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India 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report: Chennai

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India 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report: Chennai

Overall Crime and Safety

Crime

The Greater Chennai metropolitan area contains approximately 8 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.  Theft of U.S. passports is quite common, particularly in major tourist areas, on overnight trains, and at airports and train stations.  If you are traveling by train, you are urged to lock your sleeping compartments and take your valuables with you when leaving your berth.  If you travel by air, you need to be particularly careful with your bags in the arrival and departure areas outside airports.

Violent crime, especially directed against foreigners, has traditionally been uncommon, although in recent years there has been a modest increase.  As a U.S. citizen’s purchasing power is comparatively large in India, you should exercise modesty and caution in your financial dealings to reduce the chance of being a target for robbery or other crime.  Gangs and criminal elements operate in major cities and have sometimes targeted unsuspecting business travelers and their family members for kidnapping and/or extortion.

U.S. citizens, particularly women, are cautioned not to travel alone in India.  Western women continue to report incidents of verbal and physical harassment by men.  Known locally as “Eve-teasing,” these incidents can be quite frightening. While India is generally safe for foreign visitors, according to the latest figures by Indian authorities, rape is the fastest growing crime in India.  Although most victims have been local residents, recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas underline the fact that foreign women are also at risk and should exercise vigilance.

Women should observe stringent security precautions, including avoiding using public transport after dark without the company of known and trustworthy companions; restricting evening entertainment to well-known venues; and avoid walking in isolated areas alone at any time of day.  Southern India is very distinct from the other major cities and has a strong reputation for being very traditional.  If you are a woman traveling in India, you are advised to respect local dress and customs.  Women should be very mindful of this, as in some areas even wearing shorts can be viewed as provocative.  You should ensure that your hotel room number remains confidential and insist that the door to your hotel room have chains, deadlocks, and spy-holes.  In addition, only hire reliable cars and drivers and avoid traveling alone in hired taxis, especially during the hours of darkness.  It is preferable to obtain taxis from hotels and pre-paid taxis at airports rather than hailing them on the street. If you encounter threatening situations, you should dial “100” for police assistance.

Road Safety

Travel by road in India is dangerous. You should exercise extreme caution when crossing streets even in marked pedestrian areas and try to use only cars that have seatbelts.  Seat belts are not common in public transport.  Helmets should always be worn on motorcycles and bicycles.

Roads in Chennai are in moderately good condition, but the city's infrastructure struggles to keep pace with its rapid growth. There is traffic congestion throughout Chennai.  Accidents are common due to lack of traffic enforcement and general disregard by drivers for traffic laws.  Traffic congestion generally limits the number of high speed traffic accidents/fatalities.

Travel at night is particularly hazardous.  Buses, patronized by hundreds of millions of Indians, are convenient in that they serve almost every city of any size.  However, they are usually driven fast, recklessly, and without consideration for the rules of the road.  Accidents are quite common.  Trains are safer than buses, but train accidents still occur more frequently than in other countries.

In order to drive in India, you must have either a valid Indian driver’s license or a valid international driver’s license.  Because of difficult road and traffic conditions, you may wish to consider hiring a local driver.

On Indian roads, the safest driving policy is to always assume that other drivers will not respond to a traffic situation in the same way you would in the United States.  On Indian roads, might makes right, and buses and trucks epitomize this fact.  For instance, buses and trucks often run red lights and merge directly into traffic at yield points and traffic circles. Cars, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, and pedestrians operate with only a bit more caution, however are just as aggressive as any other vehicle operator.  Use your horn or flash your headlights frequently to announce your presence.  It is both customary and wise.

Outside major cities, main roads and other roads are often poorly maintained and congested.  Even main roads frequently have only two lanes, with poor visibility and inadequate warning markers.  On the few divided highways one can expect to meet local transportation traveling in the wrong direction, often without lights.  Heavy traffic is the norm and includes (but is not limited to) overloaded trucks and buses, scooters, pedestrians, bullock and camel carts, horse or elephant riders en route to weddings, bicycles, and free-roaming livestock.  Traffic in India moves on the left.  It is important to be alert while crossing streets and intersections, especially after dark as traffic is coming in the "wrong" direction.  Travelers should remember to use seatbelts in both rear and front seats where available, and to ask their drivers to maintain a safe speed.

