Here’s what the world tells its people heading to India. And it’s scornful
“Hey, can I not wear shorts in India? Shouldn’t I cut my hair short?” asked my friend Isabelle from Sweden. She was visiting India for the first time. ‘What, why do you have such stupid questions in your head,’ is what I asked her. I was totally shattered when I heard her counter my question. “My friends and family warned me saying I will be raped if I wear short dresses and sport short hair. They also asked me to be careful while on streets. They told me not to talk to anyone,” she told with a sense of apprehension in her voice.
Given India’s rape scourge (honestly no other way to term it), countries and travel organisations around the world are getting increasingly cautious about women travelling to India. Sometime back, Japan issued a warning to its female citizens interested in traveling to India, following two assertions of rape on its citizens. In one case, a Japanese tourist said a man, claiming to be a tour guide, raped her while dropping her to her guest house. In the other, a Japanese national in Bodhgaya was allegedly kidnapped, robbed and raped by six men from Kolkata.
After the more recent Delhi case came to light, the Japanese Consulate in Kolkata counseled tourists in India to be cautious.
India has had a reputation of being unsafe for women. However, there has been an increase in the cases of sexual assault against foreign nationals across the country. A Polish woman in Delhi, a Swiss cyclist in Madhya Pradesh, an Irish charity worker in Kolkata, a German teenager on a train, a Danish woman in Delhi, were all victims. The list seems endless.
This has alerted the countries to follow suit and issue warnings to female tourists intending to travel to India.
A look at some of the travel advisories issued:
“Avoid travelling alone on public transport, or in taxis or auto-rickshaws, especially during night. If you have to use a taxi get them from hotel taxi ranks and use pre-paid taxis at airports. Try to avoid hiring taxis on the street. If you’re being collected at the airport by a hotel driver, make sure they have properly identified themselves before you set off.”
“Women should observe stringent security precautions, including avoiding use of public transport after dark without the company of known and trustworthy companions, restricting evening entertainment to well-known venues, and avoiding isolated areas when alone at any time of day. Keep your hotel room number confidential and make sure hotel room doors have chains, deadlocks, and peep holes. Travel around the area with groups of friends rather than alone.”
“Women should avoid travelling alone, particularly at night, on public transportation, taxis and auto-rickshaws, as well as in less populous and unlit areas, including city streets, village lanes and beaches. Dress conservatively and respect local customs.”
“Exercise vigilance at all times of the day, avoid walking in less populous and unlit areas, including city streets, village lanes and beaches, and take care when travelling in taxis and rickshaws. Avoid travelling alone on public transportation, autos and taxis, particularly at night.”
Additionally, countries like France and other members of the European Union have also issued warnings, asking women to exercise utmost caution. Several recent incidents show that foreign women or expatriates can be the victims of such incidents in India.”
Travel blogs and experts paint a slightly prettier picture of India.
“You’re very unlikely to experience violent crime as a woman traveller in India; it’s sexual harassment that you may experience – more so in tourist towns and larger cities in the north of the country. Rude comments, voyeurism, and men ‘brushing against’ or groping women are all common.”
In another blog, travel writer Candace Rardon describes her experience in India very warmly. “While travel in India will require heightened attention and common sense, let me assure you it is worth it. Although I did encounter men who stared at me inappropriately, there were countless others who in no way treated me as a sexual object – farmers and pharmacists, shopkeepers and teachers, men whose warmth, kindness, and compassion moved me in unexpected ways.”
However, no warnings or advisories have been issued in the neighbouring country of Nepal, despite incidents of sexual violence on Nepalese citizens in India. The two countries share a soft border, and it is virtually impossible to keep track of immigrants working without labour permits in India.