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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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India 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Chennai

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in southern India. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s country-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.  

Travel Advisory  

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses most of India at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism. Some areas have increased risk: do not travel to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (except the eastern Ladakh region and its capital, Leh) due to terrorism and civil unrest; and do not travel to within ten kilometers of the border with Pakistan due to the potential for armed conflict. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System 

The region covered by the U.S. Consulate General includes the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka, and the union territories of Puducherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  

Overall Crime & Safety Situation  

Crime Threats  

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Chennai as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.  

Chennai, the capital city of the State of Tamil Nadu, is regarded as one of the safest cities in India. Violent crimes in Chennai, especially ones directed against foreigners, have traditionally been uncommon. The greater Chennai metropolitan area contains over 12 million people, making it the fourth-largest urban area in India. Petty crime, especially theft of personal property, is common, particularly on trains or buses. Pickpockets can be very adept. Women have reported having their bags snatched, purse straps cut, or the bottom of their purses slit without their knowledge. Pickpocketing occurs routinely on public transport systems. Do not carry large sums of money or display expensive jewelry or electronics. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind. 

Be self-aware and use good personal security practices to help reduce your chance of becoming a target. For example, ensure all windows and doors are locked at your residence, hotel room, and vehicle, and verify valuables are secured and out of plain sight. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security 

Police officials recommend that foreign travelers register with the local police when traveling to their district. Observe stringent security precautions, including avoiding using public transport after dark without the company of known and trustworthy companions. Restrict evening entertainment to well-known venues and avoiding walking in isolated areas alone at any time of day. Carry a mobile phone with pre-programmed emergency contact numbers, and respect local dress and custom, with an emphasis on dressing conservatively.  

Cybersecurity Issues  

India has over 450 million monthly active internet users. South India is a major hub of information technology (IT). The large presence of IT companies and IT skilled workforce can create an environment of increased cybersecurity risk. Cybercrimes such as theft of financial information, identity theft, and ATM skimmers have become a significant concern in India.  Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity BasicsBest Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-FiTraveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best PracticesThe Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud, Taking Credit, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband? 

Transportation-Safety Situation  

Road Safety and Road Conditions  

Travel by road in India is dangerous. India leads the world in traffic-related deaths, and a number of U.S. citizens have had fatal traffic accidents in recent years. Drivers must have either a valid Indian driver’s license or a valid international driver’s permit with a valid U.S. state’s driver’s license. Because of difficult road and traffic conditions, consider hiring a local driver. Most Indian cities lack marked pedestrian crossings, at-grade crossings, and pavement on many roads. It is difficult to cross certain roads because there are no traffic signals; motorists may disregard traffic laws and signals.  

Traffic in India travels on the left; it is therefore important to exercise extreme caution when crossing streets and intersections, even in marked pedestrian areas. Chennai reported 361 pedestrians killed in road accidents in 2018. Helmets are required while riding on motorcycles and bicycles. If a vehicle hits a pedestrian or a cow, it and its occupants are at risk of being attacked by angry mobs. Such attacks pose significant risk of injury or death to the vehicle's occupants, or at least impounding of the vehicle. It is unsafe to remain at the scene. If involved in such an accident, try to reach the nearest police station. 

Driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood-alcohol level that exceeds 30mg per 100ml as detected by a breath analyzer is punishable under Indian law. Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety AbroadDriving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad. 

Public Transportation Conditions  

Public transportation, such as buses trains, and metro rail, are in wide use and often crowded. When using public transportation, always exercise caution with your bags and refrain from announcing the details of your identity and travel plans.  

Avoid using private unmarked buses/taxis, as many who have used these as a means of transportation have fallen victim to crime. The safest form of travel is ridesharing applications such as Uber, Ola, or auto rickshaw (tuk tuk), all of which are widely available. Interstate trains are safer than buses, but train accidents still occur more frequently than in other countries. 

Protesters in India often use roadblocks to publicize their grievances. Monitor local news for reports of road disturbances. Tamil Nadu has a highly developed, dense, and modern transportation infrastructure, encompassing both public and private transport. Chennai is well-connected by land, sea, and air, and serves as a major hub for entry into South India. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights. 