If a driver hits a pedestrian or a cow, the vehicle and its occupants are at risk of being attacked by passersby.  Such attacks pose significant risk of injury or death to the vehicle's occupants or at least of incineration of the vehicle.  It can thus be unsafe to remain at the scene of an accident of this nature, and drivers may instead wish to seek out the nearest police station.

Protestors often use road blockage as a means of publicizing their grievances, causing severe inconvenience to travelers.  Visitors should monitor local news reports for any reports of road disturbances.

Political Violence

Historical Perspective

Past terrorist attacks have targeted public places frequented by Westerners, including luxury and other hotels, trains, train stations, markets, cinemas, mosques, sporting events, and restaurants in large urban areas. Attacks have taken place during the busy evening hours in markets and other crowded places but could occur at any time.  Beginning in May 2008, several coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in major cities throughout India, to include New Delhi, culminating in the November attacks in Mumbai where over 170 people were killed, including six U.S. citizens.  In February 2010, an explosive device detonated at a café in Pune, Maharashtra, killing 10 people, including two foreign nationals, and injuring 50. 

In April 2010, two bombs exploded outside a cricket stadium in Bangalore, Karnataka, as crowds headed into the facility to attend an Indian Cricket League match.  The two explosions injured ten and blew out a portion of the outer wall.  In December 2010, an explosive device detonated at Shitla Ghat in Varanasi during evening "aarti," or prayers, killing two persons and injuring 30, including several foreigners.   

The number of deaths attributable to terrorist violence was lower in 2010 than in 2011; however, the loss of over 1,000 lives (civilian, security forces, and terrorists) still made India one of the world’s most terrorism-afflicted countries.  Further, terrorist strikes during the year in Mumbai and New Delhi as well as Naxalite violence in other parts of the country underscore that India remains vulnerable to such attacks.  The Maoists/Naxalites, who are considered India’s greatest internal security threat, continued to be active in 2011, especially in the eastern part of the country.

2011 Terrorist and Terrorist-related Incidents

The Government of India reported a marked decline in the number of violent civilian and security force deaths by insurgents in the Northeastern part of the country.  There were also far fewer violent incidents in Jammu and Kashmir.  Maoist/Naxalite violence also declined.  Through November 2011, there were 1554 incidents involving Naxalites that resulted in 542 deaths compared to 2006 incidents and 932 deaths in 2010.

Terrorist and terrorist-related incidents in 2011 included:

  • On May 25, a low intensity explosion occurred outside the Delhi High Court.
  • On July 13, three serial bomb blasts in the span of 10 minutes ripped through three of the busiest hubs in Mumbai -Zaveri Bazar, Opera House and Dadar-, killing 17 people and injuring 131 others.
  • On September 7, at least 12 people were killed and about 91 others injured in a powerful blast outside the Delhi High Court.
  • On October 10, the Supreme Court stayed the execution of the death sentence awarded to Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani LeT militant, in the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attack case (Also known as 26/11).
  • On October 12, a suspected terror plot was foiled in Ambala in Haryana with the recovery of over 5-kg explosives and detonators from a car parked outside Cantonment
  • On November 24, a senior member of the CPI (Maoist)/Naxalite politburo was killed in an encounter with security forces in West Bengal.
  • On November 30, a suspected separatist bomber was killed when an explosive device he was carrying to plant at a festival in Manipur exploded, just days ahead of the prime minister's visit there. Two people were injured.

Regional Terrorism

Jammu and Kashmir:  It is strongly recommended that you avoid travel to Jammu & Kashmir (with the exception of visits to the eastern Ladakh region and its capital, Leh) because of the potential for terrorist incidents as well as violent public unrest.  U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling to the state of Jammu & Kashmir (except for Ladakh) without permission, which is only granted by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in exceptional circumstances.  When traveling to Kashmir, U.S. official travelers attempt to lower their profiles, limit their lengths of stay, and exercise extreme caution. A number of terrorist groups operate in the state, targeting security forces that are present throughout the region, particularly along the Line of Control (LOC) separating Indian and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, and those stationed in the primary tourist destinations in the Kashmir Valley: Srinagar, Gulmarg, and Pahalgam.  Since 1989, as many as 60,000 people (terrorists, security forces, and civilians) have been killed in the Kashmir conflict.  As a foreigner you will be particularly visible, vulnerable, and at risk.  In the past, serious communal violence left the state mostly paralyzed, due to massive strikes and business shut downs, and U.S. citizens have had to be evacuated by local police.

