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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Second tourist attack in India state of Uttar Pradesh in as many weeks

German tourist Holger Ereek was treated at hospital for injuries to his arms and head. He told police he was beaten by a railway electrician at a train station after ignoring a greeting from the man because he did not know him

A German tourist claims he was attacked and beaten at a railway station in Uttar Pradesh — the second such case of assault against tourists in the state in the past two weeks.

Holger Ereek was asking for directions to a nearby fort after getting off a train in the town of Robertsganj on Saturday. He told the police that he had ignored a greeting from Aman Kumar, an electrician who works for Indian Railways, because he did not know him. But Mr Kumar — apparently offended at not receiving a response — proceeded to hit him with his fists, Mr Ereek said. The German was treated at a hospital for injuries to his arms and head.

The incident comes two weeks after a Swiss couple, Quentin Jeremy Clerc and Marie Droz, were beaten up by five people in Agra, not far from the Taj Mahal. Mr Clerc suffered a fractured skull, while Ms Droz’s arm was broken.

The five men became aggressive when they tried to take photos of themselves with Ms Droz, the couple told the police. When she refused, the men attacked the couple with stones and sticks.

All five attackers — three of whom were minors — have been arrested. India’s tourism minister, K. J. Alphons, visited Mr Clerc and Ms Droz in hospital and offered them two free nights’ stay at one of Delhi’s five-star hotels.

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Mr Kumar, for his part, alleges that Mr Ereek hit him first. “I am innocent,” he said. “The German punched me when I said ‘Welcome to India’ to him. He even spat on me.” No reason was given for why Mr Ereek might have struck Mr Kumar, who was arrested.

The superintendent of the local police, Ram Pratap Singh, on Sunday described the case as “simply a squabble … not a serious incident.” Other police officers claimed Mr Ereek “may have some … anger management issues, depression, or some other aberration.”

The two instances of assault, coming so closely together, risk tarnishing India’s reputation as a tourist destination.

Last year, 8.9 million foreign tourists visited India — an 11 per cent rise from 2015. But given the country’s size, that number is still small. By comparison, Dubai alone received 8.06 million foreign tourists in the first half of 2017, and more than 10 million foreigners visited Portugal last year.

After the assault on the Swiss tourists, Mr Alphons wrote to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh expressing his concern at the harm done to India’s image with travellers from overseas.

But in public he also asserted that India was still “a very safe destination for tourists.”

“Shooting incidents happen regularly in the U. S. and terror attacks in Europe,” he said. “Do we call those countries unsafe to travel?”

Sunil Kumar Rumalla, the president of the Travel Agents Association of India, called the nature of both incidents of violence “strange and unfortunate.”

Foreigners have to keep their wits about them when they come to India, Mr Rumalla admitted to the National. “One thing we tell people is to always go to the prepaid taxi counter in every airport and get a cab from there,” he said. “But sometimes people try to save a few per cent on the fare and get a taxi outside the airport themselves, and that may not always be a good idea.”

But Mr Rumalla said that he was heartened by the government’s actions after the two cases of attack.

“They’ve been quick to arrest the people involved, and even otherwise, on the ground, we do see a lot of work being done to improve tourist safety,” he said. “Hopefully the world will see that even if such incidents occur, India is geared up to deal with it.”