Foreign women visiting India should not wear skirts or walk alone at night in small towns and cities, "for their own safety," India’s tourism minister warned Sunday. Mahesh Sharma said the government is passing out a welcome kit with safety advice to Western women visiting the north Indian city of Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, the Guardian reported.
"In that kit, they are given dos and don’ts," he said. "These are very small things like, they should not venture out alone at night in small places, or wear skirts, and they should click the photo of the vehicle number plate whenever they travel and send it to friends."
He added: "For their own safety, women foreign tourists should not wear short dresses and skirts ... Indian culture is different from the Western."
India has seen declining rates of female tourism in the wake of high-profile attacks on female tourists and women across the country. Roughly 92 women are raped each day in India and about 79 percent of women said they have experienced street harassment and violence. In July, an Israel women was sexually assaulted in the Himalayan resort town of Manali, while a Japanese woman and a Russian woman also reported attacks in recent years.
The welcome kit introduced last year includes a note that reads: "Some parts of India, particularly the smaller towns and villages, still have traditional styles of dressing. Do find out about local customs and traditions or concerned authorities before visiting such places."
The United Kingdom's Foreign Office has also warned its female citizens visiting India to, "respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, when alone at any time of day."
Critics said governments shouldn't rely on a dress code to keep women safe.
"It was very stupid, not a fully thought-through statement," Ranjana Kumari, director of the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, a think tank focusing on gender equality in India, told the Guardian of Sharma's remarks. "The minister doesn’t realize the implications of such irresponsible statements."
Kumari said the remarks underscored "the syndrome of blaming women" for what they wore and where they were. "But the problem is men and boys in India. They go for all kinds of misogyny and sexual acts, rapes and gang-rapes," she said.
Sharma said women can ultimately wear whatever they want. "We are asking them to take precaution while going out at night. We are not trying to change anyone’s preference," he added. "Why should we indulge in suggesting a dress code for visitors?"
India saw nearly 8 million tourists in 2014.