An Insight on Travel Laws in India – Do They Really Exist?

By at 19 February, 2010, 10:17 pm

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India is a land of culture, diversity and tradition. Athithi Devo Bhava which means “guest is god” has been one of the ideologies of the nation. But unfortunately some people have brought disgrace to the country on the world forum. There are dozens of cases in which foreigners are harassed, raped, deceived and abused.

The government and the administration always tries to suppress the news related to ill treatment of foreigners. It is done in order to save the country from insult and global pressure. But all efforts have turned out to be futile. The perpetrators usually think that they are free to harass foreigners on following grounds a) they are alien to the country b) they are unaware of any laws c) no one recognizes them c) they carry foreign currency d) their liberal attitude.

I would like to further elaborate on the last point. It is true that the lifestyle of the west is quite different from ours but it doesn’t mean that anyone has a license to harass their ladies. People who see vulgarity and nudity would not even spare a woman in sari.

Shantaram Naik, (a congress M.P. from Goa) while commenting on alleged rape of 25-year-old Russian woman in Goa said “Rape is a heinous crime but an alleged rape of a lady who moves with strangers for days together even beyond the middle of the night is to be treated on different footings.” The statement is absolutely absurd and disgusting which holds no water.

The law definitely protects the tourists but here I would like to focus on the preventive steps that can be taken by them to avoid such harassment.

1. Try to contact a Authorized Travel Operator who would ensure your bookings at safe places.

2. Do not roam around on streets late at night.

3. Try to avoid staying at deserted guest houses or hotels.

4. Don’t go for a very cheap hotel. It may not turn out to be a safe place.

5. Try not to expose bare bodies as it might attract unnecessary attention.

6. Always take a prepaid taxi or auto.

7. If you decide to lodge a complaint inform your embassy about it as well.

The Indian Government must also take vital steps to prevent such harassment and molestation. The only law in the country which remotely concerns molestation is Section 354 of Indian Penal Code under which if a person outrages the modesty of a woman he is punished.  It is very difficult for the courts to construe what amounts to modesty of a woman. Therefore most of the times the offender is acquitted in such cases. The offender can be charged for rape under Section 375.

The government must definitely come up with the legislation to criminalize molestation and sexual harassment. The tourists must be provided with a helpline number which they can call at times of emergency. Moreover the government must discourage tourist agencies which do not have government authorization. Citizens must also take active part in preserving the image of the country.

Please find a real life incident which happened with a lady from Norway in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. This was received by one of my friend who himself is a tour operator. I just published it so that people can read and feel how the foreigners are ill-treated in our country. I would suggest all my readers to just go through it once..

Dear Sir/ Madam

I’m writing to you because of an unpleasant incident I hope you can help me with. I was involved in an accident during a camel- safari in Jaisalmer, Rajhastan, this week.

I was supposed to take part in a 2 days- 1 night camel- trek into the desert, but shortly after the start of the camel ride the strapping holding my seat to the camel broke and the entire contents, including myself, fell off. The accident took place because the equipment (the saddle) clearly was not in a good condition, and therefor putting the rider at risk.

The seat slid off the camels back, with me falling the same way, hitting hard ground with my lower back first and then my head. It caused enormous pain, and I could not sit up. Thankfully we had a nurse with us on the trip, and she made sure nothing was broken. I insisted on returning back to town, as the pain was too much to handle for further riding. The camel drivers wanted me to continue, obviously trying to ignore the seriousness of the situation, but I refused to do so because I did not want to put myself in any danger of worsening the injury.

An hour later I was picked up by the company’s jeep so I could return home. Upon my return I was met by an ignorant staff of owners who tried to laugh away the whole episode by claiming that this happens all the time. (Like that would make the situation better?)

As is common in Jaisalmer, it is the different hotels who also run the camel- safaris. I was surprised with the amount of resistance and denial of responsibility I was met with. Not only did the owners refuse to apologize for the incident, they also said that an equipment failure was not their responsibility at all. At one point they tried to blame the camel drivers, but I think it’s important to underline that these people treated me nothing but well, and that the full responsibility belongs to the owners of the equipment.

