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Sharell Cook

Is India Unsafe for Foreign Women?

By January 9, 2013

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Woman in India.
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Unfortunately, the recent rape case in Delhi and the publicity that it's attracted has left many foreigners wondering if India is a safe place to visit, especially for solo women.

This recent article, in which a woman from the UK recalls being sexually harassed frequently during the time she spent traveling in India, has attracted quite a bit of attention and discussion.

She writes:

"When we visited, around three years ago, we were prepared for the poverty; we'd read the guidebooks back to front to learn the scams and the tricks that thieves employ to steal cameras and iPods. We weren't warned that travelling without a man in India is an invitation for unwanted advances."

So, what's the situation really like?

The dialogue I've had with other foreign women revealed very diverse experiences in India. Some have reported being groped and harassed often. For others, like myself, it's only happened infrequently.

In the seven years that I've lived in India, I can only remember being groped once, on a local bus in Kolkata. Apart from that, I've been followed a few times (although the men have quickly scurried away when confronted), and of course been on the receiving end of lewd remarks and staring -- but on the whole, I consider myself to be relatively unscathed. Sometimes, I even travel alone in the gent's compartment of the Mumbai local train, and  men have graciously offered me a seat rather than groped me!

It leads me to wonder why some foreign women seem to get groped and harassed more than others in India, and it's difficult to come up with an adequate explanation.  The fact that I dress quite conservatively, am taller than many Indian men, and look and act like I can take care of myself have been suggested as factors in my favor.

Indeed, shock and uncertainty about how to react to sexual harassment in India does appear to be an issue. As the author of the above mentioned article stated:

"At the start, we simply did not know how to react. If truth be told, whenever we were placed in uncomfortable positions, we simply felt deeply embarrassed. We would push the offending limbs away with a nervous laugh and make as quick an escape as possible. After a month, however, we learned this is not always an adequate solution."

Personally, I believe that foreign women do need to be very assertive and street smart when traveling in India, and this can go a long way to mitigating the chance of problems happening.  I don't believe that India poses a big danger to foreign women (foreign women are actually probably safer than Indian women, as Indians fear repercussions from foreigners and foreign authorities). However,  caution really needs to be excised, and I'd recommend solo travel only for women who have some India experience and knowledge.  Otherwise, you may find yourself overwhelmed and in situations that you're unsure of how to handle.

What are your thoughts and experiences? Women, please do give your input into this poll.

January 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm
(1) Mela says:

I just spent a month in India, and I would encourage one to exercise the same amount of caution in India as you would at home. I understand that in ones home country, you tend to be more lax because it is your home, but bad things happen everywhere so India should not be stigmatized. I must admit, the guys were a bit macho when I spoke with them or needed help, but most displayed concern and were more than kind to me while there.

January 14, 2013 at 5:12 pm
(2) Helen says:

I spent 3 months in India in 2010 and although I found I got more unwanted attention, I never felt as though I was being “sexually” harassed. There was the odd photo being taken which I asked them to delete, but I was luckily never groped or touched. Most Indian people I took the time to get to know were so lovely and welcoming. I feel that India, like every other country in the world, asks you to exercise some common sense, especially for women. Wear Salwar Kameez (local Indian dress) and you’ll earn respect instead of unwanted attention.

January 14, 2013 at 5:55 pm
(3) Tricia says:

I have blonde hair and have fair skin. I stand out in India. I have spent 3 months in India over 2 different years. India is not like the west. It is a man’s world –meaning they do what they want when they want anywhere… even to push a foreign woman aside at a train cashier booth.. Indian women would not have the freedom to go out walking or shopping alone. They are not even able to relate to men in fear of repercussions from family or others…. Why put one’s self in harms way if one doesn’t have to. I only will travel there with an Indian man who is only my friend… I wear the India silva kameez so I blend in somewhat….Then I am safe.. I have not been harassed. Do the same.

January 15, 2013 at 7:40 am
(4) goldengrain says:

We should keep in mind that the woman who was raped and killed was on a bus with a male friend. The male friend came to her defense but was also beaten with iron pipes.

When members of the public try to intervene to help these women they are also beaten, so usually people just ignore these harassments and rapes and just walk by.

The government says they do not have enough police or judges to handle all the cases, so they are most commonly ignored. To save the woman’s shame at being raped she is often coaxed to marry her rapist. Otherwise, if she tries to pick up the pieces of her normal life she often finds herself shunned by friends and neighbors.

It’s so hard to believe that women are treated that way in India because all of the Indian women who I have met in the US are so intelligent and opinionated and seemingly free from the psychological traits of such oppression.

January 17, 2013 at 6:49 am
(5) Marianne says:

Since travelling to India for the first time five years ago with my son, I have been back every year for extended visits, travelling all over the country on my own. Apart from the odd wandering hand on packed buses (promptly smacked away with a loud “don’t touch me”, I have never had a problem. I dress in salwar kameez, or long pants or skirts, and keep my shoulders covered, often with just a light cotton scarf, cheaply purchased in a bazaar. I love travelling second class sleeper on the trains, and am usually involved in conversations with the Indian families travelling, and have a very enjoyable and interesting time. I must say I learnt quickly to answer the question ” where is your husband” with “in Delhi (or Mumbai), rather than in Sydney! Learning just a few words of Hindi goes a long way to being rewarded with big smiles. But above all, be confident, not afraid, and enjoy this wonderful country.