India-Pakistan Border:  The U.S. Department of  State recommends that you avoid travel to areas within ten kilometers of the border between India and Pakistan.  Both India and Pakistan maintain a strong military presence on both sides of the border.  The only official India-Pakistan border crossing point for persons who are not citizens of India or Pakistan is in the state of Punjab between Atari, India, and Wagah, Pakistan.  The border crossing is usually open, but you are advised to confirm the current status of the border crossing prior to commencing travel.  The U.S. Department of  State has published a travel warning for U.S. citizens planning to travel to all locations in Pakistan based on significant security concerns.  For U.S. citizens, a Pakistani visa is required to enter Pakistan.  A U.S. citizen seeking a Pakistani visa while in India must first come to the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to sign an affidavit of intent to apply for the Pakistani visa.  This is a requirement of the Pakistani government. Both India and Pakistan claim an area of the Karakoram mountain range that includes the Siachen glacier.  If you intend to travel to or climb peaks in the disputed areas you will face significant risks.  The disputed area includes the following peaks: Rimo Peak; Apsarasas I, II, and III; Tegam Kangri I, II and III; Suingri Kangri; Ghiant I and II; Indira Col; and Sia Kangri. You can check with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi for information on current conditions.

Northeastern states:  Incidents of violence by ethnic insurgent groups, including bombings of buses, trains, rail lines, and markets occur with a degree of frequency in parts of Assam and Manipur.  While U.S. citizens have not been specifically targeted, it is possible that you could be affected as a bystander.  If Assam and Manipur are on your itinerary you are cautioned to avoid trains, crowds, and travel outside major cities at night.  Security laws are in force, and the central government has deployed security personnel.  U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling to the states of Assam and Manipur without permission from the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata.  When traveling to these areas, U.S. official travelers attempt to lower their profiles, limit their lengths of stay, and exercise extreme caution.  Restricted Area Permits are required for foreigners to visit certain Northeastern states (see “Restricted Areas” below).

East Central and Southern India:  Maoist extremist groups, or “Naxalites,” are active in East Central and Southern India, primarily in rural areas.  The Naxalites have a long history of conflict with state and national authorities, including frequent attacks on local police, paramilitary forces, and government officials, and are responsible for more terrorist attacks in the country than any other organization.  Their campaign of violence and intimidation is currently on-going.  Naxalites have not specifically targeted U.S. citizens but have attacked targets that have includ companies and rail lines.  While Naxalite violence does not normally occur in places frequented by foreigners, there is a risk that visitors could become unintended victims of indiscriminate targeting by such violent extremists. The Naxalites are active in a large swath of India from eastern Maharashtra and northern Andhra Pradhesh through western West Bengal.  They are particularly active in rural parts of the Indian states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and in border regions of the adjacent states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Odissa.  Due to the fluid nature of the threat, the U.S. Mission requires all U.S. government travelers to states with Naxalite activity to receive prior authorization from the Regional Security Officer responsible for the area to be visited.  U.S. officials traveling only to the capital cities in these states do not need prior authorization from the Regional Security Officer.

International & Transnational Terrorism

Coordinated attacks in Mumbai in late November 2008 targeting areas frequented by Westerners highlighted the risk of U.S. citizens becoming intended or unintended victims of terrorism in India.  Anti-Western terrorist groups, some on the U.S. government's list of foreign terrorist organizations, are active in India, including Islamist extremist groups such as Harakat ul-Mujahidin, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e Tayyiba, and Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami.  The U.S. government continues to receive information that terrorist groups are planning attacks that could take place in locations throughout India.

There continues to be concern regarding violence from indigenous Islamic radical groups, most notably the Indian Mujahideen (IM).  IM is believed to be a compilation of native Indians belonging to various groups such as the Student Islamic Movement of India and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.  IM has been implicated in a number of attacks, including the December 2010 bombing in Varanasi, and the serial bombing attacks in Delhi in September 2008. 

Possible Terrorist Incidents in Tamil Nadu

In the past, Tamil Nadu has experienced a number of terrorist attacks, including the detonation of a small bomb under the Gemini Flyover near the U.S. Consulate in January 1998 and the series of 19 bomb explosions in the city of Coimbatore a month later. Areas generally targeted included crowded, public venues.  While it is believed that U.S. citizens and foreigners, in general, were not specifically targeted in either of the Tamil Nadu attacks, do not be complacent and be watchful for any unusual or suspicious events.   