Aviation/Airport Conditions  

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of India’s Civil Aviation Authority as compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of India’s air carrier operations. Tamil Nadu’s major international airport, Chennai International Airport (MAA), is the fourth-busiest in India by passenger traffic and the country’s third-largest cargo hub. Other international airports in the state are Coimbatore International Airport (CJB) and Tiruchirapalli International Airport (TRZ). Madurai Airport (IXM) is a customs airport with limited international flights. Salem Airport (SXV) and Thoothukudi Airport (TCR) are domestic airports.  

Terrorism Threat  

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Chennai as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. India continues to experience terrorist and insurgent activities that can affect U.S. citizens directly or indirectly. Terror attacks have targeted public places (e.g. hotels, trains, train stations, markets, cinemas, mosques, and restaurants in large urban areas) including some frequented by foreigners.  

A number of terrorist groups operate in India. Many are seeking political recognition, and their attacks are not aimed at killing people; as a result, most terrorist attacks in India produce few casualties. Maoists (“Naxalites”) are the most active insurgent group in India. The Naxalites typically attack government officials/buildings, and destroy public institutions (derailing rail lines). While they are responsible for more terrorist attacks in India than any other organization, they have not specifically targeted U.S. citizens or foreigners, but there is a risk that visitors could become unintended victims of indiscriminate targeting. There is Maoist presence in the “Tri-Junction” area, where Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states converge. Violent clashes with police and security forces have occurred. Although the U.S. government does not place this region off-limits, government personnel are strongly discouraged from traveling to this area for non-essential purposes. All three states have dedicated anti-Maoist police forces who track Maoist activities. 

Anti-Western terrorist groups, including some on the U.S. Government's list of foreign terrorist organizations, are active in India, including Islamist extremist groups such as Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami (HUJI), Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM), Indian Mujahideen (IM), Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e Tayyiba (LeT).  

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence  

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Chennai as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. 

Civil Unrest  

There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Chennai. Political violence is possible in any of the major cities of India. Beyond the threat from terrorism and insurgencies, demonstrations and general strikes (bandh) often cause inconvenience. In response, Indian authorities occasionally impose curfews and/or restrict travel. Be mindful of curfews and travel restrictions. Avoid demonstrations and rallies, as they can potentially turn violent.  

Chennai has a history of large demonstrations. The police handle these professionally when they have advance notice and can plan adequately. The city also experiences spontaneous demonstrations and incidents of violence that can disrupt traffic flow and cause damage to property before the police are able to respond. These protests usually occur with little or no warning, and the police are quick to intervene. This intervention has, upon occasion, resulted in violent clashes between police and protestors. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence  

Religious violence occasionally occurs in India, especially when different political/non-political groups purposefully aggravate tensions between different religious communities. Large religious gatherings that attract thousands of people can result in dangerous and even life-threatening stampedes.  

Vigilantes have attacked and killed foreigners accused of proselytizing to Hindus in conservative, rural areas in the past. Bursts of violence targeting U.S. facilities have occurred. Maintain respect and sensitivity to others’ political and religious views. In times of instability, seek guidance from the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate for appropriate action.  

In September 2018, India’s Supreme Court ruled against a ban on girls and women of “childbearing” age (between the ages of 10 and 50) from entering Sabarimala temple, a prominent Hindu temple in southern Kerala state, upholding their right to equality of worship. In early 2019, news that two women below the age of 50 entered the temple triggered violent clashes, including between supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the state’s ruling Communist Party (CPM). Protests are unlikely to target U.S. citizens; however, avoid areas with demonstrations and civil disturbances, keep a low profile, and monitor local media for updates. Even the most peaceful demonstration can turn violent without advance notice, which also includes the possibility of harsh police response. 

Post-specific Concerns  

Environmental Hazards  

Natural disasters in India, many of them related to the climate, occasionally cause massive loss of life and property. Droughts, flash floods, cyclones, avalanches, and landslides brought on by torrential rains pose the greatest threats. 