January 18, 2013 at 8:55 am
(6) spiritualemersion says:

I have read all the other comments and agree with all of them somewhat,…each persons experience is there own…I do not judge women or guess that they may by welcoming this type of behavior….it always make sense to err on the side of caution….since I do go out at night and run the roads at night in USA I do the same in India. I have visited India 9 times since 1996 and am planning a trip later this year for 9 weeks. About half of the trips have been completely solo, 25% with one other women the other 25% was with two women. My current age is 60.

I take precautions and am friendly, positive, appropriate and dress appropriately, I travel by train and bus which I book myself, it is a huge confidence boost to be able to love and navigate a hugely different place like India, than what I experience in USA. I have seen India change also since 1996…a great deal, mostly in a positive way. I have never had a problem however I am older.

Also I have experienced the probing questions on trains…it can be uncomfortable since I hate to lie but really it is not anyone’s business my martial status. These folks are just curious and after all we are in their country…actually in all my travels even in places like Rishikesh there are few USA citizens that I have encountered.

I feel if you are drawn to the spirituality of India and want to explore then you will be protected….carry this with you in your heart…if you are just wanting to go to look see, well you can still make the trip but the world is big and maybe other places are more suitable for your adventure.

January 21, 2013 at 12:27 am
(7) Ellie says:

Whilst I completely agree it’s a good idea to dress conservatively in India, I don’t think dressing ‘appropriately’ necessarily lessens the risk at all. Of course you can take precautions and try to avoid certain situations but sometimes it’s just bad luck. Whilst travelling, I always wore modest western clothes – baggy cotton trouser, t-shirt or top and shawl and never had any real problems. Since moving here, I have been molested 3 times and each time I was wearing modest Indian salwar suits. The Westerners I know who live here all dress very conservatively and all but one of them has been molested whilst in Indian dress and the one who hasn’t barely leaves her house. Conversely, I’ve met so many tourists wearing tiny denim shorts and vests who haven’t had a single problem whilst here. Maybe the more we stand out the less trouble we might have, who knows?! I’m also tall, dark and I would have thought look like I can take care of myself but still it’s happened. When I was molested, once I was getting off a bus where I’d been sitting in the ladies section at the front, another time I was in a shop with a male relative and the last time was in a city centre residential street with a friend and I was getting into an auto. Every time it was broad daylight. I don’t think any of these situations is somewhere you’d think of as high risk or somewhere to avoid so I think it’s just luck if you do or don’t get molested. I therefore agree women should be cautious but remember that most women who are molested here are also being cautious! On the whole though, I’d say foreign female tourists are far safer than women living here.

March 28, 2013 at 3:30 pm
(8) Priyo says:

my name is Priyo. am 23 years old guy in India. India is safer than other countries. percentage says that – raping percentage of India is far lower than other countries.
i had meet a foreigner girl who was then 21.
she was mis her family at station . when i saw that i went toword the girl . and told her not to cry. she told me hole story. i take her in my house and give her food and money . and shows her how to find her family . i was staying with her . finally she meet her family 2 days after. she go with her family . after one and half year she come back again in India . and find my house and bring sweet for me . i was so happy to see her again and feeling so proud . i do my duty well . and proud to be an Indian .

March 31, 2013 at 2:35 pm
(9) Ekagra Sharma says:

For foreign tourists, just don’t tolerate any kind of inappropriate behaviour no matter where you are. A packed bus or alone in the street. You just have to have the courage to yell at them and show your angry eyes.Especially for festivals like holi. Don’t let strangers come near you and celebrate it only with the people you know. People around you will help you if you’re in a public place tell them if anyone misbehaves or touches you. Some hindi words which might help you:-
Duur hat- pronounce hat like hut. It means get away from me.
Just be really confident and do not tolerate anything.

April 14, 2013 at 11:40 am
(10) jubin mathew says:

hello i am 25 year boy from india.our country is safe for womens. see in every country there are some good people and some bad people are there..we always welcome everyone to our beautiful country…nothing will happen..plse come to our country and enjoy your vacation…

April 28, 2013 at 12:08 pm
(11) Lector says:

I would never travel India accompanied by my wife, neither with my daughters.

From the news out of the country, the place and people are sick.

July 3, 2013 at 5:58 am
(12) selectively mute says:

Hi guys.. i’m a guy from India.. i like the shirts foreigner men wore while visiting india. Google search led me to this site. I’m from a town in Punjab state(though i spent last 12 years in different parts of the country) and females in my family go out alone or with their female friends when the streets/roads look safe as in there are some people there(not just drunkards or like them).. while in India, yeah wear indian clothing like salwar kameez, prefer to live in cities or areas where a lot of educated and modern people are. don’t travel in local compartment unless ur in a city.prefer travelling in ac compartment.. most of the uneducated and poor ppl when they watch a lot of porns featuring white skin ppl, it means something to them… imagine a modren girl from delhi visiting my town wearing short skirts and showing a lot of skin.. all the guys would go crazy… hehhe … lwed comments, stalking, indecent touching all that would follow. in short they would lose their mind completely and couldn’t think of anything else for quite sometime… said i lot of guess, hope it make sense : )

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