A British woman backpacking across India climbed through a window and leapt to the ground to escape an attempted sexual assault by the manager of a hotel close to Agra’s Taj Mahal, police said today.
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
10:52AM GMT 19 Mar 2013
The incident is the latest in a wave of attacks on women in the country, and comes just days after the gang rape of a Swiss tourist as she and her husband camped in a forest while cycling from Madhya Pradesh to Agra.
She was raped by four men in front of her husband who was held down by two accomplices.
Women’s rights campaigners said the attacks showed how men in India had “gone berserk” and that women, especially those on their own, are unsafe.
The British woman’s dramatic escape highlighted the “environment of fear” gripping women in the country, one leading women’s rights campaigner said.
“It is a really sad statement on the insecurity of women in this country. It is becoming a fear psychosis,” Ranjana Kumari said.
“It will only change when people are being arrested and punished. She must have read about what happened to this woman in Madhya Pradesh. She had a sense, women know… She tried to protect herself and I can understand that because there is a whole environment of fear in the country,” she said.
The Foreign Office said it was urgently checking in to today’s incident, and said it was providing consular assistance to the woman. Just this morning the FCO had updated its travel advice for women in India, urging them to be cautious in the wake of the attack on the Swiss tourist.
Superintendent Subhash Dubey who interviewed the victim today, said she had told him the manager at the Agra Mahal Hotel, which charges £22 per night for a room, had persistently pestered her with an offer of a “free massage”.
The victim said he had knocked on her door in the early hours of Tuesday morning to repeat the offer shortly before she was due to leave for Jaipur.
“He knocked on the door and said it was her wake up call and he had a free hair massage service,” Supt Dubey said. “He consistently knocked and she took fright and bolted.”
Supt Dubey said the woman climbed out on to her balcony on the second floor, climbed down a drain pipe to the first floor and then jumped to the ground.
She jumped to the road, ran away from there and by auto rickshaw came to the tourist police.
“She told us he was molesting her by offering this free service,” Supt Dubey said.
The hotel manager, Sachin Johan, and a security guard known as Laxman, were arrested on “eve-teasing” charges – an Indian term for sexual harassment – and will be held in custody until a trial. If convicted they could face seven years imprisonment.
The accused strongly deny the charges and say they had knocked on the woman’s door at her request for an early morning call to make sure she did not miss her train to Jaipur.
The British woman had been in Udaipur, Rajasthan on Sunday and had arrived in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, and booked into the mid-range Agra Mahal hotel in the city’s Army cantonment area.
She told police the manager had offered her a free massage earlier the previous day, but she had declined.
Police officers arranged a medical examination which revealed no fracture in her leg, although she told officials she is in pain from a suspected ligament injury sustained during her leap.
She had planned to travel on to Jaipur in Rajasthan on Tuesday and then to Delhi before taking a flight to Beijing as part of a backpacking tour of Asia.
She will now travel to Delhi on Wednesday under police protection, Superintendent Dubey said.
Paranjeet Kaur, a senior police officer looking after the young woman at another Agra hotel, said the victim would not be making any comment on the incident.
The Indian government has been under intense pressure to curb the violence against women. Last week, ministers came under fire after passing a law intended to crack down on sexual assaults, but which failed to make marital rape a criminal offence.
Yesterday, an Indian state minister appeared to put part of the blame on the victims, saying that tourists were putting themselves at danger of rape by not informing police of their travel plans.
Today, the FCO updated its advice for travellers to India. Women in particular were urged to use caution: “Reported cases of sexual assault against women and young girls are increasing; recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas and cities show that foreign women are also at risk.
“British women have been the victims of sexual assault in Goa, Delhi, Bangalore and Rajasthan and women travellers often receive unwanted attention in the form of verbal and physical harassment by individuals or groups of men.
“A Swiss national suffered a serious sexual attack in Madyha Pradesh on 16 March. Women travellers should exercise caution when travelling in India even if they are travelling in a group.
“If you are a woman travelling in India you should respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, when alone at any time of day.”