NEW DELHI — Indian police said they arrested three men Thursday in connection with the alleged gang rape of an American tourist this week in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.
The 30-year-old American reportedly was unable to find a taxi on her way back to Manali, a vacation destination in the Himalayan foothills, about 1 a.m. and decided to hitchhike back to her hotel. The woman told police that a truck driver and two accomplices drove her to a secluded spot, raped her for more than an hour, then stole her cellphone, camera and cash before leaving her by the side of the road.
Himachal Pradesh police said in a statement that three men, all Nepalis, were arrested Thursday morning after the woman gave a description of the alleged assailants and their truck, a type known as a mini tipper resembling a compact dump truck, commonly used to carry construction materials.
Police said they used cellphone records and the description of the vehicle, including a broken left front windshield and torn seats, to make the arrests.
Roadblocks also were set up and all trucks in the Manali area ordered to report to the police station as part of the investigation, police added.
They also said they recovered the iPhone, Nikon camera, cash and other items she said were stolen, with the exception of some U.S. and Thai currency that the men threw away, fearing arrest.
Thousands of Nepalis work in India. The two countries share an open border.
Attacks on women have become a volatile issue in India following the high-profile rape of a 23-year old physiotherapy student on a bus in mid-December in New Delhi, increasingly referred to as India's "rape capital." The woman died in a Singapore hospital from her injuries two weeks later.
The ensuing soul-searching, protests and anger led to a new law that increased penalties for rape, sexual harassment and stalking and added the death penalty for rapes resulting in death.
Alleged rapes of foreign women tend to get a lot of attention, prompting well-funded, high-profile investigations. However, the vast majority of such attacks are on Indian women, women's rights groups say, many of whom are afraid to report the crime given social stigma, indifferent police response and even pressure to marry their attacker.
A further deterrent against reporting is the lumbering state of India's legal system, with cases often taking years to prosecute.
The alleged victim of Tuesday's attack, who has not been named in keeping with Indian law, is reportedly under police protection at a hotel in Manali, some 300 miles north of the capital.
"Because she's a tourist, the administration becomes more alert," said Flavia Agnes, Mumbai-based lawyer and women's activist. "But overall, the authorities remain indifferent to crimes against women. I don't see much improvement."
A survey by an Indian trade group reported in March that 70 percent of tour operators in the first three months of 2013 reported that a number of bookings to the country had been canceled, especially by women from the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia concerned with security following several sex attacks that attracted global media coverage.