This story by Aletta André
Two Dutch tourists have told a court in India that two men repeatedly raped and robbed them four months ago. The two women were giving evidence to a preliminary hearing on Monday in New Delhi.
Shortly after they arrived in Delhi last January to begin a trip around Asia, the two women, 23 and 24, met Yasir and Omar from Kashmir. The men helped them buy a SIM card, said they were tour guides and offered a good deal for a trip to Kashmir. The women had to pay over 1,000 euros up front.
Once they were in the ski resort of Gulmarg in Kashmir, one of the women realised they were being swindled, but it was too late. The ‘tour guides’ had taken their passports and over the following weeks forced them to have sex and hand over more money. They were first kept on a house boat in Srinagar, afterwards in a hotel in Delhi and then in Rajasthan.
At the end of February, they got their passports back and resumed their trip through India and Thailand.
“They were scared,” explains New Delhi Police Commissioner Shankar Dash who is heading the investigation. “These men kept them under threat. Maybe, they were also ashamed. That’s why they’ve only just followed the advice of friends in Delhi and reported the matter.”
One of the suspects, 23-year-old Yasir Altaf, was immediately arrested. He turned out to be a shawl dealer with shops in Delhi and Kasmir. The women identified him on Friday. The other man, 25-year-old Omar Baktoo, is still at large. The commissioner says Mr Altaf has taken advantage of at least one other foreign woman. “He convinced a Moroccan woman to marry him. She is now being kept at a house in the south of Delhi.” The Moroccan woman has not reported the matter to the police.
The Dutch women are not the only tourists to be exploited in this way in Kashmir recently. Earlier this month, a male German tourist filed a complaint against a man in Kashmir for deceit and sexual abuse. During a holiday, the German man fell in love with the local man. He thought the feeling was mutual - there were even plans to marry. Back in Germany, the man underwent a sex change so that he could marry his lover. Meanwhile, he sent money to Kashmir, to pay for a house, a car and more. But after a while his lover broke the contact and got engaged to a local girl from a rich family.
Earlier this year, a British woman married a man in Kashmir. She bought a house in his name, because foreigners are unable to buy land or property in the region. Not long afterwards, the man asked for a divorce. The British woman has also filed a complaint.
According to Commissioner Dash, the Dutch women were also charmed by the men. “These men are good with women. They have travelled a lot themselves and are charming. At first, the tourists became friendly with them.”
He thinks this does not mean tourists are unsafe in India. “Of course it is romantic, especially when you are travelling on a low budget, to meet young locals in a pub and to travel with them. But, if you want a travel guide, it is best to use the official travel agencies,” is his advice. “Then nothing can go wrong.”
The case will probably come to court in three months’ time to give the police time to gather evidence. The Dutch women gave statements on Monday, so that they can return to the Netherlands. If the men are found guilty of rape and exploitation, they could face seven years in prison.