Women Traveller in India – Are They Safe?
Safety tips for solo women travellers in India. Do’s and don’ts for female Travellers in India.
An enthralling cultural cocktail for traveller, Incredible India – There’s simply no other phrase that captures the enigma that is India. With an ability to amaze, frustrate, thrill and inspire all at once, India presents an extraordinary variety of encounters for any traveller. Some of these can be challenging, particularly for the first-time visitor, and especially if it’s a women.
Don’t rule out travelling solo. Inconveniences and annoyances are more frequently encountered than criminal behaviour, and many travellers don’t have any trouble at all. If a disturbing situation does arise, remember two things: firstly, if you think something weird just happened, it probably did; and secondly, make sure you speak up! Creating a fuss, especially on public transportation, will shame the creepy guy and will likely gather your fellow passengers for your help. In situations that are just uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to find a new spot on the bus, or take a different train/ bus/ sidewalk/ hotel room any altogether.
Practical Tips for Female Travellers in INDIA:
Dressing modestly is considered respectful in India for both men and women, so avoid sleeveless tops, shorts, miniskirts (ankle-length skirts are best) and anything skimpy, see-through or tight. A long scarf (dupatta) can be worn over T-shirts — or anything, really — and helps deflect attention. The salwar kameez is regarded as respectable attire and wearing it will reflect your respect for local dress etiquette. The flowing outfit is also surprisingly cool in the hot weather, and the dupatta (long scarf) worn with it is very handy if you visit a shrine that requires your head to be covered. Baggy clothing that hides the contours of your body is the way to go.
Beachwear and parties
In some areas, such as Goa, there’s generally a more liberal attitude towards dress. Beachwear is normally fine on the beach and party clothes are OK for nightclubs, but when away from these areas, take your cues from local women. Most Indian women wear salwar kameez, or long skirts/ shorts and a T-shirt whenever swimming in public view. When returning from the beach, use a sarong to avoid stares on the way back to your hotel.
While there’s no need to be paranoid, you should be aware that your behaviour and dress code is under scrutiny, and that local men may have a misguided opinion of how foreign women behave. Getting constantly stared at is something you’ll have to get used to. Just be thick-skinned and try to ignore it. It’s best to abstain from returning male stares, as this may be considered a come-on; Wearing dark glasses can help.
Ultimately, there are no sure-fire ways of protecting yourself from harassment, even if you do everything ‘right’ – use your own judgement and instincts. These warnings may seem a little intimidating, but most men are not out to bother you and thousands of female travellers rise above these challenges every year.
Travelling on train
When travelling by overnight train, choose an upper berth to avoid prospective gropers and have more privacy.
If you are a first time traveller, be confident. If anyone asks if this your first trip to India, say you’ve been here several times, as this is usually a trick to measure your vulnerability. Act like you know what you are doing and where you are going at all times. Do not give away that you are travelling for the first time. Check things out yourself. Be very sceptical of phrases like ‘my brother’s shop’ and ‘special deal at my friend’s place’. Keep your head high and voice firm.
Call the police
Don’t be afraid of speaking out. In situations that have become dangerous, call 100 for police. At most of the touristic places in India you would find tourism police to keep a check on bad people.
Do not borrow anything from anyone
Do not accept anything that is given by a stranger. If the person offers you cookies or fruits, politely decline and retreat to your seat.
Do not be alone
When you feel you are in one corner of the train/bus with only men, go to an area where there are women around. If you are uncomfortable with the person sitting next to you, request for a seat change or negotiate with other passengers.
Keep an eye on your belongings
Be close to your belongings. Don’t let your luggage out of sight. Always have an eye on them.
Love your wallet
Keep your money close to you at all times. Also, place money in different places like your back pocket or the sides of your bag. In case of an unfortunate incident, you will have some money to get out of the situation.
Do not carry lots of luggage. You will need to handle these things alone. So make sure you travel light, probably with a backpack and one trolley bag. Do not carry a lot of jewellery and cash.
Pre-book your tour and have everything planned
It is always advisable to pre-book your tour with a renowned Government of India Approved tour operator who can assist you in providing vehicles with chauffeur’s of good character for interstate or intrastate road trips. That way you can be sure that you are in the right hands. Also while choosing your tour operator check for emergency/helpline numbers which can be a single point of contact for all your travels concerns while in the tour. Some travel companies like also provide ATC (All Time Contact) numbers or the company has a 24 x 7 helpline number.
As Candace Rose Rardon (a travel writer who spent 10 months in India) writes,
“Because if there’s anything I feel really helped me connect with the men I met in India – and possibly even kept me safe in certain situations – it was a smile. It was looking them in the eye. It was taking the time to say hello and ask their name.
There were times when I would board a train, find my seat in the sleeper class, and realize that all seven of my fellow passengers in that compartment were men. There would be a moment as I sat down – normally out of breath, my scarf no doubt tangled in the straps of my backpack – when we’d all sort of stare at each other, silent, the wall between us high and wide. This moment never ceased to intimidate me. How were seven Indian men and a tall, blond, fair-skinned foreign female going to pass the next 20, 30, 40 hours to wherever we were heading?
But that’s when I would smile. I would try to break the stares and meet one of their gazes, maybe waggle my head to one side, and say, “Namaste . Aap kaise hain ?” I would do whatever I could to take down the wall between us, one brick at a time. ”
And as I am writing this article (after going through many articles on the same subject), I realise that India isn’t as bad and dangerous as it is perceived by others living outside her territory. Reading these articles and write-ups can only instil fear in a female traveller’s mind, the more you read, the more cautious you become and as a result tend to be over stressed and over react in an otherwise normal situation. So Women – be smart, be sensible, be safe, be at ease but please do not stop going to India. Enjoy a journey to the beautiful India that will linger in your mind long after you’ve left her shores.0