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India 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report

South Central Asia > India > Kolkata; South Central Asia > India > New Delhi

India 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report: Kolkata

Overall Crime and  Safety

Crime

Crime in Kolkata is relatively low for a major metropolitan city with over 15 million inhabitants.  Though Kolkata does experience a full range of criminal activity, most of the crime is generally non-violent.  Petty crime, especially theft of personal property, is common.  Extra vigilance should be exercised in major tourist areas, overnight trains, rail stations, and at airports. 

While India is generally safe for foreign visitors, women are cautioned not to travel alone in India.  Women continue to report incidents of verbal and physical harassment by groups of men.  Known as "Eve-teasing," these incidents can be quite frightening. 

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 avoiding walking in isolated areas alone at any time of day.  Women should also ensure their hotel room numbers remain confidential and insist the doors of their hotel rooms have chains, deadlocks, and spy-holes.  In addition, it is advisable for women to 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 rather than hailing them on the street.   

Travelers should use the same commonsense traveling overseas that they 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.  While walking, avoid short cuts, narrow alleys, poorly-lit streets, and traveling alone at night.  Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.  Generally keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments.  Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.  If you are in need of immediate police assistance dial “100.” 

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 taxis.  Helmets should always be worn on motorcycles and bicycles.

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.  Another popular mode of transportation in India is the train. Train accidents occur more frequently than in other countries especially at night.

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.  Buses and trucks often run red lights and merge directly into traffic at yield points and traffic circles. Cars, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, and pedestrians behave only slightly more cautiously.  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. In Kolkata, road direction changes twice a day to accommodate huge inflows and outflows of vehicles during rush hours.  Drivers should be aware of these changes and exercise caution. 

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 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

The state of West Bengal, with its capital in Kolkata, had been governed by a Communist-led coalition for 34 years.  In May 2011, the Trinamool party won the majority and Communist influence has declined. 

There is a high threat from terrorism throughout India and terror attacks are a serious threat to U.S. citizens traveling and resident there.  Americans are urged to always practice good security, including maintaining a heightened situational awareness and a low profile.  Because the locations of the attacks have included luxury and other hotels, trains, train stations, markets, cinemas, mosques, and restaurants in large urban areas, it is becoming more difficult to modify one's behavior to lessen the growing risk.  Attacks have taken place during the busy evening hours in markets and other crowded places, but could occur at any time.  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.  More recently, in July 2011, a series of coordinated explosions targeted the commercial markets of Mumbai.

Regional Threats

The most common regional threat is from the Naxalite Maoist movement within India.  The Naxalites have a long history of conflict with state and national authorities, including frequent attacks on local police, paramilitary forces, and government officials.  The Naxalites have not specifically targeted U.S. citizens or other foreigners, but they have targeted civilians suspected of cooperating with police and government officials.  The primary Naxalite group is represented by the Communist Party of India (Maoist).  Naxalite violence is primarily concentrated in the rural and tribal areas of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and West Bengal.  Because of 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 Office at U.S. Consulate Kolkata.  Official visitors only traveling to the capital cities in these states do not require prior authorization from the Regional Security Office.   

Northeast Insurgencies:  Incidents of violence by ethnic insurgent groups, including bombings of buses, trains, and markets, are common in parts of Assam, Manipur, and Meghalaya.  While insurgents have not specifically targeted U.S. citizens, there is a risk visitors could become unintended victims of violence.  Visitors to India's Northeast states 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.  Foreigners are required to obtain a permit to visit several Northeastern states (see the section on Restricted Areas, below).  U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling to the states of Assam and Manipur without permission from U.S. Consulate Kolkata.  When traveling to these areas, U.S. official travelers attempt to lower their profiles, limit their lengths of stay, and exercise extreme caution.

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.

U.S. citizens are urged to always practice good security, which includes maintaining a heightened situational awareness and a low profile.  While traveling in India you are advised to monitor local news reports, vary your routes and times in carrying out daily activities, and consider the level of security present when you visit public places, including religious sites, or choosing hotels, restaurants, and entertainment and recreation venues.

Civil Unrest

Demonstrations can occur spontaneously and escalate rapidly, posing risks to travelers' personal safety and disrupting transportation systems and city services.  In response to such events, Indian authorities occasionally impose curfews and/or restrict travel.  Political rallies and demonstrations in India have the potential for violence, especially immediately preceding and following elections.  U.S. citizens are urged to avoid demonstrations and rallies.

Americans are encouraged to heed U.S. travel advisories (please visit travel.state.gov for the latest) and avoid political demonstrations.  While most political demonstrations have been peaceful and orderly, destruction and/or damage of public municipal transportation is common during bandhs, which usually call for the total shutdown of all services for some period of time (usually for a day) as a political protest.

