Six men accused of raping a Swiss tourist who was cycling with her husband in central India have been produced in court and charged with gang rape.
The suspects appeared in the magistrate's court in Madhya Pradesh state with their faces covered with black cloth, police superintendent Chandra Shekhar Solanki said.
It was not clear how they pleaded in court, but during their arrest Sunday they confessed to the crime, police said. The men, who are poor farmers from nearby villages, also face additional charges of robbing the Swiss couple.
Couple attacked, robbed
The attack occurred Friday night as the Swiss couple camped in a forest in Datia district. Police said the men attacked the husband, tying him to a tree before raping his wife.
The couple told police that the woman had been raped by seven or eight men, but that it was dark and they could not be sure of the exact number. The 39-year-old woman was treated Saturday at a local hospital and released later the same day, according to police. The couple allegedly suffered no major injuries.
The attackers also stole the couple's cellphone, laptop computer, and about $185 US, said police, who recovered the laptop and phone from one of the men who was arrested Sunday.
The Swiss tourists were on a three-month India holiday and had visited the temple town of Orchha. They were planning to cycle to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, about 210 kilometres away. They set out from Orchha on Friday and pitched their tent in the forest near Jatia village when they were attacked by men armed with sticks, police said.
On Monday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported that the woman said she will stay in India for now to help the investigation. There was no immediate confirmation and phone calls to the Swiss Embassy went unanswered.
The attack came three months after the fatal gang rape of a woman on a New Delhi bus, an attack that spurred outrage across India.
After last December's bus attack, the government passed a law increasing prison terms for rape from the existing seven to 10 years to a maximum of 20 years. The law provides for the death penalty in cases of rape that result in death or leave the victim in a coma. It has also made voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women punishable under criminal law.
Swiss travel warnings
A woman is raped every 20 minutes in India, according to figures from India's National Crime Records Bureau. Many such incidents go unreported due to the stigma attached to sexual crimes in the conservative country. India's conviction rate for rapes and other crimes against women is among the lowest in the world.
In February, the Swiss government issued a travel notice for India that included a warning about "increasing numbers of rapes and other sexual offences" in the South Asian nation.
While the Canadian government has not issued a similar warning, it advises women travelling to India that "reports of assault, rape and sexual aggression against foreign women have increased." It suggests women should travel with others.
Indian Tourism Minister K. Chiranjeevi met the Swiss ambassador to assure him that the victim would receive justice, a statement from his office said. Chiranjeevi also said the Indian government needs to do more to ensure that tourists inform local police stations before venturing into remote areas.
Travel industry representatives in India said the incident, coming so soon after the December gang rape in New Delhi, would affect tourism, which is a $120 billion industry in the nation.
"Such incidents will definitely have a negative impact on tourism. It is very unfortunate," said Subhash Goyal, head of the Indian Association of Tour Operators.