|Future rape victims.|
“India’s image is spoiled when incidents like this happen,” Mr. Dixit, 38, said ruefully while hustling for customers on a recent evening. “It’s unfortunate, and it isn’t good for business.”
Visits to India by female tourists dropped 35 percent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India. That three-month period came after the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi in December, which brought protesters to the streets and shined a spotlight on the harassment and intimidation women face every day in India.
But attacks on women have continued with an alarming regularity. While Indian women are most often the targets, foreign tourists have been victims as well. A 30-year-old American woman reported being gang-raped in a northern resort town last week. She picked three men out of a lineup, and on Friday the accused were presented before a magistrate and sent to judicial custody for 14 days.
On March 15, a group of men raped a 39-year-old Swiss tourist in Madhya Pradesh and attacked her husband. Four days later, a 25-year-old British tourist jumped off the balcony of her hotel room in Agra, fearing that the hotel owner was planning to sexually assault her.
“With the most recent gang rape in Delhi on the forefront of my mind, I travel to India with more anxiety than I’m used to when traveling to a foreign country,” said Corinne Aparis, 24, of San Francisco, who is currently in the western Indian city of Udaipur as an international program coordinator with the Foundation for Sustainable Development. “It scares me to think that there’s that type of deep hatred toward women — that just being a woman is enough of a target and reason for some men to inflict such violence on me.”
India can ill afford to lose the foreign currency that tourists inject into the economy. Economic growth has slipped to 5 percent in 2012 from more than 9 percent annually in 2010, and the government needs foreign currency to offset huge payments for imported oil and coal, which cannot be paid in rupees.
A total of 6.4 million foreign tourists traveled to India last year, a smaller number than in some much smaller countries, like France, or even in cities like New York. But such visitors make an essential contribution to the country’s flagging economy, and are vital to the survival of millions of one-man operators like Mr. Dixit.
Tourism over all accounts for 6 percent of India’s gross domestic product and is responsible for about 10 percent of organized employment in the country, or some 20 million jobs. An estimated 60 million to 70 million more people, like Mr. Dixit, make their living off foreigners in an “unorganized” way. Foreign tourism specifically contributes about $18 billion, or approximately 20 percent of India’s current account deficit, according to official figures.