I had a doctor visiting the same afternoon, who confirmed that I had a slight concussion and a heavily bruised lower spine. I was very lucky, but it scares me to think what could have happened if I wasn’t. It’s a 2 meter fall, and others might not be that lucky. This episode caused some further problems.. I had to stay in bed for 3 days, luckily not longer, but this also caused a total change in my travel plans. I contacted the management and claimed a refund of the organized camel trek, which seemed more than fair as I only took part of the trek for an hour, and on top of that caused me an injury. The management still refused that this was really their responsibility, and first only wanted to refund half of the amount. After a lot of back and forth we got the whole sum returned, but only by arguing that we also had paid a lot of money during our lengthened hotel stay in terms of food and payment for our room.

All the time I was treated with ignorance, either being told that “they had fallen of many times-take a pill and you’ll be better” obviously claiming that this is not serious. Or just refusing to say that they have any responsibility for the tours they arrange, and the safety of the people they bring on these tours. This is the thing that frightens me the most; that a whole town- where not one safari company is officially registered, everyone refuses to take any responsibility for what might happen to innocent tourist when they go into the dessert on their arranged tours.

During our stay in Jaisalmer we contacted the local tourism force, who barely spoke any english, and basically said there was nothing we could do. And we also went to the local police station who said that the desert was outside their jurisdiction, and therefore they could not help us. You feel very helpless as a tourist in a place where family bonds stand stronger than the official law, and no one is willing to help.

This was not the only problem though. When I fell of I also had a Digital SLR camera on my neck, with a value of £700. When I fell, this smashed in the ground with me and the lens was broken. I found out about this after my return to the hotel, and the first thing I did was to contact my travel insurance, explaining the situation. They said that this was the responsibility of the tour arranger, as it was broken while I was in their care, due to third part responsibility. When bringing this up with the management it caused more denials of responsibility, and they actually said something in the lines of; “get your money back from your travel insurance, and be happy, this is your fault, not ours.” I tried to make them understand that they had to contact the insurance company they had for their travel company, but it soon became clear that they only had an insurance on their hotel and not the safari tours. Thereby they kept denying any responsibility, as they otherwise had to pay for this themselves.

Now I find myself in a hopeless situation. It is personally very frustrating to be handled with such ignorance,but also a total denial of all responsibility is unacceptable. They didn’t seem to care at all, and would continue running the same way, meaning that other travelers might be put in unforeseen danger. The company pointed out countless times that they did not see the point in having a third part insurance, as, according to them, any incidence should be covered by the travelers own insurance. As this is not the case, I don’t have much choice than to cover the cost of my broken lens myself.

This has been a very unpleasant episode, and it has also taken a lot of energy in a situation where I didn’t have any. I’m writing this to you mostly because I hope I can help to prevent other travelers to end up in the same situation. But also because I wonder what one should do in such a case. When neither the police, local tourist force or the tour operator wants to cooperate, who do you turn to?

Who should cover the damage of goods when its a third parts responsibility?
I would be grateful for a reply if you have any suggestions to how I should handle this. I found myself in a very helpless situation, any advice on how to act in such a case would be an enormous help.

PS. I know that this might not help me any further on, but please know that I more than anything wanted to inform you about this because I hope that an awareness of the irresponsible tour arrangements in Jaisalmer might result in a safer and more regulated industry for other travelers.”

Gosh… This certainly happened in India…

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Categories : Legal Mirror | Travel | World

Comments
Hitesh Mehta February 20, 2010

Hey Meghna i feel this is a very valid issue you have raised your voice against and i completely are with you that tourism industry is facing a downfall because of such irresponsible acts in our country. Just want to add on to it that i feel local people in tourism areas should be educated about the importance of tourism industry and how it can help in their development as well as in country’s development. I honestly believe that if changes and awareness is brought at the grassroot level then we can actually reduce the number of unwanted incidents about which you mentioned in your blog…..gr8 job well done….

Hitesh

meghna February 20, 2010

Thanks Hitesh… You really have a pertinent suggestion.

Suhasini February 27, 2010

They actually dont exist and its really sad. But at EOD everyone says arey its fine.

meghna February 27, 2010

You are right but this attitude has to change. We have to act as responsible citizens of the country.

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