you are sitting on the wrong seat." “No, I have the window seat," she said firmly. Since she was an overseas visitor to the country, I decided to be extra polite: “This isn’t your seat, but if you want, you can sit here," I said. A little confused, she stood up. In a short, 100-minute journey, I wasn’t too bothered about taking the window seat. So, I addressed her again. “If you so desire, you can sit here." She asked: “Are you sure?" “Yes, absolutely. Please be seated," I said and she sat down.

She looked nervous. She kept on shifting in her seat. At times, she tugged at her hair, at others she squinted suspiciously at me and then began looking outside anxiously. She even punched the window a couple of times. I was curious whether she needed assistance with something. “Are you comfortable?" I asked her. “No," she said with some annoyance. After a few minutes of uneasy silence, she asked me what I did for a living. I realized she was afraid of something. Introducing myself, I showed her my visiting card and asked her: “Do you need any help?" She opened up.

She told me she had arrived in New Delhi from London three days ago. In Delhi, a number of people stopped her on the street to demand that she click selfies with them. She was approached with similar demands in Agra throughout the day. She asked me angrily: “Do people want to click selfies with me since the colour of my skin is dark?" “We Indians are not racists. I don’t think so," I replied. She said: “Perhaps they are behaving like this because my hairdo is very different."

I shook my head and in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere said: “Maybe they were doing it because they found you charming!" She broke into laughter. The anger simmering within her abated a bit but her complaints against India didn’t cease. She said: “Earlier I used to be a journalist, but then I got into the business of buying and selling antiques. In Delhi, I asked the cabbie to take me to the National Gallery of Modern Art. He didn’t even know such a gallery existed in your national capital. Why don’t Indians care more about art?" Engaged in this half-hearted, unsubtle and unfriendly conversation, we realized we had reached Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station.

Late into the night that day, I was unsettled. Why couldn’t I tell the lady from London the complete truth? In order to not insult Indians, I was hiding the bitter truth that serious crimes frequently happen involving visitors to India. Five days before our encounter, a Swiss couple had been badly beaten up by a group of young men in Fatehpur Sikri. Their only fault: They had refused to click a selfie with those rogues.

Why do some people get so excited in the company of foreigners that they keep seeking selfies with them, even if this means the tourists are coerced into doing it? Isn’t this a violation of their privacy? What’s unfortunate is that those lawmakers who’ve been given the responsibility of enacting laws and controlling the bureaucracy want to just focus on making political statements. Why don’t those trying to politicize incidents such as Fatehpur Sikri take an initiative where workers of their party take responsibility for ensuring tourists’ safety and tackling unscrupulous elements who bother them?

Isn’t it shameful that as many as 365 crimes were committed in India against foreigners in 2015 ? Of these, the most (113) were in Delhi. This was the ground reality in a year when we earned Rs1,35,193 crore in foreign exchange from tourism. Who says Indians are serious about increasing their business prospects?

We shouldn’t forget that our people also go overseas for work, tourism or for other reasons. They can only stay safe when foreigners visiting India feel secure here. In this case, blaming the government won’t do. It’s a question of India and the Indian ethos. A little alertness and foresight on our part can save a foreigner from a potentially life-threatening crisis. That’s the least that we can do as Indians.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.

His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.

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