As a place branding specialist and the father of two young ladies I have paid close attention in recent weeks to the brutal rape and murder of a young woman on a New Delhi bus, the ensuing global outrage and the possible implications for India. A country that I admire very much.
As consumers, before we can consider the higher level benefits that we may derive from visiting a destination, we must firstly satisfy ourselves that it is going to be a safe place to visit. There is no doubt that despite the enormous gains made by New Delhi, Mumbai and other Indian cities over the past decade, this assault and murder has dealt a blow to their reputation, and quite possibly the perception of India’s attractiveness as a destination.
For weeks this story has been generating worldwide outrage. Global media outlets such as the BBC and CNN International have closely followed this evolving story on a daily basis, revealing that assaults on women in India are not only common, but to date have frequently been ignored by police, politicians and other authorities. It’s this perception that assaults on women are a systemic problem that poses the greatest problem for India, its cities and the tourism industry. The country must show that tolerance of any form of abuse on women is not only unacceptable, but that indifference toward it has been eradicated from Indian society.
What we are witnessing is India’s rapid development as an industrialized society and some aspects of Indian society have not kept pace. India is evolving from a mainly poor, agrarian country to a more urbanized, modern nation driven by a booming well-educated, middle-class. While women are central to the new economy, many traditional attitudes toward women remain. The Economist reports, “The UN’s human rights chief calls rape in India a ‘national problem’. Rapes and the ensuing deaths (often from suicide), are routinely described in India’s press. Although many more attacks go unreported to the public or police.”
If India is going to truly develop as a compelling and durable international brand it must seriously reform the issues that enable this form of assault to occur, eradicate apathy toward it and address the flood of negative publicity that will not go away soon.