Because of the number and diversity of terror attacks in India in the past, Americans in India should be vigilant about security at all times.  They should monitor local news and consider the level of security when visiting public places, such as religious sites, hotels, restaurants, or entertainment and recreation venues.  U.S. citizens should keep a low profile, avoid crowds and demonstrations, and maintain valid travel documents. Travelers should plan on added time to account for increased security, especially at hotels and airports.  American citizens should exercise vigilance when in the vicinity of government installations, visiting tourist sites, or attending public events in Chennai.  People should be aware of their surroundings, be alert for unattended bags or packages in these areas, and move away from and report any unattended bags to officials.

  • On July 25th 2011 - Chennai police recovered three identical, crude bombs from different locations in the city in less than an hour. At least two of them were found in crowded places; One outside an ice cream parlor in Mylapore, another outside a government college in MKB Nagar, and the third on the terrace of a house in the Elephant Gate area.
  • On October 28th 2011 – A 5kg Pipe bomb was discovered in the city of Madurai underneath a causeway where a local political figure was due to transit.  Police suspect Muslim and Tamil organizations due to posters which were pasted earlier throughout the city and suburban areas where they condemned the political leader and his party for double standards on issues such as the Ayodhya verdict, the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.
  • On December 7th, 2011 – Madurai Police discovered a bomb on a bus with 30 passengers aboard.  The bomb had about 200 grams of chemical explosives and was set to detonate at noon, but was safely diffused.  No suspects have been named.

Civil Unrest

In December 2010 and January 2011, sporadic civil unrest erupted in the south-central Indian state of Andhra Pradesh over the contentious issue of creating a separate state called Telangana within Andhra Pradesh.  Until the issue is resolved definitively, there may continue to be tension, especially in the Telangana Region of Andhra Pradesh, which includes the districts of Rangareddi, Warangal, Medak, Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Adilabad, Khammam, Nalgonda, and Mahbubnagar.  You should avoid political rallies, demonstrations, and large crowds of any kind.  U.S. citizens resident or traveling in Andhra Pradesh are reminded to monitor the situation via media sources, including TV, radio and via the internet.

Large religious ceremonies that attract hundreds of thousands of people can result in dangerous and often life-threatening stampedes.  Local demonstrations can begin spontaneously and escalate with little warning, disrupting transportation systems and city services and posing risks to travelers.  In response to such events, Indian authorities occasionally impose curfews and/or restrict travel.  You are urged to avoid demonstrations and rallies as they have the potential for violence, especially immediately preceding and following elections and religious festivals (particularly when Hindu and Muslim festivals coincide).  Tensions between castes and religious groups can also result in disruptions and violence.  In some cases, demonstrators specifically block roads near popular tourist sites and disrupt train operations in order to gain the attention of Indian authorities; occasionally vehicles transporting tourists are attacked in these incidents.  India generally goes on “High Alert” status prior to major holidays.  You should monitor local television and print media and contact the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. Consulate for further information about the current situation in areas where you wish to travel.

Religious violence occasionally occurs in India, especially when tensions between different religious communities are purposefully exacerbated by groups pushing religiously chauvinistic agendas.  Violence against Indian Christians in a remote part of Odissa in 2008 resulted in the displacement of thousands of villagers and the deaths of 40 people.  There are active "anti-conversion" laws in some Indian states, and acts of conversion sometimes elicit violent reactions from Hindu extremists.  Foreigners suspected of proselytizing Hindus have been arrested, attacked and/or killed in conservative, rural areas in India in the past.

Cultural insensitivity by foreigners can also snowball into incidents of concern. On January 1, 2012, two foreigners were the victims of mob violence after they attempted to enter a local Hindu temple without removing their shoes and other alleged inappropriate behavior.  Agitated over their behavior, a local group of Indians attacked and beat them until the police intervened.  The two foreigners were arrested and charged with hurting religious sentiments. The charges were later reduced to misbehaving in a public place, however as a result of their unfamiliarity with local customs; they were ordered to pay a fine of Rs 1,500 and sentenced to one day imprisonment.

In late 2011, local opposition to the construction of the Kudankulam nuclear power project in southern Tamil Nadu surged.  Several factors contributed to the sudden intensification of anti-nuclear agitation, including the Fukushima nuclear disaster and a series of trial drills at Kudankulam that scared the local villagers.  In October 2011, the protests reached a critical stage, with demonstrators blocking the entry points to the construction site and temporarily trapping workers and their families inside.  Anti-nuclear activists and local fishermen who have led the opposition to the project warn that the movement could turn violent if the central government resorts to force. 