The Gorkhaland statehood movement in the northernmost district of Darjeeling, West Bengal is a political movement for creation of a new state primarily along ethnic lines.  Road blockages and disruptions to public transportation are more frequent than in other areas in the region, and there is a heightened potential for civil unrest that affects travelers.  U.S. official travelers are required to request permission from U.S. Consulate Kolkata when they plan travel to these districts due to the continuing possibility of civil disturbances and demonstrations.

Post-Specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Natural disasters can and do occur in the region.  Northeastern India is highly susceptible to earthquakes.  In September 2009, there was a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Assam.  In February 2011, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit in Manipur, and a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck Sikkim in September 2011.  During the June-September monsoon season, Kolkata receives heavy rainfall overwhelming the underground sewage and drainage system.  There is a history of major flooding in the states of Assam and West Bengal during the monsoon periods.

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

There have been occasional industrial accidents in India including a major fire in a petrochemical complex in Maharashtra owned by Reliance Group in July 2008 which resulted in three casualties.  Transportation is a major problem in a city with millions of inhabitants and with some of the largest slum areas in the world.  Traffic accidents, minor and major, are a regular occurrence.

Illegal Drug Use  

There has been an uptick in the amount of illegal drugs transiting India.  In addition, the use of "club drugs" is on the rise in India.  Most of the drugs that are illegal in the United States are also illegal in India.  In fact, some Indian drug laws are stricter than those in the United States.  Indian officials conduct major anti-drug operations especially at transportation hubs such as airports and train stations.  Plain-clothed Indian narcotics officers frequent clubs and hotels in attempts to apprehend drug users and dealers.

On average there are more than 2,000 cases of kidnappings per year in India.  However, in the past few years, there have not been any cases of Americans kidnapped in India.

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

(*Note: On January 1, 2011, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that American citizens traveling as tourists would no longer need RAPs to visit Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland.  The implementing regulations have not been clarified; however, so American citizens are advised to seek clarification before traveling to these areas.)

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.  

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.  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.

Wildlife safaris:  India offers opportunities for observation of wildlife in its natural habitat in Assam and West Bengal, 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

Information for Victims of Crime

In the event of an emergency, dial “100” to contact the local police.  This is the local equivalent of“911.” Overall police assistance is fair for local citizens, 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.  In case of police detention or harassment please contact U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata at +91-33-3984-2400.

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 U.S. Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates at www.state.gov).  If your passport is stolen, the nearest U.S. Consulate 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 Consulate is able to replace a stolen or lost passport, the Indian 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, the Consulate can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, or 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. 

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 of drugs or alcohol could land you immediately in jail.  These criminal penalties will vary from country to country.  While you are physically overseas, U.S. laws generally do not apply.  If you do something illegal in your host country, your U.S. passport will not help you.  It’s very important to know what is legal and what is not where you are going.  It is also important to note that there are 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

For medical emergencies, the number for ambulance service number in Kolkata is “102” (local), and the fire service can be reached by calling “101.”  Additional information regarding local medical services is available via the Consulate website.  Please note that ambulances in India are not equipped with state of the art medical equipment.  Local traffic does not yield to emergency vehicles.  It is often more timely to proceed to the hospital using private transportation than to wait for an ambulance response. 

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’s 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.  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.  Polio is still endemic in West Bengal, and measles remain a concern throughout the consular district.   

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

Travelers should be aware of a number of scams that have been perpetrated against foreign travelers.  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.  Most such schemes require that the traveler first put up a "deposit" to either show "sincerity" or as a "down payment" or as the "wholesale cost."  All travelers are strongly cautioned that the schemes invariably result in the traveler being fleeced.  The "gems" or "gold" are nearly always counterfeit and if they were real, the traveler could be subject to arrest.  Such schemes often pull the unsuspecting traveler in over the course of several days and begin with a new "friend" who offers to show the traveler the sights, so that the "friend" or another new acquaintance can "practice his English."  Offers of cheap lodgings and meals also can place the traveler in the physical custody of the scam artist and can leave the traveler at the mercy of threats or even physical coercion.  Travelers should deal only with reputable businesses and should not give their credit cards or money unless they are certain that goods being shipped to them are the goods they purchased.

Other Concerns

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 Kolkata.  Do not attempt to drive in rural areas after dark.

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.

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.

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.

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 Kolkata can be highly stressful and difficult for most foreigners to adjust to safely.

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.

Local Market and Tourist Sites:  Criminal acts are not common, but 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.

Kolkata Airport:  Crime is not common at the airport due to the strong police presence.  On 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.

Further Information

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

OSAC Country Council

U.S. Consulate Kolkata is the process of forming a OSAC Chapter; for more information, please visit http://www.osac.gov, or contact the Regional Security Office, U.S. Consulate General, Kolkata, telephone:  +91-33- 3984-2400.