Dashing polyglot, brutal rapist / Some seasoned advice
In most tourism hubs the underbelly comes cleverly right beneath the nose. It is rarely that removed from the ordered façade – that ever-smiling and well-groomed veneer which makes the cover of travel brochures and magazine stories and envy-inducing backgrounds to likeable selfies – but tucked safely away from casual glances. I loped through this netherland, the ‘warren-side’, of Kovalam, a mishmash of shops and restaurants, beauty boutiques and Ayurveda parlours, with Mani, a tourism police constable, in his off-duty hours. Mani (name changed) was showing me the area which was combed by the cops on November 26 morning last year to nab Teja a shop owner cum long-term resident of the touristy town. Some hours earlier on that fateful morning, a Japanese tourist, a nurse travelling alone from Kobe, had been admitted to the ICU following near-fatal bleeding in her vagina.
Knocking back beers standing in the backwash or sprawled over foamy crags during wee hours is a prime Kovalam past time. This is when the cops are not looking – and they are, most of the time. But Teja managed to hoodwink the beat constable and sat on a secluded corner with the Kobe nurse till around 3 AM that morning. According to eye witnesses, they were drinking and later repaired to Teja’s residence within the maze of by-lanes and alleyways. Soon enough the nurse was taken to the hospital. Teja, when caught, first told the police that he thought she was menstruating and left in a huff. But upon interrogation confessed he knew it was potentially fatal bleeding – outcome of his sadomasochistic actions.
“We can’t protect you inside your bedrooms”
While it will not be proper to reveal the details of how Teja was netted, let me say it was an exceptionally clever piece of policework: the brute who was on the run and dodged cops for the better part of the day turned up at the police station all by himself.
“True, the beat constable did miss the duo sitting by the beach on that morning but he was spared a harsh punishment as the crime happened inside a bedroom – where the woman went on her own volition.” Mani said, and added, “See, we cannot protect you inside your house or somebody’s bedroom. For that you have to be careful about whom you are getting in with.” Teja, Mani says, is a known charmer in the sea-side township. The cops aren’t ruling out a drug angle too besides alcohol. “He drove his fist up her vagina,” Mani explained rather clinically. “Such depravity is generally from a stoned-out mind.”
Mani straddles the border when it comes to traits. He was as effusive as only a Tamilian and not moody like a Keralite, proud and chivalrous like a chettan and not stoic and shrug-happy like an annai. He had that danger-cheer of someone happy to take it on the chin as he knew he could sock back the life out. “We get news the moment a junkie hits town. It doesn’t matter he is black or white, man or woman, we have our eyes on them all the time. But the most offensive predators are suave and well-spoken. Some like Teja are polyglots even – handling several foreign languages with ease.” Mani explained why policing sex crimes is becoming increasingly difficult – and why there is nothing like keeping an eye out yourself. “They come in many deceptive avatars – the friendly waiter, the helpful cabbie and the discount-doling shopkeeper. Let me give you a piece of advice from my many years manning a busy tourist area: Do not take your interaction with anybody you meet on the road beyond what is absolutely necessary.”
“You behave like a victim, you become one”
Christiane S. is a true Indophile. Currently on her seventh trip to the subcontinent, she loves just about everything Indian – people, festivals, yoga, Ayurveda and even the spicy food. “My husband Wolfgang suffers from Delhi belly from day two but I miss the curry the day I am back in Germany.” She has also completed her teachers’ training and advanced training in yoga from different training centres across South India.
“The only thing my friends and colleagues told me when I informed them I was going to India the first time around was ‘don’t get raped,’” she told me as we sat in an al fresco restaurant with the cantata of waves playing not very far away. “God forbid, I have never come even close to being molested during any of my trips to India.” Working with an insurance firm in Bonn, Christiane puts in just enough months of work to save sufficient money to travel India for the larger part of the year. A self-confessed ‘India addict.’
Christiane had a certain devouring quality about her – the way she described something was most consummate – a yoga posture, a massage move, a food reaction, a place, memory, Wolfgang. Sort of like watching a multi-dimensional movie with an added quality of life. To notice her basic English was to let go of some of that zest – an unworthy loss. “I am quite friendly and all that but that’s about it. If I see anybody, however friendly he is, checking me out lustfully, I just leave.” Not for her late nights or hanging out with strangers in alien quarters. Even if she has to be brusque, she avoids such situations. Christiane reminisced an incident in Nepal where a honeymooning couple insisted she spend the night with them in their cottage. “For all you know they might’ve just been kinky,” she guffaws. Keeping away from people and situations with potentially untoward outcomes is a must. “These are thumb rules of safety especially if you are a lone female traveller.” And lie – by all means – rather than forsake your safety if you must. “In India the guys almost always want to know if you are married five minutes into introductions. Even when I wasn’t married, I would say I was.” This, she has felt, puts off many from trying too hard. “The Indian man is like men everywhere else – they all try. And here being married draws around you a Lakshman Rekha.”
When it comes to foreign travellers who got into trouble by asking for it – like the incident in 2013 where an American tourist in Manali who hailed a truck to ask for a lift in the middle of the night and got raped by three men – Christiane minces no words. “Really? Truck drivers have a reputation all over the world, especially in America. Whatever made her think she would be safer with truck drivers in India?”
Whether we are culturally – or commercially – inclined to liberalism, she vaunts the innate Indian patience when it comes to nudity on display in the touristy areas. “I mean, look at these people around us,” she waved her hands at the shirtless guys and women in singlets in the restaurant. “In Europe, none of them would have even been admitted inside. See, I do not have a problem with nudity per se, but it augurs well for your own safety to respect the culture of the land and dress accordingly.” Christiane has been to nude beaches but when in India she swears by cotton kurtas and leggings. “It covers you up and is comfortable too.” She recommends the dress code to all her friends coming over.
“I know different people come her for different purposes. Even if you are looking to feel wanted or loved, make sure you know well the guy who is making your dreams come true.” To be circumspect, to shun naïveté, to keep your eyes and senses open – goes a long way in ensuring you don’t have to pick up pieces of yourself when you head back. “Always tell somebody where you are going and whom you are with. And remember – you will become a victim if you behave like one.”
(The views expressed are personal, of course. But if the only ways to avoid rape are either being cautious or ‘educating menfolk to respect women and her wishes’ as Christiane says, the practical, immediate one is anybody’s guess. Wanderink.com stands by whatever that keeps you safe, now.)