Australia may be considering India a priority country in its international relationship as the two nations move towards closer strategic and security cooperation following Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s just-concluded visit to India, but in its official travel advisory Australia continues to flag India as a travel destination that warrants a “high degree of caution” .
In fact, an intending Australian traveller to India may be well discouraged from planning a visit to the country — or even cancelling a planned visit — if he or she were to read all the warnings and caveats about the “high threat of terrorist activity, civil unrest and crime, and the high rate of vehicle accidents” as well as the safety of women, poor air quality and social volatility.
The Australian travel advisory was updated as late as March 20 this year — days before Turnbull visited India and reviewed with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi “the entire gamut of bilateral relations; number of forward-looking decisions taken to further strengthen our partnership”.
India has been trying to woo visitors from Australia with its “Incredible India” campaign. Last year, India organised “Confluence: Festival of India in Australia” from August to November “to provide a boost to tourism and to the art precincts in” Indian cities.
But the advisory on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Australian government says “there are several regions of India where we advise Australians to reconsider your need to travel, or avoid all travel”.
“Violent protests and demonstrations occur sporadically throughout India,” says the advisory.
“Exercise a high degree of caution in India because of the high threat of terrorist activity, civil unrest and crime. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.”
The advisory also includes venues of Indian festivals, religious sites and markets where “travellers should maintain heightened vigilance”.
Without naming Pakistan or any other country, the advisory points out that militants cross “the border into India with the intention of conducting attacks”.
“It is likely they will continue to try and do so. Terrorist groups regularly issue statements threatening to launch attacks in India.”
“The threat of terrorism exists in all Indian cities and tourist centres. In the past, terrorists have targeted areas frequented by tourists including hotels, markets, tourist sites, transport hubs and public transport networks, and religious sites.
“Attacks have also targeted local courts, sporting events and cinemas, and Indian security and political establishments. Major tourist sites and shopping centres are also potential targets for attack,” the advisory goes on to say.
Cautioning against “dangerous” road travel, “undisciplined and aggressive” driving practices “poor quality and congested” Indian roads, Australian visitors are also warned that “you are three times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident in India than in” the home country.
“Accidents are commonplace and the number of road traffic deaths is high. Travelling by road at night is particularly dangerous due to insufficient or non-existent street lighting and the presence of other vehicles driving with headlights off or on high beam. Vehicles may travel in the wrong direction, often without warning.”
The advisory also flags women safety as a high-priority issue, cautioning females visiting India for religious purposes against risks of sexual assaults by faith leaders.
“There are persistent allegations and media reports of sexual misconduct involving religious groups and their leaders in India. Australians visiting India for such religious purposes should be aware of these risks.”
It also notes that foreign women could be subjected to “unwanted attention and more serious harassment and assault” in India where “successful prosecutions are rare”.
After reading this advisory not many Australians may be inclined to make India their immediate travel destination.