A British tourist leapt out of her window at a hotel near the Taj Mahal in the Indian city of Agra “to avoid a sexual attack” just hours before MPs in New Delhi passed a bill strengthening punishments for rapists.
Police said Tuesday that the 32-year-old woman jumped from her balcony to another about 15 feet below around 4 a.m. local time to escape from the owner of the Agra Mahal hotel, who had attempted to enter her room. The owner was later arrested on a harassment complaint, and doctors have said the woman, who was traveling alone, may have ligament injuries but sustained no fractures or life-threatening injuries.
The British Foreign Office had updated its travel advice for women visiting India only hours before the attack.
“Women should use caution when traveling in India,” it stated. “Reported cases of sexual assault against women and young girls are increasing; recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas and cities show that foreign women are also at risk.
“British women have been the victims of sexual assault in Goa, Delhi, Bangalore and Rajasthan and women travelers often receive unwanted attention in the form of verbal and physical harassment by individuals or groups of men,” the memo added.
More than anything else, what Tuesday’s incident near the Taj Mahal reflected was an environment of fear felt in a nation of 1.2 billion that’s facing a rising tide of sexual violence.
The Agra incident would likely have gone unreported in the global media had it not occurred just days after the horrific gang-rape of a Swiss tourist nearby put a spotlight on India and the safety of its female visitors. In that case, five men entered the woman’s campsite in a forested area of Datia district, tied up her husband and attacked her. Madhya Pradesh state police quickly arrested the alleged perpetrators and claimed they’d confessed to the crime, but a spokesman added fire to the flames when he suggested that the Swiss woman and her husband were partly to blame for the attack for carelessly traveling in a remote part of the country that they knew little about.
“No one stops there,” police spokesman Avnesh Kumar Budholiya 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.”
India was the focus of even greater worldwide attention and national outrage after the December attack on a 23-year-old student riding a city bus in New Delhi. The young woman was brutally gang-raped and later died from her injuries in a Singapore hospital, sparking thousands of protesters to demand that India do something to protect its women.
India’s new bill, passed Tuesday, was a direct response.
According to human rights workers, thousands in India lose their lives each year due to rape, domestic assaults and other acts of violence against women. The government’s own crime records are equally shocking: According to statistics from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, one woman is raped every 20 minutes.
The bill, which still has to be approved by the upper house, makes rape punishable by death if the victim succumbs to injuries or is left in a vegetative state. It also contains new penalties for stalking, groping, voyeurism and acid attacks, and sets a minimum 20-year prison sentence for gang rape, which can be extended to life in jail.
Rapists face a maximum of just 10 years in jail under existing laws.