Is India Safe for Women?

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India, with a string of violent gang-rape cases that have recently made international headlines, has been under fire when it comes to solo female travel and safety.

A recent USA today article cited tourism as down by as much as 25% in wake of these incidents, and the US State Department is cautioning female travelers to “observe stringent security precautions” and “avoid travelling alone in hired taxis, especially at night.”

But travelers, like Mariellen Ward of Breathe, Dream, Go, propose that India is relatively safe, provided women use caution and take some simple safety precautions.

Is India a safe place to visit? One Go! Girl shares her experience.

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I just came back from a work-related trip to Delhi. Though I was rarely alone while I was working, I traveled to Jaipur, also in northern India, by myself.

I had originally planned to fly to Jaipur and take the train back to Delhi to join my company, but after the incident in December, the company I work for felt it was not safe to for me to travel by alone by train.

I’m a pretty experienced solo female traveler (and really, who doesn’t want to travel by train after watching Darjeeling Limited) but in the end I switched to flying both ways since it was a work-related trip and there were liability issues involved.

As a solo female traveler, and an Asian one at that, I get harassed… a lot. Some of the worst experiences I’ve had were in Rome, Marrakesh, and Athens, but even eating dinner alone in North Carolina, I’ve had a couple come up and ask me about my race and then had the restaurant owner come over and apologize after they’d left. Even in London, arguably the most cosmopolitan city in the world, men will yell or mutter “Asian slurs” at me.

So, I was prepared for some pretty uncomfortable situations in India.

The thing about India is that yes, people yell things at you, but worse, they stare. They stare….and stare….and stare, which can feel very invasive and uncomfortable. While I was at the Amber Fort in Jaipur, there seemed to a large number of local male tourists, and while I was taking pictures of the monument, they were taking pictures of, yup, you guessed it, me!

My colleagues from India say that they wouldn’t allow their female family members to travel around Delhi by themselves after dark. Heeding this advice, I was careful while traveling at night. Should you avoid night travel? In the end, it’s a personal decision.

Overall, I enjoyed my time in India. But, if you’re feeling intimidated while traveling through India, make sure to follow some simple safety tips.

Safety Tips for Women in India

1. Dress Modestly: You should dress respectfully no matter where in the world you are, but in India, it’s the best way to blend in and keep a low profile. Wear loose-fitting clothes that keep you covered.

2. Please Don’t Get Drunk: Take care to ensure you never lose control of yourself in an unfamiliar surrounding and become an easy target.

3. Don’t Travel at Night: Take precautions so that you’re not traveling alone at night– have someone walk you to a cab, cab it home together, and make sure you’re not arriving to a new place late at night. Again, these tips apply globally, but are especially important in India.

4. Keep a Low Profile With Men: As with many other places in the world, Western women can be thought of as ‘easy’ and therefore, be aware of your interactions with men. You don’t want to give off the wrong signal. Be confident, but always make it clear that you’re not available/ not interested. Sometimes that mean acting a bit rude– at least more rude than we would in everyday life. Don’t be afraid to be firm!

5. Avoid the Beaches at Night: If you’re along the coast, NEVER WALK ON THE BEACH ALONE AT NIGHT. Ever. Keep that in mind as you travel around the world. Beaches are generally not patrolled by the police at night, if at all.

Stay safe girls, but also remember to enjoy yourselves!

What are your thoughts on India? Do recent incidents keep you away from traveling there? Share with us!

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About Author

Teresa is a twenty-something cliche of all cliches: a fresh just-out-of-college graduate who moved to the big city. Although based in New York City, she dreams about traveling around the world. Currently, she's been to 36 countries and counting. Her personal goal is to travel to all seven continents by the time she's 25 and only has Antarctica left! With a degree in hospitality, she dreams about exploring the world...one hotel at a time. You can contact her at honesthotelier@gmail.com and read about her hotel adventures at www.honesthotelier.com

4 Comments

  1. Hi Teresa,

    You sound like an experienced traveller and a courageous lady! Your article and the question you pose is very relevant at the moment.

    I just returned from two months in India.
    I recognise the constant staring, which indeed gets tiring at one point. You start feeling the need to blend in and be less visible (tall, blonde….not gonna happen…hahaha).

    I encountered just one incident myself, but I was traveling with my husband and remained in quite protected situations, I guess.

    I did however also pose that question and wrote a mini-series of 5 blogposts about it on my blog: http://www.curlytraveller.com
    In this series I also look at the position of women in India in general and to how that may relate to the rapes and all.
    Maybe you ll find it an interesting read;-)

  2. Hello Teresa and Curly Traveller 🙂

    I thought I would reply because this is a subject that is so close to my heart. I spent 3 months travelling alone in India a few years ago, and I’ve been back alone twice since. Admittedly, it was before these gang rapes were reported, so it’s possible that things have taken a tumble downhill, but I found travelling in India as a solo female completely empowering and inspiring. I’ve never felt so strong and capable. It was a life-changer for me.

    It’s very true about the staring, but a smile goes a very long way. I experienced some very insistent sexual come ons (I once had to beat a man with my flip-flops on a train!), but I felt able to handle the situations. Usually, public shaming is enough. It’s also to important to remember the culture is sexually repressive in some ways and yet sex is very glamourised in other ways. This fuels the fire.

    I went days at a time without seeing another Westerner and caught public buses everywhere. For every one person that might want to take advantage of you, there are at least 10 that would share their last scrap of food with you. It’s swings and roundabouts.

    Oddly, I just published a post called Six Reasons Why India Is Good For Your Soul (slightly different take from yours Theresa) because I was looking back on my time in India and realising just how many life lessons I learned while I was there. I’m not trying to plug – it’s just that this has bizarrely cropped up at the same time.

    All the advice you give hits the nail on the head – dress modestly, wear a wedding ring (that helped me), don’t be drunk. So true. Use common sense at all times. My other piece of advice would be – don’t be scared 🙂

    Here’s the link to the post: http://www.findahappyplace.co.uk/six-reasons-why-india-is-good-for-the-soul/

    Thanks for starting the conversation! It’s a really important one 🙂

    Bryony

  3. I spent a month in Rajasthan with a male friend back packing. I think you really do have to appreciate culture differences. I could tell a tuk tuk driver four times “no thank you” and they’d still follow us until my male counterpart said no. Young men were an annoyance after a while, following me around asking for photos. I was more than happy to sit in for families (whilst being given various crying infants to hold) but refused to pose with groups of young men who thought nothing of trying to put their arm around my waist or shoulders.

    Dressing modestly does help. The only time I wore jeans was renting a motorbike for the day. The rest of the time I wore long skirts and loose fitting blouse and I definitely received less attention in tourist areas than the girls in hotpants.

    India IS amazing. You just have to have your wits about you, be strong and confident and barter for everything. Never shake the hand of someone of the opposite sex, a simple “namaste” is greeting enough for them.

    It’s such a beautiful country and I met some wonderful people along the route. The locals were saying how much the tourism has dipped, I rarely saw foreign tourists despite being on the tourist trail.

    Up market accommodation is still relatively cheap, and guest houses are a dime a dozen.

    South India is next on my list… I would say to anyone who loves curry and culture to book their flights 🙂

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