As India gets international bad press for the Kathua and Unnao cases, tourism ministry is tasked with changing its image as a country where women are unsafe.
New Delhi: Crimes against women in India have long made headlines around the world — whether they were directed against locals or foreign tourists. But amid the widespread criticism that the recent rape cases in Kathua and Unnao have received, the union ministry of tourism has been given a tough new assignment.
The Narendra Modi government wants to create a positive image of India, and promote it as the ‘safest’ destination for solo women travellers.
The plan to launch this new campaign was already in the works before the Kathua and Unnao cases grabbed attention. The ministry had shot films with women celebrities well known across Europe, Australia, the UK and the US, such as fashion designer Emma Puttick, golfer Carly Booth, and culinary expert Kylee Newton.
But after the cases came under the international media glare, the government has had to go into damage control mode.
“Such incidents impact travelling decisions, and we are now trying to portray a positive image on the parameters of women’s safety and cleanliness,” Rashmi Verma, secretary, ministry of tourism, told ThePrint.
“Woman travellers must know that these (rapes) were just one-off cases. These incidents are rare and don’t happen often in India,” Verma insisted.
The tourism ministry is now floating a proposal document to hire a public relations firm to boost India’s image. With offices in foreign locations, the mandate of the agency will be to promote positive stories about India.
Another effort to restore India’s global brand image has seen the ministry increase its marketing budget from Rs 400 crore in 2017-2018 to Rs 600 crore in 2018-2019.
A difficult task
Some industry experts think it won’t be an easy task to change the narrative though.
Last week, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde described the Kathua case as “revolting”. She expressed hope that Indian authorities, starting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would pay more attention to it.
“When I was last in Davos after Prime Minister Modi’s speech, I did tell him that he had not mentioned the women of India enough. And it’s not just a question of talking about them,” Lagarde had said.
United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres had echoed similar concerns. He termed the Kathua incident “horrific”, and hoped that authorities would bring the perpetrators to justice.