While traveling in Ooty, which is located in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, me alongside my tourist guide and a local fishermen were attacked by three men. The tourist guide was savagely beaten by either a steel rod (how I remember things) or a rock (what the police says was used) and was later sent to the hospital, where he received 86 stitches to his head. While the fisherman was beaten as well, he did not suffer serious injuries. I on the other hand got away with no injuries at all, however my iPhone 6 and my Nikon D90 DSLR camera were stolen among some other, less valuable possessions.
This is the story in a nutshell, while the full account of that horrible day lies below:
The background of our stay
The day we arrived in Ooty, we visited the local tourism association office, where guides can be hired for various activities. As the surroundings of Ooty are extremely beautiful, we were eager to do some hiking in the area and due to not really knowing where to go, decided to hire a guide.
After being informed that many of the hiking areas are off limits due to the dry season, we settled on doing two hikes to places which were fine to walk in. As we haven’t been particularly active lately, we told the guide we’ll have a day off between the two hikes and I inquired about the possibility of going fishing in one of the lakes around Ooty.
Although I was trying to get my wife to join, she said she’d rather just take the day off and relax on her own. Thank god she didn’t join me, I should listen to her more often!
The day of the attack in Ooty, India
Me and my guide left the town of Ooty late morning around 10am and headed off to a nearby artificial lake of Sandynulla, using a local public bus. The place is also known as the Kamaraj Sagar Dam.
After reaching the place, we got ready and started fishing in a spot very close to the road. After a few minutes a local fishermen came walking by and had a quick chat with the tourist guide.
Soon after my guide walked a short distance away from me to test a fishing spot a few 10 meters away. As I continued fishing, a young man came walking by and stopped next to me, striking a basic conversation, as we couldn’t communicate very well due to his poor English skills and me not speaking the local languages.
He basically asked me the same things I get asked so frequently by Indians when I travel around the country: where are you from, what’s your name and the like. I didn’t find it strange, as people in India seem to always like to talk to foreigners and I get approached all the time.
There was one question however, which should have triggered an alarm – “Are you here alone?”. I’m not sure why it didn’t, it’s something I get extremely vary about when asked anywhere I travel around the world. I in fact get asked that quite a lot as well in this country, in all sorts of situations, and I think that’s the reason I didn’t pay too much attention to it.
Yeah I know, it’s one of the most basic warning signs for a traveler to stay alert and be suspicious of the person. I’ve got not much else to say in my defense than what I said above.
This person kind of just hung around there next to me, which again is quite common in India. People here are not exactly into personal space, nor they consider staring rude.
After a while with having absolutely no luck with fish, I decided to move to a new spot. As I walked past my guide, he decided to join me and we started walking a fair distance away from our original place, which is close to the road and frequented by tourists. Apparently he had a better area in mind, so we moved about 300m – 500m away, passing the local fisherman on our way.
As we got settled, the young man that initially started talking to me, came walking by with two of his friends (here my memory is slightly muddy, I’m not entirely sure if his two friends were also present in our initial location or not. Thing is, I don’t care about other people when I go fishing and in fact find it annoying when they talk to me, so I try to keep the communication to a minimum, hoping they go away as soon as possible.).
Soon after the fisherman joined us as well. The young men were at this point sporadically chatting with all three of us, but none of us were particularly keen on being bothered while we were fishing.
At some point both me and the fisherman slightly changed our position, as you often do if there is no sign of fish. Finally all three of us found a place we were happy with. This was the place where the attack eventually happened.
The friendly behavior of our attackers prior to the assault
For me one of the most disturbing aspects of this attack was that the assailants spent over two hours with us. Meaning they watched us fish, talked to us, enthusiastically put bait on my hook, joked, laughed, cheered as we caught fish. They looked at each of us when we caught our fish and they saw our small joy at doing it. They took the time to see, hear and feel us as fellow human beings. They joined in our laughter and happiness. And then, after establishing a sort of a bond with us, they attacked us and in the processes almost murdered the guide.
