A recent series of well-publicized attacks on women in India followed by the international outcry has scared away tourists.
“India’s image is spoiled when incidents like this happen,” said Dheeraj Dixit, who used to make $2 a day taking photographs of tourists at the Gateway of India.
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.
Although the per capita rate of rapes reported to the police in India is below that of many developed nations, some experts believe that many sexual attacks go unreported and that the actual number is far higher. The public outrage over the December attack led to the passage of a new sexual offense law in March that imposes stronger penalties for violence against women and criminalises actions like stalking and voyeurism.
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.
Economic growth has slipped to five percent in 2012 from more than nine 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.
In April, the Tourism Ministry asked all state governments to create police forces just for tourist spots. Such forces are already present in the states of Goa, Rajasthan, and Jammu and Kashmir, where they wear special armbands to identify themselves.