The Incident: A swiss couple on vacation in India was allegedly harassed and beaten up by a group of young men with sticks and stones in Fatehpur Sikri. The attack left Quentin Jeremy Clerc with a fractured skull and partial hearing loss, and his girlfriend Marie Droxz with a broken arm. The incident occurred a day after these tourists visited the Taj Mahal in Agra.
The Aftermath: Ever since, the state administration has been under mounting pressure to act against the perpetrators from all corners. After the incident, Union Minister of Tourism KJ Alphons shot off a strongly-worded letter to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, urging Yogi Adityanath to take appropriate action. Expressing “deep concern” over the turn of events, he wrote “two Switzerland citizens were attacked and injured at Fatehpur Sikri yesterday. You would kindly appreciate that such incidents negatively impact our image and are detrimental to our efforts in promoting India as a tourism destination.” He said that a “fast and speedy response in identifying and ensuring speedy action including conviction of the guilty would be reassuring” and would send a “good message of our efforts to prevent recurrence of such incidents”.
External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, too, has sought a report, indicating that the highest echelons of the government have taken note of the unfortunate incident. Reportedly, one person has been arrested and FIR has been lodged against four people by the local police.
Our Take: We do not have complete details as to what instigated the entire episode and there would be some merit in going in to the details of it. However, the incident is most unfortunate and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms and at the highest levels of the government. The perpetrators of the crime must be brought to task and doled the severest punishment in the visible form to demonstrate that adequate action has been taken.
A tourist’s confidence in the country must be held high and an average tourist must remain assured of India’s standing as a safe and secure destination for travel and tourism – which, indeed, it is. This also needs to be highlighted with equal vigour. We are an extremely hospitable and friendly people. The Indian spirit of Atithi Devo Bhawah remains intact and therefore, going forward, it must be adequately highlighted. One way to go about it would be unequivocal condemnation of attack, beside ensuring that justice is delivered to the aggrieved tourists. There is visible progress on both fronts. Taking the idea a step further, an active law-enforcement machinery and a working grievance redressal system should be in place, not just for tourists, foreign and domestic, but equally for an average citizen of the country.
Several such initiatives, such as installation CCTV cameras and tourist police, particularly around important monuments and more frequented tourist attractions, have already been undertaken but need to be fast-tracked. There is no denying that the incident has caused bad publicity for India in the international media. The government is in the firefighting mode and this too shall pass. But the ideal way forward would be not losing sight of the bigger picture of making India a seamless tourist experience for travellers by merely resorting to temporary measures. A comprehensive and long-term strategy in dealing with such situations will go a far longer way than temporary, stop-gap arrangements to nip a PR fiasco in the bud.