And here let me get back to the unfolding events.
The attack and robbery
I obviously don’t have any pictures from that place as both my phone and camera were stolen. However to understand how the attack happened I made simple illustrations.
So at some point all the three men lined up behind us, with each attacker choosing one of us. We were not sitting next to each other, rather there was about 5m of space between us. The men clearly waited for all three of us to look directly at the lake, so we wouldn’t even know what happened. We were sitting/kneeling almost directly at the shoreline with the water being maybe 40cm away in my case, as we were using really basic equipment.
I’m not sure how far back the assailants were standing before they attacked, as I didn’t notice them moving into their position. I would guess a few meters, as I felt they came charging down.
I am not 100% sure about the details and some of the sequence of what happened next and more specifically I cannot say what their actual plan was, but here goes from how I recall it.
The first thing that I noticed was the sound of the fisherman to my left falling in the water. For a split second I just thought the guy lost his balance. However in my peripheral vision a saw the attacker on top of him. Somewhat at the same time I started to move / turned my head to the right and saw the guide lying on the ground, being bitten with an object, which I perceived as some sort of a rod. Again a split second later I got simultaneously pushed and grabbed around the neck by my attacker. All of this felt like happening in almost the same moment.
I don’t know why my attacker was late and gave me the time to react. Maybe he was reluctant to hurt me, maybe he was a bit afraid of me (all three attackers were smaller than me), or maybe he was just plain incompetent.
To get back to the unfolding events – My attacker almost pushed me into the water, however as I looked at the skid marks after the event, I saw I managed to stop with the tips of my shoes in the water. As I mentioned it was a confusing attack, he both pushed and grabbed me, so I immediately began struggling to get free of his hold. I did that remarkably quickly, which again shows him either being quite weak or indecisive.
As I got free of his hold I pushed the guy away. Again all of what follows probably happened ridiculously fast and I can express myself best in thoughts, not seconds. First thought after freeing myself was “Run”, then quickly replaced by “Fight”. That didn’t last long though… At this moment my attacker got help from the guy that attacked the fisherman. He must have noticed that his friend is having problems dealing with me and came to his help (either that or there were 4 people at the time of the attack. I can’t say with 100% certainty, as my view of the fisherman was obstructed at that time).
As I saw there were two people facing me, I still wanted to fight, as they were physically noticeably weaker than me. However as soon as I made a move forward, one of them pulled out a knife. It wasn’t a machete or anything like that, but it wasn’t your regular Swiss knife either. Throughout this, the third attacker kept beating the guide’s head into a pulp with a rod (as mentioned earlier, that’s what I remember seeing, but then again I might be mistaken and it was a rock, as the police keeps insisting).
After the knife was pulled out, I started backing away, glanced at my backpack which was behind the attackers and said “OK, OK take whatever you want, just leave us alone and go”. The only response I got was the guy with the knife saying in an angry voice “Stay, don’t run!”.
Another look at the men in front of me… another glance at the guide being viciously beaten, bleeding and lying there on the ground with no signs of struggle… a feeling I could actually die… and a decision to run.
So I turned around and started sprinting in the direction of where we first came down to the lake, now about 300m-500m away. At some point I turned around and saw they were not running behind me, but I couldn’t see the scene anymore, as we were fishing just where the shoreline turns inwards, hidden from the rest of the area. A perfect place to be attacked!
I cant say how long the attackers stayed there, I just know they didn’t initially follow me.
Trying to get help
As I reached the road my plan was to flag down a passing vehicle to get help and call the police. Some cars went by, but very fast a quite large family stopped and I frantically started telling them what happened and to call the police. They spoke English, but were scared and confused. Their mobile phones appeared to have no signal. Another young man on a motorbike stopped, he had no phone. The people in the car did not actively engage with me really. They stayed in the car and as they didn’t seem to be able to call the police, nor gotten out of the vehicle, I started flagging down other cars.