In December 2011, protests erupted along the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala after a series of low intensity tremors heightened fears about the safety of the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar Dam.  On December 9, Kerala’s Congress Party passed a resolution demanding the construction of a new dam, citing concerns about the stability of the existing structure.  The Tamil Nadu state government responded that it would not give up control of the dam.  Local television stations subsequently broadcast images of protestors ransacking property on both sides of the border, and reported sporadic incidents of violence against religious pilgrims and others travelling between the two states.  Politicians in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala continue to make aggressive statements that could inflame public opinion and could incite further violence.

Post-Specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Natural disasters can and do occur in the region.  During the monsoon season from June-September, parts of southern India can receive heavy rainfall.  In the 2010 monsoon season, heavy rains created flooding in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry which lead to the death of over 200 people.  Caution should be exercised in traveling in these districts during the monsoon season.  In terms of Chennai, streets can see temporary, low-level flash flooding that hampers travel and causes heavy traffic congestion and delays.

Restricted Areas

Certain parts of India are designated as "restricted areas" by the Indian government and require special advance permission to visit.  These areas include:

  • The state of Mizoram
  • The state of Manipur
  • The state of Arunachal Pradesh
  • The state of Nagaland
  • The state of Sikkim
  • Portions of the state of Himachal Pradesh near the Chinese border
  • Portions of the state of Uttarakhand (Uttaranchal) near the Chinese border
  • Portions of the state of Rajasthan near the Pakistani border
  • Portions of the state of Jammu & Kashmir near the Line of Control with Pakistan and certain portions of Ladakh
  • The Andaman & Nicobar Islands
  • The Union Territory of the Laccadives Islands (Lakshadweep)
  • The Tibetan colony in Mundgod, Karnataka

More information on travel to/in restricted areas can be found at India’s Bureau of Immigration.  You can obtain “Restricted Area Permits" outside India at Indian embassies and consulates abroad, or within India, from the Ministry of Home Affairs (Foreigners Division) at Jaisalmer House, 26 Man Singh Road, New Delhi.  The states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim all maintain official guesthouses in New Delhi, each of which also can issue Restricted Area Permits for their respective states for certain travelers.  You should exercise caution while visiting Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) in Tamil Nadu as 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.

Tourism

Swimming in India:  You should exercise caution if you intend to swim in open waters along the Indian coastline, particularly during the monsoon season.  Every year, several people in Goa, Mumbai, Puri (Orissa), and other areas drown due to the strong undertow.  It is important to heed warnings posted or advised at beaches and to avoid swimming in the ocean during the monsoon season.  Trained lifeguards are very rare along beaches. If you choose to visit the Andaman Islands you should be aware that there have been 24 reports of salt-water crocodile attacks during the past 25 years in the Islands.  There have been four fatalities, including a U.S. citizen tourist in April 2010.  You are encouraged to seek advice from local residents about dangerous sea life before swimming and should keep a safe distance from animals at all times.

Wildlife safaris:  India offers opportunities for observation of wildlife in its natural habitat and many tour operators and lodges advertise structured, safe excursions into parks and other wildlife viewing areas for close observation of flora and fauna.  However, safety standards and training vary, and it is a good idea to ascertain whether operators are trained and licensed. Even animals marketed as “tame” should be respected as wild and extremely dangerous.  You should keep a safe distance from animals at all times, remaining in vehicles or other protected enclosures when venturing into game parks.

Trekking in India:  You should limit trekking expeditions to routes identified for this purpose by local authorities.  You should solicit assistance only from registered trekking agencies, porters, and guides; suspend trekking after dark; camp at designated camping places; and ideally travel in groups of eight to ten people rather than individually or with one or two companions. Altitudes in popular trekking spots can be as high as 25,170 feet (7,672 m); please make sure that you have had a recent medical checkup to assure that you are fit to trek and cycle at these altitudes.

Police Response

Overview

Police response in the city of Chennai is variable.  The Chennai police do an effective job managing large scale protests and can be responsive to security requests.  However, overall police assistance is mediocre by western standards, with a typical response time of 30 minutes or longer.  Even when a suspect is arrested, the length of time it may take for a case to be heard in court is often several years.

