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Swiss tourist on cycle trip gang-raped in India

A Swiss female tourist was gang-raped in central India in front of her husband, police said on Saturday, renewing the focus on the issue of sexual violence against women in the south Asian nation.

Swiss tourist on cycle trip gang-raped in India
Swiss couple were reportedly planning a visit to the Taj Mahal. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim

The woman was on a cycling trip with her husband in impoverished Madhya Pradesh state when seven to eight men attacked the couple late Friday while they were camping, 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 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.

"We are deeply shocked by this tragic incident suffered by a Swiss citizen and her partner in India," the Swiss foreign ministry in Bern said in a statement.

The Swiss ministry said its diplomats in India were in contact with local authorities and that it hoped the attackers would be "swiftly identified and would appear before a court to answer for their actions".

The couple, who Swiss media reports say are from Lausanne,  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.

"The victims, who belong to Switzerland, put up a tent to stay overnight" in a forested area near a village when the attack occurred, Afzal said.

Indian media reports said the men were wielding sticks when they attacked the couple around 50 kilometers (35 miles) from Orchha, a popular foreign tourist destination in Madhya Pradesh.

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 woman was released on Saturday from hospital, authorities said.

Swiss Ambassador Linus von Castelmur has spoken to the victim and assured her "of all possible help", the Press Trust of India reported.

Some 20 people have been detained "on the basis of suspicion and are being questioned in connection with the incident", senior local police officer D.K. Arya told the news agency.

Reacting to the attack, the state's opposition leader Ajay Singh said it "had brought a bad name to Madhya Pradesh at the international level".

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.

The national Congress-led government has been under heavy pressure to step up 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.

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.

According to government crime statistics, one woman is raped every 20 minutes in India, but most incidents go unreported, mainly due to the victims' fear of being stigmatised in the sexually conservative nation.

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INDIA

Where to celebrate Diwali in Switzerland

Diwali is the five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. Here’s your guide to where festival events will take place across Switzerland.

Where to celebrate Diwali in Switzerland
Image: Rajesh JANTILAL / AFP

Diwali is the name given to the five-day long festival of lights celebrated in autumn in India, and by Hindus, Sikhs, and some Buddhists around the world. 

In 2019, Diwali Day, the final day of the celebration, falls on Sunday, October 27th. The celebrations however take place throughout October, with some happening well into November. 

It takes its name from the clay lamps or deepa (the event is sometimes called Deepawali) that many Indians light outside their home. 

With the days shortening in Switzerland, there's all the more reason to celebrate light, and for the country's Indian community in particular.

According to the Indian Embassy in Bern, there are 24,567 Indians in Switzerland, including around 1,000 Indian students. 

Switzerland’s Indian community is concentrated in the country’s big cities of Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Baden, Bern and Lausanne. 

How do Indians celebrate Diwali?

As reported by The Local Germany, there are a number of diverse ways in which Indians will celebrate Diwali. 

Exactly what is celebrated differs in different parts of India; for example, many northern Indians use the day to mark the return of King Rama to Ayodhya after defeating demon king Ravana, while in southern India it marks the defeat of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna.

READ: For Indians, the silence in Switzerland can be deafening

The festival lasts five days, with specific rituals and activities assigned to each day. They begin with cleaning your house on the first day and decorating it, usually with clay lamps and patterns of coloured sand, on the second. 

The third day is when families meet for prayer and food, and the fourth day is seen as the start of the new year, with friends and relatives visiting each other with gifts.

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Image: Rajesh JANTILAL / AFP

On the fifth and final day, it's traditional for brothers to visit their married sisters and for the sisters' family to welcome them with a meal.

Food is a major part of the celebrations, which originated as a way of marking the year's last harvest before winter.

Bern

The Indian Association of Bern is holding its annual Diwali celebration on November 2nd in Bern’s Bürenpark.

The celebrations are set to include music, lights, cultural events, an Indian buffet dinner and prizes. 

Zurich

In Zurich, the Indian Association of Greater Zurich has planned an event for Sunday, November 10th at the Stadthalle Dietikon.

The event will include dancing and other performances, Indian cuisine and opportunities to network. More information is available here

Geneva

The Indian Association of Geneva is holding their Diwali celebrations on the 16th of November, which feature musical performances and dinner

Showing the reach and influence of Diwali across the world, the Malaysian Association of Geneva will also be holding a Diwali celebration, to take place on October 26th. 

Aargau

In the town of Frick, Aargau, cultural organisation Padmapada is holding a Lichterfest (festival of lights) on Friday, October 25th. 

Not far away in the town of Wettingen, Aargau, the Indian Association Wettingen will hold Diwali celebrations on the 10th of November, with tickets available here

Basel

Kalasri, an Indian art and culture organisation based in northern Switzerland, will hold a Diwali event on the 2nd of November.

The event will showcase a variety of diverse Indian dance styles, followed by a meet and greet with Indian snacks. 

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