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India 2019 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, India.

 

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.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

The U.S. Consulate General in Chennai does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

 

Please review OSAC’s India-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

Crime Threats

 

There is moderate risk from crime in Chennai. As in any other major city, crime does occur in Chennai. The information below will provide you a general overview of the crime and safety threats facing the U.S. private-sector community in India in the region covered by the U.S. Consulate General, which includes the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka, and the union territories of Puducherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Chennai, the capital city 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.

In southern India, in 2016, there were 84 cases of crimes against foreigners reported, constituting 21.9% of total crime reports against foreigners in all of India.

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, and 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.

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.

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 are advised to respect local dress and customs and to dress modestly. Even wearing short pants in some areas can be viewed as provocative.

Females should avoid traveling alone. 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.

Indian government studies in 2016 showed 39,068 rape cases, of which 3,688 (9.4%) were reported in the area covered by U.S. Consulate Chennai. Although reports of rape are lower in South India, recent sexual attacks against female visitors 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 the country’s fastest growing crime. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Female Personnel & Traveler Security in India.

Cybersecurity Issues

As of January 2018, India had 462 million Internet and 430 million mobile 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 and identity theft have become a significant concern in India. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Cybersecurity Basics.

Other Areas of Concern

The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) is responsible for a series of violent actions in Kerala. There is increased Maoist presence in the “Tri-Junction” area, where Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states converge. Violent clashes with police and security forces are frequent. 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.

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 January 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, travelers should 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 responses.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Reports Traveler’s Guide to Indian Transportation Security and Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

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. In order to drive in India, you must have either a valid Indian driver’s license or a valid international driver’s permit with your valid state’s driver’s license. Because of difficult road and traffic conditions, travelers may wish to consider hiring a local driver. Most Indian cities lack basic infrastructure such as 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 blatantly 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. Tamil Nadu reported 3,507 pedestrians killed in road accidents in 2017. 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. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation is used extensively by Indians. Buses and Metro rail are one of the cheapest means of public transportation. 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. For more information on ride-sharing, please review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report Safety and Security in the Share Economy. 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. Visitors should 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.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Tamil Nadu’s major international airport, Chennai International Airport (MAA), is the fourth-busiest in India by passenger traffic and the 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.

Other Travel Conditions

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.


More information on travel to restricted/protected areas can be found 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.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is considerable risk from terrorism in Chennai. 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. 

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).

The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates in India continuously monitor information received concerning terrorist threats to determine credibility, and advise U.S. citizens accordingly.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

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.

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. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report Putting Your Faith in Travel: Security Implications. 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.

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 and snowstorms 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. This water release affected the Coromandel Coast region of the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and the Union Territory of Puducherry. Tamil Nadu and the city of Chennai were hit particularly hard, and more than 400 people were killed. Authorities officially declared Chennai a disaster area. The Southern Railways canceled most train services, and the Chennai International Airport closed for several days.

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.

In 2016 the Indian government banned the 500 INR and 1000 INR notes. All remaining 500 INR and 1,000 INR were required to be deposited in bank accounts before the end of the year. In 2017, the old 500 INR and 1000 INR notes became worthless. Be careful when receiving cash, and make sure you do not receive any of the old notes. In this largely cash economy, shortages of cash, especially in the countryside, are problematic. Withdrawal limits at banks and ATMs are determined by the Indian government and subject to change.

Privacy Concerns

In 2017, a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India ruled unanimously that privacy was an inviolable right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the protection of life and liberty of an individual.

Personal Identity Concerns

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. Crimes against the LGBT community are frequent.

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. Officials conduct major anti-drug operations, especially at transportation hubs (e.g. airports, train stations). Plain-clothed narcotics officers frequent clubs and hotels in attempts to apprehend drug users and dealers.