I actually stopped an ambulance, but the driver said they need to get a patient to the hospital. I asked him to call the police, but he didn’t even take out his phone. As I inquired later with the police, they received no call about this incident, neither from the ambulance driver, nor anyone else I stopped. Soon after another ambulance came, but didnt stop. I tried my luck with some other vehicles, but they all continued on their way.
At that point the young man on the motorbike told me to get on and we started driving away. He was the only person who asked me where are the injured, so we would go help them. As nobody else was with us, I told him let’s get to more people and a phone to call the police (if this was the right thing to do or not I don’t know, it’s what I did in that moment and I’ll let you be the judge of it.)
After about a 30s ride or so, we came upon a place which is always frequented by tourists – taking pictures of some trees for some reason. There were about 15 – 20 people there. I got down and started telling them what happened and to call the police. There was a lot of confusion, but I think there was again a problem with the signal. I was telling them both to call the police as well as that we need to go help the fisherman and the guide at the lake. Finally one of them told me get in the car (with the family who followed the me and the motorbike driver) and rush to the police post, which was supposedly just 2km away. He said him and the others will go to the lake to help the injured.
So I got back in the car and we drove away in search for police (the motorbike driver just left after dropping me at the tourist spot – I guess his good Samaritan ways melted away as he saw other people who could potentially help me). As we came to the first settlement, people told us there is no police post there and to continue to the next place, another 2 km away. There, the same story happened, no police post or no policeman. I don’t know if there are any stations in this area, we didn’t come across any police, nor did people say there in fact was any post.
I don’t remember anymore if the people that took me in their car were still trying to call the police or not. Finally we reached Ooty, which is about 10km away from the scene of the crime. People told us where the police station was and we hurried there. Before reaching it we saw a police jeep and I got out to speak to the policeman. He just told me to go to the police station down the road and that was about it. So I started running in that direction (the family that drove me to the city didn’t come after me or at least I didn’t see them anymore).
So finally I reached the station, told the first policeman what happened and shortly others came to hear me out. They immediately got more men and I joined them in the jeep, as we sped away to the dam where the attack happened.
As we reached the place, the fisherman and the guide just came walking up to the road. The fisherman was supporting the guide, who was in shock with heavy injuries to his head. The police was clearly shocked, as I don’t think they expected such a brutal scene when we were driving there.
Yet another disturbing thing happened here, as if there weren’t enough negative aspects to this whole ordeal. The first reaction of all these 7 or so policemen was not to help the guide and administer first aid. No, the first reaction was to get their phones out and start taking pictures of the injured man (I’m no expert in police work, but I would imagine first aid to be priority). I started telling the police to help the guy and have him lay or sit down (there were injuries across his head and face, but the most serious one was on the back of his head – a V shaped wound with each part of the V shape several centimeters in length. His head seamed dent in as well, for lack of a better word).
After my third time of pleading with the police to help him, one of them asked me – “What, where to lay him down? On the side of the road?” I replied “Put him in the car”, to which the man said “No, not in the car”. However they did get him in the car after that and drove him to the hospital. It’s extremely sad and disturbing to see something like this. I would have wished to have best possible answers myself, I would have wished to know what to do exactly in an injury like this.
I don’t know what the standard procedure is supposed to be, neither here in India or back home in Slovenia. However I most certainly expect that the police in any country in the world wouldn’t be looking around all confused, taking pictures of the guy, me having to insist on them helping him. Instead I would expect the police immediately reacting to the situation by administering first aid, rushing him to the hospital or calling the ambulance on their own.
I don’t know what happened later in the car ride to the hospital, if first aid was administered or not. I might have been very upset at that moment and it’s not like we were just there standing around for a long time, however I found it unsettling that there was no immediate action from the police in the direction of helping the guide.
After the injured were driven away to the hospital I took the police to the scene of the crime. On our way there we walked past about 20 tourists that were at the lakeside at this point (there was nobody there when I ran back to the road for help). Now, just a few moments ago the guide and the fisherman came walking past these people and considering they were on their own when we found them by the side of the road, clearly none of those people came to help them.
