‘If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.’Dale Carnegie
Is India the most dangerous country in the world for women travellers? Wait & read this article before nodding your head in affirmative
According to the Global Peace Index (GPI) report, India is on the 28thplace out of 163 countries – way below Russia, Turkey, Israel and Mexico. The GPI measures safety based on three categories – level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict, and the degree of militarisation.
Good and Bad both co-exist everywhere, India has has its own share of problems when it comes to solo women travellers. Many travellers have narrated horrifying stories involving uninvited attention, of being scammed, selfie requests turning into harassment, aggressive and overbearing behaviour by men etc. But, can we isolate these incidents and say that it only happens in India?
So, why do people think India is unsafe for women travellers? It is one of the most searched query on google!
Why are people scared?
1. Lack of Acclimation
Changes makes us uncomfortable. We become scared when we face things or situations that are not in our control or don’t have an explanation for it. And India for sure is a joyride into the unknown. People visiting for the first time are overwhelmed and at times don’t know what to expect from this multi-cultural country. Familiarity with a situation or a place reduces fear response. That is why people living in the most dangerous places will still not feel unsafe.
I have never felt unsafe in New Delhi because I know my territory, I know when to go where, what to wear and how to talk to different people.
2. Kernel of truth
When you hear people reinforcing a particular information, you start perceiving it as truth. Applying this generalisation, based on stereotypes, leads to prejudice. There is so much of negative information available online that one is forced to believe that there must be an element of truth!
3. Conditioned Fear
People believe that all negative events [experienced or observed] will most definitely lead to same disturbing results. Our brain starts believing the irrational outcomes.
For example, I have seen numerous movies where it is reinforced that women who travel alone gets mobbed, raped or murdered. So every time I travel, these thoughts haunts me and even initially discouraged me from travelling. This conditioned fear plays an important role in how people become prejudiced against other gender/communities/countries.
4. Sensationalizing News
I don’t deny the fact that there is violence against women in India. Many Indians as well as foreign nationals, especially women, have encountered crimes like rape, murder, sexual assault, theft etc. Media often pounce on these news to make headlines and sensationalize it. But what the media don’t report are the steps taken by the govt after these crimes were reported.
India is not the ‘Rape Capital of the World’, Sweden, South Africa and USA are higher up on the list. Who can deny the knowledge of unreported campus rapes that takes place in US or the high number sexual assault cases in Sweden.
5. Cultural Shock
The disorientation of being in a strange country, where people don’t speak your language, different food choices or ways of communicating adds to the reason for chaos around you. The unfamiliar traditions, lifestyle, social cues etc., throws us into a mayhem. You are sure to feel out of place.
When people come to India, they get hassled by noisy traffic, the sea of people at every corner, lack of personal space, people yelling at the top of their voices and men staring at them.
Safe or unsafe? You decide for yourself when you visit India. Don’t let other’s experiences stop you from visiting my country, instead it should tell you how to be cautious. I have been travelling in India all by myself for the past 7 years now and I am telling you India is safe as any other country in the world.
Sure, there are challenges but what place wouldn’t have them?
“People often believed they were safer in the light, thinking monsters only came out at night. But safety – like light – is a façade.”
― C.J. Roberts, Captive in the Dark
How to travel safe in India?
I have been travelling, often in company of brave women or solo, across India for a decade. Over the years, I have learned much from facing uncomfortable to hostile situations, and evolved to avoid them.
Below, I have compiled a list of steps to travel safely through India:
1. Learn to say ‘NO’
Many foreign nationals, in the fear of hurting the sentiments of locals, end up saying Yes to things that makes them uncomfortable. If you are ‘white-skinned’ and is a ‘tourist’ coming to India for the first time, you will be literally shocked to see people’s obsession with white skin. It is the fascination that makes locals stare and ask to take ‘selfies’.
Please understand, it’s OKAY to say NO (politely) without offending people. An art you should practice with the first step you take in any foreign land.
2. Review of the Hotel/Homestay
A good idea is to check the reviews of the hotel or homestay before you book. Check websites like TripAdvisor, Facebook/Instagram page of the hotel, google pictures to get a general idea about the amenities and services available.
I am sure you do it already, but cultivate the skill to identify fake reviews. I often start with the negative reviews, and do broad research on the reviewer as well. If a property has more than 30% bad reviews (1 to 3 stars) or worse, I avoid it.
Also talk to people who have travelled through these cities, their reviews might not be on the site but are more trustworthy. You can find them on travel boards, facebook groups or similar places in the world wide web.
