“Mother India” - as Indians fondly describe their country, elevating her status to that of a mother - is not at all happy with the savage assaults on the dignity and honour of women, with incidents of rape reaching epidemic proportions since the ghastly gang rape and murder of a Delhi student in December 2012.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has described the proliferating incidents of rape in India as a “national problem”. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, 24,206 rape cases were reported alone in 2011, but experts agree that the number of unreported cases of sexual assault is much higher. While Indian women have borne the brunt of rape and harassment - be it in offices, cinema houses, moving trains and buses and, indeed, almost everywhere, not to forget the villages where many women are too frightened to even report their plight to the police or other authorities because of the consequences - there is now an alarming outgrowth of India’s rape culture with the Indian male predator making it into the international media by raping foreign women visiting the country. Two recent incidents of rape of foreign women, one on a Danish woman and the other on an 18-year-old German girl, were condemned internationally, resulting in travel advisories warning foreign female visitors to be very wary of India.

The growing list of rape cases against foreign women also belies the contention of Sujatha Singh, currently India’s Foreign Secretary and former Indian ambassador in Berlin, that assaults on foreign women are an “aberration” in India. Singh, speaking at a press conference at the International Tourism Bourse in Berlin in March 2013, had told me, in response to a question, that one needed to put the “(rape) incidents in perspective”, a remark that left many journalists wondering that an Indian ambassador - and a woman, at that - should be detracting from, if not downplaying, the savagery committed by men against women. Ironically, a few days after Singh’s remark, the Indian media reported fresh incidents of rape against foreign women!

Incidents of rape against foreign women will, invariably, impact tourism traffic to India, besides destroying the country’s image as a safe destination. A foreign woman setting foot on Indian soil needs to feel safe. It is counterproductive and foolish to waste millions of taxpayers’ money in glorifying ‘Incredible India’ through eye-catching commercial ads in the international print and broadcast media if the ground realities are totally different. Even the best spin doctor will throw up his hands and walk away before defending a country that is fast becoming a tourist’s nightmare and qualifying itself for the dubious title of a “rape hub”.

Though the Indian parliament introduced amendments to the India Penal Code in April 2013 - obviously, to assuage the nationwide outrage - and widened the scope of sexual assault as an offence, stringent laws alone will not do as long as enforcement of law and, more importantly, preventive measures are not put in place. Stopping this ugly phenomenon should be a top priority and this calls for non-interference by politicians and other influential persons. The Indian judicial system, one of the slowest in the world, is equally to blame for its snail-paced delivery of justice, ignoring the fact that justice delayed is justice denied.

Despite the changes to the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 and the Indian Evidence Act - the recording of statement by the victim has been made “more friendly”, thus forcing the hitherto brazenly disinterested police to pursue such cases, and also preventing the police from judging the character of the victimised woman who was often portrayed by officials, police and defence lawyers as “easy” and “inviting” to those committing rape - the Indian Government needs to take preventive measures against rape by asking the law-and-order agencies to intensify street patrolling. A police taskforce, working in tandem with non-governmental organisations representing women’s interests, could be set up to discourage potential criminals from their despicable activities. The so-called tourist police patrols, set up to protect foreign tourists, have done little or nothing to prevent such acts.

The Indian parents’ “sons only” craving also needs to change; the killing of female foetuses is slowly but steadily changing India’s demographics, creating a disproportionate female-male ratio and, in effect, a shortage of women against a burgeoning male population. This gender imbalance is replete with a huge social conflict potential, if not checked forthwith. Besides paying lip service, Indian politicians have been largely ineffective in stopping the practice of female foeticide.

India’s cultural ethos has traditionally put women on a high pedestal: Women have, in ancient Indian culture, been the embodiment of strength, endurance and sacrifice. However, the happenings in contemporary society suggest a very disturbing trend about women’s place in Indian society.–Gulf News