I have no idea if the fisherman asked these people for help or not or if the tourists saw that they were injured. The fact remains that they came to the road unassisted, nobody was taking them to hospital and nobody was calling police. It’s tragic one way or the other – the fisherman not asking for help or the people there not reaching out to help them.
As we came to the scene of the crime, I could see the guide’s blood on the ground, my backpack was missing and bizarrely enough, so were our bamboo fishing sticks which we used as simple rods for fishing. More policemen came, some searching the lakeside and constantly in radio contact with others. I can only partially comment on the actions taken there, as I don’t know what the police did after I left with one batch of policemen. While I was there, most of the policemen were standing around, some questioning me, some on the radio and some inspecting the site of the attack.
While I was there, I have seen no wide ranging search of the area between the lake and the road, which is a strip of forest around 50m to 200m in width. Perhaps it was done after I left… What I was told later on is that a team of 120 policemen searched the area the next day.
The rest of the story is police questioning and identification of suspects.
How badly was the guide hurt?
I received quite a lot of different information and I don’t know for sure what his state was or is at the moment (my last inquiry on the 8th December went unanswered). First the police told me he had serious injuries to his head, received 60 stitches and was taken to a bigger city for treatment. As the investigation seemed to take on a very broad dimension by the evening, I started fearing for the man’s life. I was however told that he is recovering fine.
The next day I was told by a different investigator that the guide is in extremely serious condition – 86 stitches, fractured scull, vomiting blood, bleeding from his ears and a blood cloth forming in his head. Immediately after, this person’s superior was on the phone with the victim’s brother and told me that’s not the case – he said the guide was OK and talking.
I received further info on 2nd December of yet another police officer telling me that the guide is improving. His exact words were “Before it was 50/50, now it’s 80/20”. When I asked him if those chances are of surviving or completely recovering, he gave me no answer.
Last word came on 11th December, when we were reassured that Vincent is recovering well. I hope that’s the case.
A word on the police work
First thing’s first – the police repeatedly told me this is the first instance of a tourist being robbed (and assaulted in the guide’s case) in Ooty. I checked online to see if there were any media reports in the past and I couldn’t find any. Since the news on this attack was published, I have no reason to doubt what the police told me.
Many of the aspects of police work which I found disturbing and mentioned in the article before, might be explained by the fact that Ooty seems to be a place where similar cases haven’t happened in the past. Perhaps the police there hadn’t had experience with these kind of situations. Little consolation of course, but potentially a reason behind some decisions, which I as a layman found strange.
It was clear very fast that the police were/are taking the situation extremely serious and putting a lot of men and effort into catching these guys. I spent most of the next few days answering questions, recapping what happened, going through pictures of potential suspects and the like.
In general I found the police to be well mannered, I have no complaints in regards to how they treated me. At some point when I was interrogated by a specific investigator, I felt almost like a suspect. While it was of course uncomfortable, I think the guy was doing a good job by probing and checking all possibilities. It felt like dealing with a professional and I appreciated that.
What I found strange was that there was no sketch of the attackers being made straight after the assault, although I need to highlight I couldn’t describe them well. I was told the following day that an expert from Chennai was to fly in. Finally on the second day after the attack I was called in to try and make a sketch with the police. Unfortunately as I came to the station, they had problems installing the software and told me to come back the next morning (2nd December).
So I did and my first shock was just how rigid this software was. It was not a modelling software, it was instead pictures of various parts of the head and face, which they could piece by piece assemble together into a final face. Now why I say the software is rigid, is because there was for example no way in changing the length of the hair. As I identified a similar hairstyle, I told them the hair was a little more wavy and slightly longer. Well, there was nothing to be changed with that software, except going to the next hairstyle which was completely different.
