This is a question I guess every Indian esp. women must have received from their female friends outside India who are curious to see the country but with a population of 1.3 billion is it even possible to give one answer? There is nothing that is common across the country – no language, color, clothes, culture, nothing.
So what is the purpose of this post? To make a woman aware of the extent of sexual harassment esp. solo women travelers and share some tips as a local, also part of solo women travelers community, who has traveled within India and to other countries on how to reduce the risk of being sexually harassed in India.
Like in any other country some parts of India are more dangerous than the other or say some are safer than the other. Then where do all these insecurities about traveling in India come from? Some would say Media’s portrayal of the country. But that’s not the complete truth. India in my experience is a country where the probability of a woman getting sexually harassed is way more than any other country I have traveled to. It is sad when people try to underplay the safety situation in India as it can put someone’s life in real danger. The mental trauma that comes with street harassment is unfathomable by someone who has not experienced it.
What kind of harassment are we talking about?
I’m not getting into numbers on purpose because the numbers mostly talk about the rape cases in India and I’m not even getting there. Most of the other sexual harassment cases go unreported. Some very common ones in India – groping, pinching, Masturbating in Public, passing disgusting remarks on the streets, so on and so forth. I have faced all of these more than once and I personally don’t know any woman who hasn’t faced at least one of these. From what I gather, most women across the world have faced sexual harassment in some form or the other so what is the fuss again?
- The probability of it happening in India
- The frequency with which it happens
- The situations where it can happen
I have met women from various countries who tell me how they have been harassed in clubs in countries conventionally considered safe. Now, the difference is, you can go to a busy club, get drunk, get back home by yourself and expect everything to be fine. I don’t know very many Indian girls who would even consider going to a club alone which is jam-packed with Indian men and go back home alone drunk. That is a recipe for disaster here. An adventure sport I’m never trying.
Scenarios with a high probability of being harassed:
- Public transport like a tuktuk
- Any local transport with high percentage of men like Mumbai locals or Delhi Metro. There are ladies compartment in these trains for safety reasons
- Exhibitions with free entry
- Sitting next to a man on a bus
- Crowded dance floors
Basically, anywhere a man can get away with it.
Do I still recommend India to travel as a solo women traveler?
Yes. But of course, it’s you who has to decide.
Although I would say if you have a choice to travel with a male partner then do that. It would make your life much simpler. But don’t let lack of company be a reason to put it down.
India is a blast of cultures, colors, beautiful places, delicious food, and a lot more. Above everything, it is backpackers heaven. There are things to serve every budget. It might not be the cleanest but at least there are options.
- There are buses, trains, budget airlines to travel with
- Hostel culture is really picking up everywhere so there are budget places to stay
- Street food is the absolute best in India and is as cheap as Rs. 50 for a meal (less than a dollar)
The one thing that you would have to compromise on would be your freedom. You would have to watch your step, be alert of your surroundings at all times.
Things you can do to travel more safely in India:
In some places, there is a big selfie culture which is a random person/people would come up to you and ask for selfies. There are three broad ways to deal with it
- Agree with it and tirelessly pose for pictures. Remember when one person gets a selfie a lot more would find the courage to come up to you and ask for a picture as well
- Politely decline
- Very creative way – ask for money in return for a picture. I know someone who did that and earned some money. They charged Rs. 100 for each picture.
Note: Even if you’re agreeing to get pictures to make sure you ask them to maintain distance. I know of a woman who was groped and molested by strangers in the pretext of getting a picture.
- Carry a scarf around your neck. Cleavage can attract a lot of attention.
- Cover yourself in a sarong as soon as you get out of the ocean.
- Sleeveless is fine
- Wedding ring means nothing to most Indians. Toe rings, however, mean you’re definitely married. So if you want to travel around like a married woman then toe rings are the way to go. I did meet a woman who was traveling like that but it didn’t help her much.
- Get a picture of the number plate if you’re getting into a regular vehicle
- Be on the phone when getting inside your uber or Ola
- If you take a long distance bus, either book a single seat or book one reserved for women (Redbus website shows the women’s seat in red)
- Carry your bag on the front. Not only does it save it from pickpockets but also saves one from being groped
General (I follow these in any country I travel to):
- Try to reach back at your residence before sunset
- If you’re going out late in the evening, try to go out with male companions
- Don’t walk back alone when drunk even if the hostel is a block away
The idea of this post is not to spread fear about the country but making travelers aware of what threats are lurking in the corner here. I don’t know any better way to do that.