3. Double check information
As I mentioned above, saying no is difficult especially for Indians. So, even when we don’t know something, we end up giving the wrong directions, wrong prices or even wrong advise.
It is always better to talk to folks who have traveled through those cities & patiently listen to their experiences. Do keep in mind that we each have a unique style of travelling & different bars of expectations. A clean linen might be a high priority for you, but it need not for me – so ask questions on what matters to you.
4. Dress appropriately
This is the most debatable topic in India right now. What is the most ‘appropriate dress’ to wear in India?
I can’t answer that for you. I myself have worn all kinds of clothes in all kinds of places. I was ogled at, commented upon and men even tried to get touchy at times, but luckily I have been able to handle these situations on my own by raising voice.
My advise would be to wear clothes as per the location, if you are going to a religious place then make sure you are covered head to toe, if it’s a historical place then wear something comfortable which covers your shoulders and at least is till your knee length. Men get frisky when you are in local markets or in public transport because these two places are crowded. Carry a scarf to cover up or keep a shrug handy.
5. Don’t drink/smoke up with strangers
This should have been the first point on my list – but not all of us smoke/drink. I always held by this commandment religiously; drink to enjoy not to get drunk. Once you are unable to objectively control the situation, things might get out of hand. Many people in India think that women who drink have loose character or are promiscuous.
6. Stop being TOO friendly
Be nice and polite to people but avoid being extra friendly. A majority of people in India consider over friendly people are easy to sleep with. When you are a woman travelling alone, you will most definitely get into a situation where men read over friendliness as a cue for flirting.
7. Ask for help
Traditionally, we are taught to be helpful to others in times of need. If you ask for help in India, there will be many people who will come to your rescue.
Make sure you ask people who are accompanied by females and families, avoid asking for help from a group of men.
8. Research well about a destination
The idea of ‘going with the flow’ might seem cool and very hip but when you are in a country that is so diverse, geographically and culturally, it is advisable to research about your destination beforehand. It also gives you confidence to move around. Dropping names of places or talking like you know the area will definitely help you. It shows to the other person that you are not completely unaware of the area.
If you are aware of your surrounding it gives you a sense of control which gives you confidence.
9. Trust your instincts
If it doesn’t feel right, then you should just leave it.
Trusting your instincts is very important when you are travelling on your own. It is okay to spend a few extra rupees, or miss out on a good deal or let go of an amazing experience. There is nothing more important than your safety.
Also, its not a sign of cowardice if you back out of a challenge. Your friend, co-traveller or the person who questioned your grit might be genuine but then the chances of him being aware of what awaits you there is highly improbable.
9. Avoid going out alone at night
Anybody who is from India or has travelled to India, will definitely tell you not to travel at night alone. Except for few big cities, most of India reach home at dusk & sleeps early. Help will be hard to find, from a mode of transportation to a response for your cries for rescue.
10. Never arrive at a destination at night
Another rule of travelling I follow wholeheartedly. This is an extension of the last point. It is difficult to reach your destination if you arrive at night.
Once a friend reached Manali at 12 am midnight, she didn’t get any taxi, neither she booked a hotel in advance and there was no one on the streets to guide her. She hitchhiked to her destination, it was sheer luck that the guy she took lift from was a gentleman. But to think about it, it is so scary to hitchhike like this at the wee hours in an unknown place.
11. Plan your first day at a destination
It is always a good idea to book your stay for the first day, to get a hang of the destination. I always book a safe place after checking the reviews even if I end up paying a few more bucks.
12. Interact with locals on social media before the trip
Joining a Travel Facebook Group like Backpackers and Travellers of India, Homestays in India, The Himalayan Travel Group, Backpackers and Travellers India are some of the most helpful ones. Locals can appraise you about the place, things to do and see, and tips to get your way through this crazy country.
13. Keep someone informed about your location
Someone should always know about your travel plans. Share where you will be, the place where you are staying and tentative route of your travel. I and my partner share each other’s location via Google Maps and I always share the email of all my hotel bookings with him. This way if anything goes wrong, there will be someone looking out for me.
We all talk about safety in India and how day by day it is becoming unbearable to stay in this dangerous country. But, how many of us can say that ‘Yes, I have done something to make this country safe’. How many times, you have stepped forward to diffuse a difficult situation for others or how many times you have helped people in locating a destination or gone that extra mile to unsure safety for women? Until and unless, we take a step towards safety, we can’t expect the govt. or others to make it safe for our loved ones.
If you are travelling to India for the first and need any help or just want to know about my beautiful country then shoot me a mail at email@example.com. I will try to assist you in any way I can.