|The question of the hour: Is India safe for women traveling alone|
Tragic as these incidents which are taking place all over the countries and in cities and towns, the incidents when compared statistically and given the fact that India is a country of over a billion people are rare at best. So how safe is India for women and especially foreign women solo traveler? According to the latest tourism data available with the government around 6.3 million tourists visited India from overseas in 2011 not to mention the fact that a large chunk of these 6 million foreign visitors are women and more than half of them traveled alone. So it does appear that despite the media hype over such sensitive issues and global outcries (mostly media created), India is relatively safe for foreign women travelers and that these incidents are rare at best.
After the December incident of horrific Delhi rape of a physiotherapy student, the media is hyper-actively pursuing the cases of rape and sadly many channels are sensationalizing these sensitive issues instead of talking about how to find solution. 77% voted no to the poll question "Are women safe traveling alone?" in a recent poll on Wall Street Journal Blog.
While caution is the word, those rethinking their travel plans to India should not be alarmed or just cancel their travel plans. In a recent travel briefing after the rape of Swiss tourist in Madhya Pradesh, Control Risks, a global risk consultancy firm said that “although the incident is serious, violent crime against foreigners remains relatively rare in India.” Advising caution to tourists against traveling alone it added that “India remains generally safe for female travelers and most women will experience, at worst, unwelcome attention from men.”
But the question is how you ensure your safety traveling alone in India if you are a woman? Find below some travel tips not just for safety of women traveling alone in India but for any country in the world. The keyword is that as a tourist traveling in a foreign country should always be alert and responsible. They should follow some do's and don'ts. Now the funny thing is even as I am writing this I personally know foreign travelers whom I have met and who have not adhered to these rules but then who knows what might happen as ‘Times they are a Changin’. At best this rules are a general guideline. It not necessarily guarantees that you will be safer neither that if you will do the opposite you'll be the victim.
- Traveling safety precautions for a woman often depends on the places and region they are traveling to. One could always travel alone but it’s better safe than sorry. In certain regions like Kashmir especially Ladakh, South India, Uttarakhand and North East assaults against women travelers are unheard of. North India especially Delhi and adjoining areas is where women is most vulnerable. It’s always wiser to have a male companion around which makes it less likely to be sexually harassed and/or molested.
- Never travel alone at night especially in Delhi in an auto-rickshaw (tuktuks) or taxi. Before boarding a tuk tuk or cab ensure that there is no other person sitting except for the driver. Do take the number before hopping in and sit near the door. Keep cell phone with you in case you detect anything fishy. Don’t hitch a ride or follow a person who instead of giving you the direction you have asked about tells you to follow him instead.
- For long distance traveling book AC Tickets (1st, 2nd or even 3rd is safe) in Indian Railway if you are in India and have a Indian cell phone number you can do so online through IRCTC or Cleartrip. Use a porter at the train stations. Carrying a cell phone is a great asset and talking to someone you know when you’re on the move is even better. And always mind your space and let people know it’s not okay if they trespass your personal space and be firm.
- If you are a female solo traveler safety standard should take precedence over budget while choosing your accommodation. The rule is that the lower the cost of a hotel the bigger the risk with safety. Also don’t take accommodation is obscure places. Look for recommendations at online travel community like TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet of IndiaMike.
- Don’t ever accept the food offered to you by the person you don’t know especially on trains, buses, hotels and tourist places. There have been a few cases where drugged food and drink have been offered to the tourists before robbing and sexually assaulting them.
- Clothing is also very important when you are a women traveling to developing countries like India. Following the intrinsic yet unwritten cultural codes could save you a lot of hassle and glares make sure that your arms and legs are covered fully covered especially when you are traveling religious places and market areas or neighborhoods which are not upscale. If you are traveling through rural areas people will stare at you but its okay as they are just curious and mean no harm. Although clothes has nothing to do with rape but some of the member of so called intelligentsia and cultural/moral brigade have also blamed ‘skimpy’ clothing for inciting men into assaulting men. Now add that too to India’s Hall of Shame.
- Don’t make direct eye contact and smile simultaneously as this is often misconstrued by perverts and sexually repressed people as a sign of approval and freedom to take a step further. Not that you can’t be friendly, it’s just that you need to be very careful with your body language. Appear assertive and stride confidently and ensure that your body language exude firmness. As mentioned above setting your boundaries is a must. Don’t get friendly and smile back to the people you don’t know. Don’t shake hands or hug people you know very little (your travel guide, cabbie etc.). If you are uncomfortable you let the person know instead of acting friendly in trying to not appear snobbish or insensitive. Don’t let anyone touch your hand or sit close as to brush you. Tell them politely but loudly to move away.
- Get to know the many India you’ll be traveling to. This rule is applicable in any country to which they’d be traveling. India is vast and a potpourri of cultures and beliefs. Each region in India varies considerably from the other. Although rapes have been reported from all around some places are much safer for a woman solo traveler. Regions like Ladakh, Darjeeling, North East, Uttarakhand Andaman and Nicobar, Kerala and South India in general are much safer than metro cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or Kolkata.
- Get to know the Indian woman. Walk in her shoes, observe her to get a feel of how they travel and try to imitate their style. Not that it will make it safe to travel alone but it’s always good to have more tools to work around with. Prefer public transports for inter-city travel and always keep change. Don’t tip generously or where it is not needed.
- Don’t encourage a person with politeness if he/she is trying to act extra friendly and most importantly keep your eyes and ears open and be alert of your surroundings. A little caution, alertness and following these dos and donts could go a long way in helping you plan a safe travel experience in India especially if you are a solo woman traveler.