Another limitation for example was that after finding a similar set of eyes, the age of the person couldn’t be modified, nor the shade of his skin. Now there is always a possibility that a trained individual is able to make this changes, but I have my doubts, it didn’t seem like the software incorporated such options.
They assured me that they will change it in Photoshop after. As we kept working on the sketch, I started getting suspicious of their familiarity with the software and I inquired if the guy was the expert from Chennai. To my absolute astonishment he told me that no, they were regular cops from Ooty and surrounding areas, who were sent for a two day training on both this software as well as Photoshop. I was completely shocked…
I’m not blaming these guys who were trying to make the sketch, who in the world would be good at it after receiving a 2 day crash course on the software?! Im talking about using a paintbrush to make the hair longer… Between my sketchy memory, the probably not best software in the world and their apparent lack of skills, there was not much hope of producing an accurate sketch.
I left Ooty that day, angry and frustrated with myself, wondering if I remember the guys correctly or not and even more with the decision of whoever sent these guys to Chennai for a two day training, instead of bringing an expert to do it or sending me to a place where somebody with appropriate expertise could recreate the attackers’ faces. Yet again… I’m no expert in police work, but seriously??!!
After we’ve left we have been periodically contacted by police and asked to identify suspects, which indicates that the investigation is ongoing. I hope the police are able to track down the perpetrators, despite the hurdles which I mentioned.
A word on media reports covering the attack
The police asked us the first day when the attack happened, not to speak to the media. However, after having read media reports covering the incident, I have to say my trust in the veracity of what is published in some Indian media has taken a beating of its own. Obviously I can’t say what the issue at hand is – was the police giving out wrong information or is it a case of sloppy journalism and at times simply made up details.
The only report worth reading is that published by the Times of India (although some misinformation can be found there as well). This was also the first report I noticed regarding the attack and when I inquired with the police they told me they issued a statement. I have no idea how Covai Post, Deccan Chronicle and the Hindu managed to publish such terrible pieces. The Covai Post published two images that were taken by policemen in my presence, indicating that they probably got at least some information directly by the police.
Setting the record straight – wrong and misleading information found mostly in the above three mentioned publications:
-My name has not appeared correctly in even one report (I don’t care if it appears or not, just saying that if you decide on publishing it, at least make sure it’s correct).
-I did not specifically try to rescue the guide, I was just struggling with the attacker and after they pulled a knife on me, I decided to escape and try to find help. All of this happened in a matter of seconds.
-I did not get my passport stolen.
-Time of the attack was not correct in some reports
-I did not go for a jungle trek that day, only fishing
-The attackers didn’t just come barging out of nowhere, they were hanging out around us for over 2h.
-I did file a police complaint, heck I spent the next 3 days with the police giving them answers and trying to help them any way I could.
-I did get my belongings stolen.
While it rings nice that I tried to save the guide, you need to understand these are split second decisions. I just reacted to what was happening, I wasn’t thinking about anything much. One moment I felt I could take the attackers on and the next I realized there were three men facing me, two of them with weapons, while my two companions were knocked out. I reacted by running, then by thinking while I was running to get help and what happened after is what you already read above.
What would happen in a scenario where I would stay back and fight? I don’t know… maybe I would prevail, maybe I would get stabbed, maybe the attackers would finish the job they started on the guide. Point is nobody knows and we will only get to find out once and if the police catch these bastards.
A word from my wife, who happens to be Indian
We have decided to move my wife’s take on the event and her views on the Indian society at large, since it seems to be drawing people’s attention away from the main points of this tragic account. If you want to read it, you can find it separately at the following post – No incredible India. And we do urge you to stay civil about it, whether commenting on our blog or on Reddit where a lot of people took it upon themselves to launch personal attacks, instead of actually staying on topic.
It’s easy to be an internet warrior and quite another thing to say things like that in person, so do think twice before writing venomous comments. Would you say it to a person’s face? If the answer is no, keep that mentality online as well.
I don’t know, I hope they catch these guys and they get to answer for what they did to the guide.