By Nirmala George
NEW DELHI — Five men have been arrested and have confessed to raping a Swiss woman who was attacked in central India while on a cycling vacation with her husband, police said.
Two other suspects are being sought, said D. K. Arya, a senior police officer. The five men arrested in Datia on Sunday are from villages near where the attack occurred Friday night as the Swiss couple camped in a forest in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh state.
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, Arya said. They said the husband also was attacked by the men.
The woman, 39, was treated Saturday at a hospital in the nearby city of Gwalior and was released later that day, police said. Arya said the couple was heading to the Indian capital of New Delhi, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the north, later Sunday.
The attack was front-page news in Indian newspapers and happened three months after the fatal gang rape of a woman aboard a New Delhi bus, an attack that spurred outrage over the treatment of women in Indian society and the country’s justice system.
Prior to the attack, the Swiss tourists, who were on a three-month visit, had visited the temple town of Orchha and were planning to cycle to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, nearly 210 kilometers (130 miles) away.
They set out from Orchha on Friday and pitched their tent in a forest near Jatia village when they were attacked by men armed with sticks, police said.
The men beat up the husband, tied him to a tree and then raped the woman, police said. They also stole the couple’s cellphone, laptop computer and 10,000 rupees ($185). Police said they recovered the laptop and phone from one of the men who was arrested.
The Swiss ambassador in India, Linus von Castelmur, said he spoke with the couple and assured them of the Swiss government’s help and support.
“Their health and treatment is the priority of the moment,” the Swiss Embassy said in a statement.
The embassy said it has urged a “swift investigation and for justice to be done.”
Figures from India’s National Crime Records Bureau show that a woman is raped every 20 minutes in India. However, many incidents of rape and other sexual crimes go unreported due to the stigma attached to such crimes in the conservative country. India’s conviction rate for rapes and other crimes against women is among the lowest in the world.
Last month, the Swiss government issued a travel notice for India that included a warning about “increasing numbers of rapes and other sexual offenses” in the South Asian nation, and the latest incident could prompt other countries to issue similar warnings.
Travel industry representatives in India said the attack, coming so soon after the December gang rape in New Delhi, would affect tourism.
“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.
According to government statistics, around 6.5 million foreign tourists visited India in 2011, generating about $120 billion for the nation’s travel and hospitality sector.
One of six suspects in the December attack was found dead in a New Delhi jail last week. Authorities said he hanged himself, but his family and lawyer insisted foul play was involved, and a magistrate is investigating. Four other men and a juvenile remain on trial for the attack.
After the 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 extreme 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.