Tamil Nadu lies in the southern part of the Indian peninsula, with more than 1,000 kilometers of coastline vulnerable to cyclones and floods. In 2015, floods resulted from heavy rainfall during the annual northeast monsoon, which caused water release from local reservoirs that were threatening to overflow. Tamil Nadu and the city of Chennai were hit particularly hard, and more than 400 people died. In 2019, Chennai was hit with a severe drought. All local water supplies dried up and limited amounts of water were brought in from other parts of Southern India. As a result, local authorities and businesses began working on ways to conserve and/or re-use water supplies to prevent this from reoccurring.  

Air pollution in India is a critical concern due to the burning of wood and other biomass, fuel adulteration, vehicle emissions, and traffic congestion. In autumn and winter months, large-scale crop burning in agricultural fields is a major source of smoke, smog, and particulate pollution.  

Economic Concerns 

There are long-standing points of contention concerning India’s record on the protection of intellectual property rights. Police generally view these crimes as a low priority for enforcement; as a result, software and music piracy abound.  

the Indian government determines withdrawal limits at banks and ATMs, and these are subject to change.  

Personal Identity Concerns  

Females should avoid traveling alone. There are numerous reported incidents from foreign women of verbal and physical harassment by groups of men. South India is known for conservative and traditional social mores. Women traveling in South India should respect local dress and customs and dress modestly. Even wearing short pants in some areas can be viewed as provocative. 

Indian government statistics in 2018 showed 33,356 rape cases, of which 27 were reported by foreigners. Recent sexual attacks against females in tourist areas underline that foreign women are also at risk and should exercise vigilance. While India is generally safe for foreign visitors, rape continues to be a growing crime. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers. 

In September 2018, the Supreme Court of India struck down a colonial-era section of the Indian Penal Code, which had criminalized same-sex relations. The LGBT community still faces discrimination and violence in many sectors of society, particularly in rural regions. Tamil Nadu, while more progressive (as the first state with a transgender welfare board), is still a deeply conservative state. A significant amount of homophobia remains among the Indian populace, with around half of Indians objecting to same-sex relationships. Crimes against the LGBT community are frequent. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers. 

While in India, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different than in the United States. Despite legislation that all public buildings and transport be accessible for disabled people, accessibility remains limited. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities. 

Those planning to engage in religious proselytizing must have a "missionary" visa. Immigration authorities have determined that certain activities, including speaking at religious meetings to which the general public is invited, may violate immigration law without a missionary visa. Foreigners with tourist visas who engage in missionary activity are subject to deportation and possible criminal prosecution. The states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Arunachal Pradesh have legislation that regulates or places restrictions on conversion from one religious faith to another. Those intending to engage in missionary activity should seek legal advice to determine whether the activities they intend to pursue are permitted under Indian law. Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers. 

Drug-related Crimes  

There has been an increase in the amount of illegal drugs transiting through India. Most of the drugs that are illegal in the U.S. are also illegal in India. Some drug laws are stricter than those in the United States. Indian officials conduct major anti-drug operations, especially at transportation hubs. Undercover narcotics officers frequent clubs and hotels in attempts to apprehend drug users and dealers. Several U.S. citizens have been arrested at Indian airports for attempting to smuggle illegal drugs from India.  All claimed that they did not realize they were carrying narcotics.  Never transport or mail packages that do not belong to you, and maintain direct control of your luggage at all times. 

Tamil Nadu has air and sea ports in close proximity to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. As a consequence, the state serves as a transit point for narcotics smugglers moving their merchandise internationally.  

Kidnapping Threat  

Kidnapping of foreigners is rare, but travelers should remain vigilant and maintain situational awareness at all times. Kidnappings of children and women in the local community occur with some frequency; many likely go unreported. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics 

Restricted Areas 

The Indian Government designates certain parts of the country as "restricted areas" and requires special advance permission to visit. The areas U.S. Consulate General in Chennai is responsible for include portions of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and all areas of Lacadive, Minicoy, and Amindivi Islands. Find more information on travel to restricted/protected areas at India’s Bureau of Immigration website. “Restricted Area Permits" are available outside India at Indian embassies and consulates abroad, or in India from the Ministry of Home Affairs (Foreigners Division) at Jaisalmer House, 26 Man Singh Road, New Delhi. The states of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim maintain official guesthouses in New Delhi, which can also issue “Restricted Area Permits” for their respective states for certain travelers.  