Information for Victims of Crime

If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates ).  If your passport is stolen we can help you replace it. You should immediately report the theft or loss to the police in the location where your passport was stolen.  A police report, called an FIR (First Information Report) is required by the Indian government in order to obtain an exit visa to leave India in the event of a lost or stolen passport.  Although the Embassy or Consulate is able to replace a stolen or lost passport, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) are responsible for approving an exit visa.  This process can take three to four working days.

For violent crimes such as assault and rape, we can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and help them send you money if you need it. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.  If you are a victim of crime in India, you need to obtain a copy of the police report (FIR) from local police at the time of reporting the incident.  A copy of this report is helpful for insurance purposes in replacing lost valuables.  Local authorities generally are unable to take any meaningful action without the filing of a police report. 

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in India is “100.”  An additional emergency number, “112,” can be accessed from mobile phones.  Further information on the Chennai Police can be found at www.tnpolice.gov.in In case of police detention or harassment, please contact U.S. Consulate General, Chennai at +91-44-2857-4200.

Criminal penalties

While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to its laws, even if you are a U.S. citizen.  Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own.  In some places, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you.  In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail.  These criminal penalties will vary from country to country.  While you are physically overseas, U.S. laws don’t apply.  If you do something illegal in your host country, your U.S. passport won’t help.  It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.  It is also important to note that there are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States.  For example, you can be prosecuted in the United States if you buy pirated goods, engage in sexual conduct with children, or use or disseminate child pornography in a foreign country even if those activities do not happen to be illegal in that country.

If you are arrested in India you have a right to notify, or have officials notify, the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate upon your arrest.  Insist on this as a right since it is often overlooked.  Though the Embassy and Consulates may not intervene in legal matters they can provide information on lawyers, the local justice system, can visit you on a regular basis if you are incarcerated, and can serve as a liaison with parties approved by you, the incarcerated individual.

Medical Emergencies

Medical Care

The quality of medical care in India varies considerably.  Medical care is available in the major population centers that approaches and occasionally meets Western standards, but adequate medical care is usually very limited or unavailable in rural areas.

Medical tourism is a rapidly growing industry.  Companies offering vacation packages bundled with medical consultations and financing options provide direct-to-consumer advertising over the internet.  Such medical packages often claim to provide high quality care, but the quality of health care in India is highly variable.  People seeking health care in India should understand that medical systems operate differently from those in the United States and are not subject to the same rules and regulations.  Anyone interested in traveling for medical purposes should consult with their local physician before traveling and refer to the information from CDC.

The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India maintain lists of local doctors and hospitals, all of which are published on their respective websites under "U.S. Citizen Services."

Medical Insurance

You cannot assume your insurance will go with you when you travel.  It’s very important to find out before you leave.  You need to ask your insurance company two questions:

  1. Does my policy apply when I’m out of the United States?
  2. Will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or an evacuation?

In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries.  If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it is a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. 

Vaccinations & Risk of Disease

If you are arriving in India from Sub-Saharan Africa or other yellow-fever areas, Indian health regulations require that you present evidence of vaccination against yellow fever.  If you do not have such proof, you could be subjected to immediate deportation or a six-day detention in the yellow-fever quarantine center.  If you transit through any part of sub-Saharan Africa, even for one day, you are advised to carry proof of yellow fever immunization.

Good information on vaccinations and other health precautions is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or by calling the hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747).  For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO).  The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.  These websites provide useful information, such as suggested vaccinations for visitors to India, safe food and water precautions, appropriate measures to avoid contraction of mosquito-borne diseases (such as malaria and Japanese B encephalitis), suggestions to avoid altitude sickness, etc.  Further, these sites provide information on disease outbreaks that may arise from time to time – outbreaks of mosquito-borne viral diseases such as dengue fever and chikungunya occur in various parts of India each year.  You should check these sites shortly before traveling to India.  Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.

Outbreaks of Avian Influenza (H5N1 virus) occur intermittently in eastern India, including West Bengal, Manipur, Sikkim, and Assam.  There have been no reported cases of Avian Influenza infections in human beings.  Updates on the avian influenza situation in India are published on the Embassy's website.  For further information on avian influenza (bird flu), please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.

H1N1, also known as the swine flu, has been reported in India in travelers coming from or transiting through the United States, and has spread locally throughout India.  Individuals traveling with flu like symptoms should strongly consider delaying their travel until their symptoms have resolved for the protection of other passengers and the risk of being quarantined in a communicable public hospital on arrival in India.  H1N1 vaccine and seasonal influenza vaccine are available in India.

Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in India.  For further information, please consult the CDC’s Travel Notice on TB.

Rh-negative blood may be difficult to obtain as it is not common in Asia.

Monkey bites have occurred and 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.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Scams

Major airports, train stations, popular restaurants, and tourist sites are often used by scam artists looking to prey on visitors, often by creating a distraction.  Beware of taxi drivers and others, including train porters, who solicit travelers with "come-on" offers of cheap transportation and/or hotels.  Travelers accepting such offers have frequently found themselves the victims of scams, including offers to assist with "necessary" transfers to the domestic airport, disproportionately expensive hotel rooms, unwanted "tours," unwelcome "purchases," and even threats when the tourists try to decline to pay.  There have been several disturbing reports of tourists being lured to and then held hostage on houseboats in Srinagar, Jammu, and Kashmir, and forced to pay thousands of dollars in the face of threats of violence against the traveler and his/her family members.

You should exercise care when hiring transportation and/or guides and use only well-known travel agents to book trips.  Some scam artists have lured travelers by displaying their name on a sign when they leave the airport.  Another popular scam is to drop money or to squirt something on the clothing of an unsuspecting traveler and during the distraction to rob them of their valuables.  Tourists have also been given drugged drinks or tainted food to make them more vulnerable to theft, particularly at train stations.  Even food or drink purchased in front of the traveler from a canteen or vendor could be tainted.  To protect against robbery of personal belongings, do not to accept food or drink from strangers.

Some vendors sell carpets, jewelry, gemstones, or other expensive items that may not be of the quality promised.  Deal only with reputable businesses and do not hand over your credit cards or money unless you are certain that goods being shipped are the goods you purchased.  If a deal sounds too good to be true, it is best avoided.  Most Indian states have official tourism bureaus set up to handle complaints.

A growing number of foreigners have fallen prey to property scams, usually being convinced to invest in property along with an Indian partner.  Rarely do the partnerships survive.  The trend has the Indian partner eventually using a pretext to make a claim on the entire property, generally after construction or restoration is complete or to offer the foreign partner an inadequate sum to buy out their share. Lacking knowledge of the Indian legal system in order to fight for what is rightfully theirs, the foreign partner often loses considerable sums of money.

You should be aware of a number of other scams that have been perpetrated against foreign travelers, particularly in Goa, Jaipur, and Agra.  The scams generally target younger travelers and involve suggestions that money can be made by privately transporting gems or gold (both of which can result in arrest) or by taking delivery abroad of expensive carpets, supposedly while avoiding customs duties.  The scam artists describe profits that can be made upon delivery of the goods, and require the traveler to pay a "deposit" as part of the transaction.

Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local law too.

