NEW DELHI, India — The gang rape of a 39-year-old Swiss tourist while on a camping trip with her husband has further ratcheted up the spotlight on sexual violence in India.
The woman, who had been cycling with her husband in impoverished Madhya Pradesh state in central India, was attacked by at least seven men while the couple were camping for the night, police said Saturday. The assailants also robbed the couple of $180 and a cellphone.
The attack comes at a sensitive time for India. Not only does it involve a foreign visitor at a time of economic difficulty as the nation tries to expand its tourism trade. It also follows on the heels of a high-profile rape case in New Delhi involving a 23-year-old physiotherapy student who died after being sexually assaulted in mid-December on a bus.
One of the five men charged in the December attack hanged himself in his jail cell Monday. A sixth accused in the case will be tried in juvenile court.
The brutality of that case has sparked soul-searching, fear and outrage over politicians and apathetic police, India’s creaky legal system and a social system that frequently treats women as second-class citizens. A United Nations report released last week ranks India 132 among 187 nations in gender equality, behind rival and neighbor Pakistan.
“We are deeply shocked by this tragic incident suffered by a Swiss citizen and her partner in India,” the Swiss Foreign Ministry in Bern said in a statement.
The ministry said it hoped the attackers would be “swiftly identified and would appear before a court to answer for their actions.”
The couple were on their way to Agra to see the Taj Mahal when they stopped Friday night to set up a tent in a forested area, local news reports said. The trip reportedly involved cycling from Mumbai to New Delhi on a three-month tourist visa.
The attackers, who wielded sticks, also tied up and beat the woman’s husband.
The woman was admitted to a hospital for medical tests, authorities said, and has since been released. Police inspector R.K.S. Gurjar said that no arrests had been made but 25 to 30 men had been detained for interrogation.
According to statistics compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau, a woman is raped every 22 minutes in India, although charity groups say most incidents go unreported given police insensitivity and fears of being stigmatized in the sexually conservative nation.
In 1990, India’s reported conviction rate in rape cases was 41 percen t. That declined to 30 percent by 2000, even as the number of rape cases increased more than eight-fold between 1971 and 2011.
Tanvis Sharma in The Los Angeles Times’ New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.