Exercise caution while visiting Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) in Tamil Nadu; the Indira Gandhi Atomic Research Center, Kalpakkam, is located just south of the site, and is not clearly marked as a restricted and dangerous area. 

Police Response  

For emergency services, dial 112 from a cell phone; from a land line, dial 100 for police. The ratio of police officers to citizens is approximately one officer per 632 citizens. While the numbers of reported incidents increase every year, many more incidents go unreported. There is a common perception among Indians that the police are corrupt and untrustworthy. In some cases, police officers have been involved in crimes, while at other times police take bribes to turn a blind eye. Many victims do not go to the police for fear of persecution and harassment. Even those who witness crimes avoid getting involved in a judicial process that is painfully slow, inconvenient, and ineffective. These practices have eroded public confidence, as there is no certainty of punishment for criminals.  

Police stations are located throughout Tamil Nadu and surrounding cities in India. They are staffed by one or more police officers and are open 24/7. However, generally, the majority of police officers are often ill-equipped and lack training.  

If involved with local law enforcement for any reason, comply with their requests but contact the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. Consulate and ask to speak to a representative from the American Citizens Services (ACS) section by calling +91-44-2857-4000 or emailing chennaics@state.gov. 

If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure. 

Medical Emergencies  

For emergency services, dial 102 or 108 for ambulance, and 101 for fire. The emergency number for ambulance service for Apollo Hospitals in Chennai is 1066. An English-speaking dispatcher may not be available at all locations.  Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Consulate website 

Foreign travelers in India should have medical evacuation (medevac) insurance. Most care is available locally, although more comfortable care is available in Bangkok and Singapore. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Medical Evacuation: A Primer. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas. 

Dogs and bats create a high risk of rabies transmission in most of India. Vaccination is recommended for all prolonged stays, especially for young children and travelers in rural areas. It is also recommended for shorter stays that involve occupational exposure, locations more than 24 hours from a reliable source of human rabies immune globulin and rabies vaccine for post-exposure treatment, adventure travelers, hikers, cave explorers, and backpackers. Monkeys also can transmit rabies and herpes B, among other diseases, to human victims. Avoid feeding monkeys. If bitten, you should immediately soak and scrub the bite for at least 15 minutes and seek urgent medical attention. 

Influenza is transmitted from November to April in areas north of the Tropic of Cancer (north India), and from June through November (the rainy season) in areas south of the Tropic of Cancer (south India), with a smaller peak from February through April; off-season transmission can also occur. All travelers are at risk. Influenza vaccine is recommended for all travelers during the flu season. 

Outbreaks of avian influenza (H5N1 virus) occur intermittently in eastern India, including West Bengal, Manipur, Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Assam.  

Malaria prophylaxis depends on time of year and area the traveler is visiting. Please consult the CDC website for more information. Dengue fever presents significant risk in urban and rural areas. The highest number of cases is reported from July to December, with cases peaking from September to October. CDC recommends taking  insect precautions such as wearing long-sleeved shirts and mosquito repellent. Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in India. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for India. 

OSAC Country Council Information  

The Chennai Country Council currently meets quarterly, and the Bangalore Country Council meets monthly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s South & Central Asia team with any questions.  

U.S. Consulate Contact Information  

220 Anna Salai, Gemini Circle, 600006  

Hours of Operation: 0800-1700; Monday-Friday, except U.S. and local holidays  

Tel: +91-44-2857-4000  

Website: https://in.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/chennai/ 

Virtual Presence Post Bangalore 

Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts in India 

  • Embassy New Delhi, Shantipath, Chanakyapuri New Delhi 110021. +91-11-2419-8000. 
  • Consulate Hyderabad, Paigah Palace 1-8-323, Chiran Fort Lane, Begumpet, Secunderabad 500003. +91-40-4033-8300. 
  • Consulate Mumbai, C-49, G-Block, Bandra Kurla Complex Bandra East, Mumbai 400051. +91-22-2672-4000. 

Helpful Information 

Before you travel, consider the following resources: 

  • India Country Information Sheet

 

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