Take the 2-minute tour ×
Travel Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for road warriors and seasoned travelers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Why India is not safe for solo women is an article in The Telegraph (UK) describing one woman's issues with sexual harassment in India.

Some of the information there describes a worse situation than the impression I got from Wikivoyage's "Female travellers" section.

For example, The Telegraph says that the author and her female friends were followed into the surf of a beach by ten men and were sexually harassed there, even though they wore t-shirts and full length trousers into the water. By contrast, Wikivoyage says "People are generally modestly clothed even at the beaches. So, be sure to find out what the appropriate attire is for the beach you are visiting. ..."

Regarding sexual harassment, Wikivoyage says

"The simplest way to avoid this remains the same as in your home country. Anything overt should be treated in a firm manner and if needed, ask the local populace (women in particular) to try and get the message across. Avoid confrontation if at all possible"

, while the advice the author of the Telegraph article got was:

“When a man touches you, do what Indian women do: hit them, hard!” It is advice we followed from then on, as embarrassment gave way to anger.

The perception that India was unsafe for women wasn't based just on foreign travellers' perceptions either, according to the Telegraph article:

India simply is not safe for unaccompanied women. We were told as much very often by older, educated Indian men. With a disbelieving shake of the head, they offered to pay for taxis to help us cross a city that they would not allow their daughters out alone in.

Is the Telegraph's article (written while the Delhi gang rape court case is ongoing) an accurate description of the situation with sexual harassment ("Eve teasing") in India?

share|improve this question
2  
Is this on-topic? There is no definite answer to this question. –  MastaBaba Jan 24 '13 at 7:24
2  
I have been living in India for quite sometime. I think it really depends which area of India. Certainly, there are places that I wouldn't walk around even in the safest area at night. But one more thing that I learned from being in India is that weather you're a man or a woman. If you're alone, you'll be targeted no matter what. –  toy Jan 24 '13 at 8:24
    
breathedreamgo.com/2013/01/… –  Andrew Grimm Apr 8 '13 at 11:53
add comment

3 Answers

up vote 22 down vote accepted

India does have a well-documented problem with sexual assault and harrasment directed at women. So I start off with the basics:

  • Try to avoid walking on streets that are not well-lit. This can be more of a problem than you think because the infrastructure in sections of big cities and / or smaller towns can be bad.
  • Know the emergency numbers. Police can be reached on '100' nationally (and they can also contact ambulance services if needed); additionally, most mobile networks will also automatically forward calls to '112' (the international GSM emergency number) or '911' to the right number.
  • There are specialised hotlines for women to seek help in non-emergency situations. While this is not yet national (but there are plans to expand it), Delhi Police for instance has a special hotline staffed by female police staff on '1091'. Other women help hotlines in India for a variety of situations is listed here.
  • When travelling by public transport such as trains, buses, metro et al, try to choose coaches / seats reserved for women. Groping or sexual harrasment can somtimes be a problem. The advised strategy is to raise an alarm if this does happen. Most buses have reserved seating for women and women-only coaches can be seen commonly on many trains too. (We had a question earlier on Travel.SE on female travellers on Indian trains.)
  • Be careful about drink spiking incidents, since that's common in some places, especially Goa. I feel on this particular count, India is quite like Thailand as that's another place you have to be really careful to ensure your drinks are not spiked, especially at beach parties. Use your caution and try to get drinks directly from a bartender, don't let your drink out of sight, don't let strangers buy you drinks - standard, common-sense precautions.

There is a perception that foreign female travellers have 'loose morals', a weirdly Indian term which I think shows contrasting attitudes towards casual sex in Indian culture traditionally (sex before marriage is still taboo in the eyes of many people; most marriages still happen to be 'arranged') versus "the West". This might result in unwanted attention leading to sexual harassment. Now, there's obviously no 'right answer' to how to handle this but explicitly asking someone to back off works in most cases of harassment.

For more serious cases which you think might lead to sexual assault, if you're travelling solo or in a small group then then you may want to consider carrying some means of legal self-defense such as pepper spray. (I remember reading the newspapers there that this was apparently outlawed at some point, but it no longer is. Sorry, I can't find a citation for this.)

At the same time, it's also important - I feel - not to get over-paranoid. Indians (Asians in general?) have a widely different concept of personal space compared to most other cultures - both in physical proximity and in how inquisitive people can be about your life. Try not to be creeped out when complete strangers ask you about your personal life, it's what goes for small-talk in India (instead of, say, the weather).

Another thing that you might find while travelling in India, which I hear very commonly from many travellers - but which might seem threatening to female travellers - is that complete strangers may want to get pictures taken with you. You'll find this happening more the smaller towns you go into, but even in big cities as a lot of population in these in the recent decades have been migrants from smaller cities / villages. Many of them have hardly interacted with foreigners - or may be meeting one for the first time - and coupled with differing sense of space / inquisitiveness, it's very likely that you'll attract a lot of attention when travelling.

