Due to last Friday’s shocking gang rape of a Swiss woman at Madhya Pradesh, we decided to publish a post dedicated to some essentials regarding safety precautions, especially for female travelers in India.
First and foremost:
Indeed, traveling with a certain amount of suspicious at all times is not altogether enjoyable; it would be amazing if we knew we were safe no matter what we do or where we are and if nobody we met while traveling has ill intentions for us. But that ideal vision doesn’t exist while treading this Earth.
Regardless of the unfortunate incidents in the news recently regarding foreign tourists (and even locals too), overall India remains a safe place to travel. However, for whatever reason when it comes to crime, some people (based on discussions I have seen on the internet) perceive India as quite safe for its seemingly spiritual attributes. Romantic visions about India, like that, have led people to conclude that India has some sort of inherent immunity from the dark side of humanity. This is, of course, a mistake, the consequences of which India ultimately suffers. Anyways, like any other place in the world, there are good and bad people. Indian is no different in that manner.
The Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The day a woman can walk freely on the roads, that day we can say that India achieved independence.” India isn’t there yet.
Having said this, we need to assume that the existence of cultural differences exposes travelers to some mutual misunderstandings in the best cases, and risks in the worst. We have to assume that we haven’t the slightest idea of what is safe and what is dangerous.
Normally, foreign tourists don’t speak the language, aren’t familiar with local costumes, and don’t have an instinct for whom or what could be pulling them into a danger zone. You will then have to assume that traveling in India is not as safe as expected. And you will have to be tuned to that issue at all times!
India isn’t a peaceful, non-violent, spiritual -oriented place, so it would be a good idea to bid goodbye to all stereotypes so removed from reality.
Tips for safe travel in India:
Do not trek alone / Do not camp alone
Staying alone in the wild is not safe for you even if you are a couple. Besides the fact that it could be dangerous to get lost, unexpected injuries might occur on the trail, bad weather, etc; you expose yourself to potential criminals, too. Shepherds are quite often wandering around and may not be friendly. Aside from shepherds, there many others like fake Babas, who sometimes are just outlaws looking for refuge under the orange cloak. Fake Babas have been involved with drug-related set-ups and severe violent incidents against foreign tourists.
If you are cycling or motorbiking through India, then it is highly suggestible not to camp outside, tempting as it may be. Unfortunately, last Friday illustrates how bad a turn that can take. Make sure you plan your stops in a guesthouse/hotel.
If you get stuck along the way for some reason and there are no accommodation facilities available, you can always knock on someone’s door and ask to stay the night there. Indians are well known for their warm hospitality – especially in rural areas. You will be much better protected under somebody’s roof. Furthermore, staying with locals at their homes is an experience in and of itself.
Respect local dressing codes
Have you ever seen Indian women dressed in undershirts or any other short outfits? If you are a woman traveling in India you should respect local dress codes and customs. Indians aren’t used to seeing women expose their bodies in public spaces. For the dressing up in such a way is brutally deviant from social norms and can easily be misconstrued and ‘invite’ unwelcome groping.
Do not to travel alone on local/public transport
- Avoid traveling alone on public transport or in taxis, auto-rickshaws, and trains, especially at night. If you have to use a taxi get them from hotel taxi ranks and use pre-paid taxis at airports. Try to avoid hailing taxis on the street.
- Never agree to have more than one man in the car. Do not break that rule even when the driver claims that this is ‘just my brother’, ‘my friend’ or any other creative way to make you go with more than himself.
Do not hitchhike ( Nothing can be too obvious)
Hitchhiking in India is dangerous. There is nothing too obvious; therefore, we would like to stress how dangerous it could be. For the past several years, sexual harassment has cropped up while female foreign tourists were hitchhiking.
Interacting with locals
- Indians can be very communicative, yet it would be wise to keep conversations with unknown men brief –getting involved in a conversation with someone you barely know can be misinterpreted as a sign of sexual interest.
- Questions and comments such as ‘Do you have a husband?’ or ‘You’re very beautiful,’ ‘Do you want me to show you around?’ or explicit questions like ‘Are you traveling alone?’ are indicators that the conversation may be taking a steamy tangent.
- Avoid shaking hands with men you don’t know, you can reply to any gesture with the traditional greeting ‘Namaste’.
- If you feel that a guy is invading your space a firm request to keep away usually suffices. Louder tones increase the efficacy; you will be drawing the attention of passers-by and he’ll be forced to stop.
Avoid walking alone during night time
As we said, the day a woman can walk freely on the roads in India is yet to arrive. Especially not during night time. Do whatever you can to have someone walk with you. In isolated areas (beaches, forests, etc) avoid walking alone in the daytime as well.
Make sure you always carry your embassy contact number.
Police stations in India may not be the safest place for you either. There were too many incidences shown that when foreign tourists have reported a crime committed against them to local police stations, things only got worse for them.
We strongly advise you that if you have been a victim of an assault or other crime then contact your embassy first. Let them know what has happened to you, where you are located and to which police station you are about to take. Ask for their assistance. Once you arrive at the police station the first thing you should say is that you have already contacted your embassy and they are about to take action in your case. If there is one thing that police officers in India respect, it’s the involvement of a higher authority.
This post is not meant to intimidate, on the contrary, it can help you go farther and explore India as much as you want. Naturally, there is no way to run the full gamut of possible scenarios leading to unpleasant situations, so be harsh with yourself and always err on the safe side.