Other tips

  1. Use same common sense when traveling overseas that you would at home.  Be especially cautious in areas where you are likely to be victimized.  These include train stations, tourist sites, market places, festivals, and marginal areas of city. 
  2. While walking, avoid short cuts, narrow alleys, poorly-lit streets, and traveling alone at night.
  3. Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances. 
  4. Generally keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments. 
  5. Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.
  6. Beware of strangers who approach you, offering bargains or to be your guide. 
  7. Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid purse-snatchers. 
  8. Try to seem purposeful when you move about.  Even if you are lost, act as if you know where you are going.  When possible, ask directions only from individuals in authority. 
  9. If you are confronted by someone trying to rob you, give up your valuables.  Your money and passport can be replaced, but you cannot.
  10. Plan:  Know where you are going.  Have ground transportation prearranged at your destination.  Have the phone numbers of local friends and contacts readily available and/or saved to your mobile phone.  If you schedule a meeting with a potential client, research the company and the individual with whom you are meeting.  Meet in a public place, such as a restaurant.  Prefer pre-paid taxi booths for hired transportation.  Preplan your destination regarding your stay and tourism.  Never take the advice of taxi drivers regarding your stay or tourism in Chennai.  Do not attempt to drive in rural areas after dark.
  11. Hotels:  Keep your hotel door locked at all times.  Meet visitors in the lobby.  Do not leave money and other valuables in your hotel room while you are out.  Use the hotel safe.  Let someone know when you expect to return if you are out late at night.  Read the fire safety instructions in your hotel room. Know how to report a fire.  Be sure you know where the nearest fire exits and alternate exits are located.  Count the doors between your room and the nearest exit.  This could be a lifesaver if you have to crawl through a smoke-filled corridor.
  12. Public Transportation:  Buses and trams are overcrowded and poorly maintained.  Crime is covert and involves pick-pocketing while patrons are using public buses.  Travelers are strongly advised to use metered taxis or hotel vehicles for transportation in and around the city.  If a metered taxi is not used, travelers should agree on the fare prior to embarking on the journey.  Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings, and beware of unmarked cabs.  Theft aboard trains along popular tourists' routes has occurred.  Do not accept food or drink from strangers.  Criminals can drug food or drink offered to passengers.  Where possible, lock your compartment.  If you must sleep, position your luggage in manner so that you are awakened if someone attempts to tamper with the luggage.  Do not be afraid to alert authorities if you feel threatened in any way.  Extra police are often assigned to ride trains on routes where crime is a serious problem.
  13. Money:  Visitors from the U.S. often have greater purchasing power compared to that of the general population in India. Travelers should always exercise modesty and caution in their financial dealings to reduce the chance of being a target for robbery or other serious crime.  Do not flash large amounts of money when paying bills.  Make sure your credit card is returned to you after each transaction.  Deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money, buy airline tickets, or purchase souvenirs.  Do not change money on the black market.  If your possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the local police.  The Consulate General can assist you with understanding local police procedures.  Keep a copy of the police report for insurance claims.
  14. Vehicles Break-Ins:  Vehicle thefts are infrequent, but proper security measures should be taken.  Vehicles should be locked at all times.  Also, it is recommended that travelers hire a professional driver when visiting the region.  Driving in Chennai can be highly stressful and difficult for most foreigners to adjust to safely.
  15. Residential Burglaries:  Burglaries tend to occur when there are security vulnerabilities.  It is recommended that all American residents install window grilles and solid core doors with deadbolt locks on exterior doors.  Proper perimeter walls and, if necessary, guards should be in place at residences.
  16. Local Market and Tourist Sites:  Criminal acts can occur at local markets and tourist areas.  Foreigners are favorable targets because they often carry a considerable amount of cash and are easily distracted by the sites.  Exercise good personal security and situational awareness when visiting these venues.
  17. Chennai Airport:  Crime is not common at the airport due to the strong police presence.  Upon leaving the airport building, passengers should take precautions because of the large crowds and chaotic atmosphere, which is ideal for pickpockets.  Passengers are also cautioned when coming out of the airport to stay away from anyone offering cheap residential accommodation or transportation.
  18. Photographs:  Refrain from taking pictures of Indian Government facilities, train stations, airports, power plants, or other key sites receiving protection from the Government of India. 

Embassy and Consulate Information

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi is located at Shanti Path, Chanakya Puri 110021; telephone 91-11-2419-8000; fax 91-11-2419-8407. (Note that the " " sign indicates your international access code, which in the United States is 011-, but which is 00- in most other countries.)

The U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai (Bombay) is located at Lincoln House, 78 Bhulabhai Desai Road, 400026, telephone 91-22-2363-3611; fax 91-22-2368-5483.

The U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata (Calcutta) is at 5/1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, 700071; telephone 91-33-3984-2400; fax 91-33-2282-2335.

The U.S. Consulate General in Chennai (Madras) is at 220 Anna Salai, Gemini Circle, 600006; telephone 91-44-2857-4000; fax 91-44-2857-4443.

The U.S. Consulate General in Hyderabad is at Paigah Palace, 1-8-323 Chiran Fort Lane, Begumpet, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, 500003; telephone 91-40-4033-8300; fax 91-40-4033-8301.

OSAC Country Council

OSAC website:  https://www.osac.gov.

OSAC Country Council and New Delhi OSAC Chapter

Regional Security Office, U.S. Embassy New Delhi, Ph: 91-11-2419-8778

Mumbai OSAC Chapter

Regional Security Office, U.S. Consulate General Mumbai, Ph: 91-22-2363-3611

Chennai and Bangalore OSAC Chapters

Regional Security Office, U.S. Consulate General Chennai, Ph: 91-44-2857-4000

Chennai OSAC Chapter

Regional Security Office, U.S. Consulate General Chennai, Ph: 91-40-4033-8300

Kolkata OSAC Chapter

Regional Security Office, U.S. Consulate General Kolkata, Ph: 91-33-3984-2400