After a series of appalling rapes, much has been written in Western media and on blogs about safety for women travelling in India. Visitor numbers have dropped. But the opinions of Indian men on the safety issue, apart from judiciary, medical and government officials, haven’t been so widely reported.
So I asked one.
Rohit Agarwal is an Indian architect and travel blogger, and he was keen to respond. OK, so his blog focuses on promoting India, and his blog has the same name as a Delhi tour operator, but his integrity is still on the line. Much of what he wrote in response was good, plain common sense combined with cultural awareness.
Background: Two cases: In February, a 51-year-old Danish woman was gang-raped in Delhi after losing her way back to her hotel, and asking a group of men for directions; death sentences were handed down to those responsible for the gang-rape of a student on a bus in Delhi in December, 2012, who later died of her injuries. The Australian government has, as have the British and US governments, issued strongly-worded travel warnings to women visiting India. Last year I posted a blog, written by Ariene Tatas (pictured below), on a solo woman traveller’s experience and advice.
Here’s what Rohit has to say:
Safety for women travelling in India
Being a densely populous country travelling in India is a challenge and often tourists, especially women, must be well prepared. In highly populated cities like Mumbai and Delhi, using public transport or avoiding aggressive vendors and beggars, make the journey even tougher and one really needs to be alert most of the time.
1. Be Ready For Challenges
India isn’t Europe, so travelling can be a tough affair, as it’s a common notion for most of the men that foreign women are easy and will be OK with physical contact. The crowded public transport services like buses or trains need to be approached with caution, and walking short distances is advisable. Most foreign women consider India as a sexist country, but if you are assertive and alert India is a tourist haven.
2. Be Careful What You Wear
Indian culture has been molded in such a way that if a woman wears any clothing that is a bit more revealing than the standard norms in India it is considered to provoke men. Many might argue this point. But in India it’s advisable to wear clothing that doesn’t attract a lot of attention. Dressing modestly is a major part of the Indian culture.
3. Avoid Eye Contact Or Chit Chat With Unknown Men
Being from a different racial background you will stand out from the crowd. Most people you encounter, be it men, women, kids or the elderly, will stare at you. Although, most of them mean no harm and in a population of over 1.2 billion people many aren’t that familiar with foreigners. Eye contact with unknown men can often be misinterpreted and talking to them is only advised when necessary. Go into a shop to ask for directions. Don’t ask men on the street.
4. Do Your Research Properly
Tourism in different parts of India is a seasonal affair and the number of tourists who arrive at a particular place can be very high. Making early and proper reservations is always advisable for hassle free travel. Planning your itinerary, using proper and government recognized tourist services is essential and make sure you keep a list of necessary phone numbers and documents handy and in a place where you can’t lose them.
5. Safety When Using Public Transport
Many of India’s cities are bustling with people and using public transport can be quite challenging. The buses are usually overcrowded and their use is advised only when accompanied by a fellow group of tourists or a registered tour guide. Taking the upper berth in trains will give you privacy and keep you safe from potential gropers. Nevertheless, groping is not common, and is despised by most people. If possible take the more expensive seats which are less crowded. When in a particular city use recognized taxi cab services to get around and only use the auto rickshaws or the cycle rickshaws to cover short distances.
6. Avoid travelling alone at night and taking public transport late at night. Use hotel taxis to get around.
7. Buy packaged drinking water and make sure you read labels for more information. If you choose to try street food, avoid local vendors and always carry a pack of tissues and some hand sanitizer.
8. Avoid visiting places that are isolated and aren’t frequented by other tourists.
9. Make sure you keep a mobile phone handy. The emergency number in India is 100.
10. When you feel you have been harassed, make sure you speak up and let people hear you. Most Indian people are quite hospitable and will offer help when asked for it.
For more of Rohit’s blogs, see www.TransIndiaTravels.com.
“India cannot claim to have attained true independence until all women can walk on the streets, be it at midnight, without fear of being molested or raped.” Mahatma Gandhi.