New Delhi: A Swiss female tourist was gang-raped in rural central India, police said on Saturday, the latest victim of sexual violence against women in the South Asian nation. The woman was on a cycling trip with her husband in impoverished Madhya Pradesh state, when seven to eight men attacked the couple on Friday night, sexually assaulting the woman and robbing the pair, police said.
The attackers "tied up the man and raped the woman in his presence", local police official S.M. Afzal told AFP, adding that they stole 10,000 rupees ($185) and a mobile phone from the woman. The attack comes just months after thousands of women took to the streets to protest against India's treatment of women following the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student on a bus in New Delhi in December.
The couple were on their way to the tourist destination of Agra, home to the iconic Taj Mahal monument, in northern India when they stopped to camp for the night in a village. Indian media reports said the men were wielding sticks when they attacked couple.
After the attack, the rape victim, aged about 40, was admitted to hospital in Gwalior city, 212 miles (342 kilometres) from state capital Bhopal, local police official M.S. Dhodee said. The victim was conscious on Saturday and speaking to authorities, police said.
She told police that the couple were both Swiss, police said, but they added they had not yet seen their passports to confirm their nationality.
"The victims, who belong to Switzerland, put up a tent to stay overnight" when the attack occurred, Afzal said. The other police official, Dhodee, told AFP that police were still investigating the case but added that "a rape case has been registered against seven unidentified people".
A spokesman for the Swiss embassy in New Delhi could not be reached for comment.
In 2003 a 36-year-old female Swiss diplomat was abducted in the car park of a popular New Delhi auditorium, driven away by two men and raped. She was freed later nearby. No one has been convicted for that attack.
Concern remains high in India over the safety and status of women and girls in the country of 1.2 billion. Rape is one aspect of a wide range of violence, including domestic assaults, against women in India that claims many thousands of lives each year, according to rights workers.
The Congress-led government has been under heavy pressure to strengthen legal protection for India's women following the December attack on the student who died from internal injuries after being savagely assaulted by six men.
Last Monday, Ram Singh, one of six accused on trial over the December assault was found hanged in his high-security jail cell in New Delhi. Police suspect he hanged himself, but his family says he was murdered.
Under a new bill approved by India's cabinet earlier in the week, rapists face a minimum 20-year jail term and the death penalty if the victim dies from her injuries or is left in a persistent vegetative state.