Manali, known for its scenic beauty, has recently been in news for all the wrong reasons. A 29-year-old American woman was gang-raped here inside a truck by three men on June 4. She was also robbed of her money, cell phone and travel papers.

The woman had gone to a village, famous for its hot water springs — a few km from Manali, to meet her friends. On her way back, she sought a lift from a truck — unaware about the intention of the men onboard. Instead of dropping her at the hotel, the three men drove towards the Manali-Rohtang Pass road and took turns to rape her inside the truck before dumping her at the Manali bus stand. The accused have since been arrested.

This is the fourth incident of rape in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh and 57 in the hill State this year so far. Although the overall number of incidents of crime against women here have came down from 1,104 in 2008 to 1,024 in 2012, 183 rapes were reported in the State last year, the highest in any year so far in the State since 2008.

Compared with the rate of crime against women in the neighbouring States of Punjab and Haryana, the number of such incidents is, however, far less in Himachal Pradesh. While in Haryana there were 733 cases of rape in 2011 and 469 in Punjab, according to National Crime Records Bureau, 168 such cases were reported from Himachal Pradesh. Nine cases of rape have been reported so far this year out of 57 incidents of crime against women in the Shimla district.

The Delhi gang-rape incident last December had spurred the Himachal Pradesh police and the State government to take more steps to instil confidence in women and prevent crimes against women. A quick reaction women’s team, Mahila Twarit Bal, was set up in Shimla in March. The team members have been facilitated to act promptly on complaints that can be lodged through SMS round the clock.

According to police sources, since the force came into being, some cases of eve teasing have been reported in the town but most of the complaints received involved vulgar messages through SMS or phone calls. So far, 550 such complaints have been made and 13 FIRs lodged. The highly trained team members patrol different places, especially vulnerable areas like lonely roads, educational institutions and bus stands. The police have also asked the Public Works Department to improve street lighting at several such places.

According to Superintendent of Police of Shimla, Abhishek Dolur, additional forces are deployed at different places, including resorts like Kufri in Shimla’s suburbs, during the tourist season when the population of Shimla goes up by several lakhs. Extra forces are also deployed during the summer festival.

Women comprise 10 per cent of the police force in Himachal Pradesh. In fact, it is mostly women personnel who are seen controlling the traffic. Shimla’s Inspector General of Police (Welfare and Administration), S.R. Ojha says a proposal has been sent to raise number of women from 10 to 20 per cent and eventually to one-third of the total police force. Women police personnel presently guard the Police Headquarters in Shimla. Mr. Ojha says women personnel are polite but firm in taking action.

Apart from this, five to six women officials have been posted in each of the police stations in the State; special women’s cells have been established in all the districts which are being manned by woman investigation officers; two anti-human trafficking units have been set up in Shimla and Kangra districts in 2011 and two more are in the pipeline at Simaur and Kullu districts. The Samarath Yojana, introduced more than a decade back, imparts unarmed combat training to girls in schools and colleges from time to time by police teams.

A survey conducted a few years back said that Shimla was one of the three places in India that people voted for as the safest cities in India. The online survey took several parameters like crime rate, law enforcement, terror attacks, etc.

Shivalika from Delhi is studying law at the Himachal Pradesh University in Shimla. “The only thing I am afraid of is the monkeys; otherwise from the security and safety point, there is no match for Shimla, I really don’t have to thinks about security while moving alone around the town any time of the day,” she said.

But the latest incident in Manali has belied this trust, highlighting the need not only for the police to remain alert but for the visitors and locals not to take any one on face value and take necessary precautions while travelling.

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U.S. woman raped in ManaliJune 4, 2013