Tamil Nadu has both air and sea ports in close proximity to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. As a consequence, Tamil Nadu 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. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

The ratio of police officers to citizens is approximately one officer per 609 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 cannot be trusted. In some cases, police officers have been involved in crimes, while at other times police have been bribed 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.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

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), at the following address and telephone number: U.S. Consulate General Chennai, 220 Anna Salai, Chennai 600006; Tel. No.: 91-44-2857-4000; chennaics@state.gov

Crime Victim Assistance

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.

If you are a U.S. citizen with a serious emergency, call the U.S. Consulate General Chennai at 044-2857-4000 (011-91-44—2857-4000 from the United States). After normal business hours (08:30 - 17:00 Monday through Friday), you will be directed to an Officer on Duty. U.S. Visa inquiries should be directed to 91-120-484-4644 or 91-40-4625-8222.

Medical Emergencies

The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates maintain lists of local doctors and hospitals, all of which are published on their respective websites under U.S. Citizen Services. We cannot endorse or recommend any specific medical provider or clinic.

The emergency number for ambulance service for Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, India is 1066. If you purchase a cell phone number in one city and intend to use it in another city, you will have to prefix the city code before 1066 to call an ambulance. An English-speaking dispatcher may not be available at all locations.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Tamil Nadu/Chennai:

Apollo Hospitals: Chennai

Address: No. 21, Greams Lane, Chennai 600006

Tel: +91-44-2829-0200

+91-44-2829-3333

http://chennai.apollohospitals.com

Apollo Specialty Hospital, OMR

Address: No.05/639, Old Mahabalipuram Road, Chennai 600096

Tel: +91-44-3322-1111

+91-44-2496-1111

http://chennai.apollohospitals.com/hospitals/omr

Karnataka/Bengaluru:

Apollo Hospitals: Bengaluru

Address: 154/11, Bannerghatta Road, Opposite IIM, Bengaluru 560076, Karnataka

Tel: +91-80-2630-4050

Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road

Fortis Hospital 154/9, Bannerghatta Road, Opposite IIM-B, Bengaluru 560076, Karnataka

Tel: +91-80-6621-4444

care.bng@fortishealthcare.com

Available Air Ambulance Services

International SOS Singapore

331, North Bridge Road, # 17-00 Odeon Towers, Singapore 188720

Tel: +65-6338-2311

Communication and coordination can be achieved either directly through the regional hub in Singapore, or via the SOS Headquarters in Pennsylvania.

International SOS Headquarters USA

3600 Horizon Blvd., Suite 300, Trevose, PA 19053

POC: Ryan Clark, Tel: +1-267-716-2411

E-mail: ryan.clark@internationalsos.com

Asia Air Ambulance

599/59 Ratchadaphisek Road Jatujak, Bangkok 10900 Thailand

Tel: +668-9896-9000

Email: operation@asiaairambulance.com

Web: http://www.asiaairambulance.com

Insurance Guidance

Foreign travelers in India should have medical evacuation (medevac) insurance. International SOS, AMEX, and Global are among the options. Most care is available locally, although more comfortable care is available in Bangkok and Singapore. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, Medical Evacuation: A Primer.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for India.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

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

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

220 Anna Salai, Gemini Circle, 600006

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

Consulate Contact Numbers

Tel: +91-44-2857-4000

Fax: +91-44-2857-4443

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

Nearby Posts

Embassy New Delhi: https://in.usembassy.gov/

Consulate Hyderabad: https://in.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/hyderabad/

Consulate Kolkata: https://in.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/kolkata/

Consulate Mumbai: https://in.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/mumbai/

Virtual Presence Post Bangalore: https://in.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/bengaluru/

Consulate Guidance

The American Citizens Services unit (ACS) at the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai can assist when a U.S. citizen in India is arrested, missing, is a victim of violent crime, becomes ill or dies, or when there is otherwise a need for immediate help. ACS can assist with information on local resources and by keeping family members in the United States apprised of the circumstances, so that they can make necessary decisions and provide financial and logistical support.           

Travelers should enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Additional Resources

India Country Information Sheet

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