Delhi feels more unsafe, say foreigners
By Rahul Vaishnavi, New Delhi, Feb 17 : Thirty-year-old Hannah Backmeier from Germany is apprehensive about her safety every time she steps out of her hotel room in the national capital.
The tourist arrived here with three female friends days soon after last December's brutal gang-rape when the nation was seized with anger and shock.
The sense of insecurity among women that gripped the city affected them too. Fearing that something could happen, one of her friends flew back after staying for just a week.
"When we arrived here, the newspapers were full of the gang-rape news. My friend was very scared and left for home," Backmeier, a backpacker staying in the Paharganj area in central Delhi, told IANS.
"We decided to stay and luckily, nothing untoward has happened to us," said Nikola Brauer, Backmeier's friend.
A visit this reporter made to markets thronged by foreign tourists and residential areas where foreign students live revealed that women were still apprehensive and not willing to trust anyone.
"I often come to India for holiday and north Indian cities like Delhi, Haridwar, Pushkar are my favourites. Things have definitely changed for me after the Delhi rape," Sandra Portman, a backpacker from New Zealand, told IANS.
Portman, who too is staying in Paharganj, an area near the New Delhi Railway Station filled with budget hotels, said she is scared to venture out after sunset.
"When I'm in Delhi, I don't venture out after sunset and I'm suspicious of everyone, be it the hotel guys or the auto driver," said Portman who was on her fourth visit to the city accompanied by three friends.
The Dec 16 incident shook the conscience of the country when the 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist was assaulted and gang-raped by six males in a moving bus. She succumbed to her injuries Dec 29. The incident led to mass protests with demonstrators demanding stricter anti-rape laws.
Delhi reported more than 650 rape cases in the National Capital Region last year, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. In 2011, the capital and surrounding areas reported 522 rape cases.
According to Adla Oduba, a Kenyan pursuing her masters degree in philosophy from Jawaharlal Nehru University, sexual harassment and lewd comments were an everyday affair for her on the roads. But now, she feels scared.
"Earlier, I used to ignore them but now, I'm afraid. If people here have the audacity to rape a girl for an hour in a bus, they can surely follow me home," Oduba told IANS.
She said the average Delhi male thought of a female foreign student as an "easy catch".
"They think we are always available. From my landlord to the vendor, it's the same story," said Oduba who resides in a rented flat in south Delhi's Green Park area with her sister.
"Just because we go to parties with male friends and return late at night, our neighbours look down upon us," she said.
Aleydis Pieska from Holland, on her first visit to the city with her boyfriend, has already got a taste of Delhi's hospitality.
She was walking along the road with her friend in Paharganj when someone brushed his palm on her derriere.
"It was disgusting and I was furious. I saw his back. He ran after touching me and within seconds disappeared into the thick crowd," she told IANS.
The foreigners though agreed that strict policing can definitely bring about a major change.
"Police are there in public places but they need to be more active. They need to roam around. The minute their visibility increases, hooligans will misbehave," said Pieska.
Police said they have increased patrolling and were more visible on Delhi's roads, especially at night.
But Backmeier said she saw a lot of police in the posher markets of Delhi but not many in popular market places such as Paharganj or Karol Bagh which are always crowded.
Raisa Abramov from Ukraine, who loves to travel around the world, said such incidents happened in other cities too.
"It's a sad reality, but every metropolis is plagued by high incidents of rape today. You can't stop that from exploring the world. Just take precautions where required," said Abramov.
(Rahul Vaishnavi can be contacted at email@example.com)