TL;DR: You will attract a lot of attention as a foreign traveller - female or regardless. Be prepared for this, don't let it make you paranoid. At the same time, be situationally-aware and if you feel things get out of hand, ask people to back off explicity and / or seek help from emergency services.

share|improve this answer
1  
This is an excellent answer. This is based on sound logic and common sense. I especially like the points about what constitutes invading personal space and small talk :) –  Dharini Chandrasekaran Feb 6 '13 at 16:53
add comment

Over the last few years I have traveled alone in touristed areas of Delhi, Kerala & Rajasthan. I am a 29 year old Caucasian woman. I have travelled alone extensively in Europe, North & Central America. I never felt unsafe, but I followed some basic rules.

Activities: I did not go out alone at night. I mostly didn't go out at night except in the absolutely most heavily touristed, backpacking westernized towns(Varkala, Jaisalmer). I took cabs & rickshaws alone, but avoided any that solicited me or where the driver had a buddy. On the bus or trains I would get asked many questions by the locals but no one was rude or unfriendly. Occasionally walking around I would get approached with 'do you have a boyfriend/husband? Do you want one?' type things, but it wasn't too bad. I have had similar experiences in Europe or USA although rarer. I felt safe walking around in the day, and on the long distance buses. I did not take the local buses. I didn't feel as safe in Delhi or Jaipur as I did in the smaller towns or cities.

Dress: I dressed conservatively for me: nothing tight or short. Nothing shorter than mid-shin, nothing showing the chest. I bought a couple of local scarves as soon as I could and wore those - fun shopping + a quick way to look more locally appropriate.

I went swimming in a normal one-piece suit in Varkala (very heavily Westernized) but covered up when I got back to my towel. There were people on the beach making sure no Indian men ogled the women too much.

There were many other travellers doing the same thing - more in Kerala than in the north, but in general it did not seem overly dangerous. You might get scammed, hard-sold, or something similar, but physical danger can be generally avoided.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 for nice answer from first-experience –  kmonsoor Feb 21 '13 at 9:21
add comment

Few points:

Kurta-Salwar:

enter image description here

Duppata:

enter image description here

A few days back, in a metro, I saw a western girl wearing a very transparent T-shirt. I could clearly see her black bra! Please remember that though India is a democratic country, showing off your skin (purposefully) and then complaining of eve teasing does not make sense here.
No, wearing low waist jeans which shows your lower back somewhat is NOT normal here. Cleavage showing is an absolute NO.

  • If you have somewhat long hair, try to braid it. That's what traditional women do here.

  • If male strangers try to talk to you like - "How are you doing?", "You are from which country?" etc.- do NOT respond, just give them a frown and look away. It is NOT normal for Indian women to respond to useless queries from male strangers.

  • When in a shared auto, do NOT sit with the driver. Indian girls usually avoid going in shared autos until they get a proper back seat. Sitting with the driver in a shared auto is a complete NO.

share|improve this answer
11  
Downvoted because arbitrary rules on what 'decent' people should do is very much part of the victim-blaming culture that exists in India. –  Ankur Banerjee Feb 6 '13 at 15:03
2  
@AnishaKaul I appreciate the advice about things like where to sit in a cab, but "showing off your skin (purposefully) and then complaining of eve teasing does not make sense here" and "You should indeed complain when you are being attacked based on your clothing" are direct contradictions. –  Kate Gregory Feb 6 '13 at 17:20
5  
The discussion about what is decent and not from one's own perspective is irrelevant -- travellers should not be disrespectful to the culture of the country they visit, even (and especially) if they don't agree with all its aspects. Travelling is about tolerance and acceptance, but it works both ways. Annoying the native population for any reason (including issues like human rights, religion and gender equality) is likely to result in trouble in any country. –  mindcorrosive Feb 7 '13 at 8:20
3  
The advise to braid your hair if you have long hair because that is what "traditional" Indian women do was comic! Indian society is changing fast and the definition of what is traditional and what is modern is not a given. In any case, making sure that you dress and behave like a traditional women is NOT going to save you from sexual harassment - if that were the case then most Indian women would never be harassed which is hardly what happens. The photo of the women wearing a salwar with a dupatta - it is nice, but is it how young women dress in Delhi or Mumbai in summer? Lets be a bit chilled –  user4446 Feb 13 '13 at 15:57
2  
@Mitra Madam, you seem to have forgotten that the OP here might be a western country person. When the people here will notice her facial colour (extreme white) they'll might think that - oh that's a western country girl who usually wears cleavage showing clothes in here country, so she might not mind me touching her a bit! A Braid, a Salwar Kameez, and duppatta will prevent the attention of people going to the facial colour of the girl. –  TheIndependentAquarius Feb 14 '13 at 0:59
show 8 more comments

protected by Ankur Banerjee Feb 21 '13 at 23:17

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.