Danish rape in India and advice to women visiting
A Danish tourist was abducted and gang raped at knife point in New Delhi last week. This is yet another one of a series of rapes that has shocked India and has shamed us once again.
I have compiled a list of pointers that I think would make travelling safer for women tourists in India. Having travelled extensively throughout the length and breadth of the country, I have a fair bit of experience on dealing with problems that women could face while travelling alone or with fellow women. I’ve even made my share of mistakes that could have landed me in trouble, had I run out of luck, which thankfully, I didn’t.
Here’s what I think women need to keep in mind:
1) Exercise caution when interacting with strangers
Some men, in this part of the world, may sometimes misunderstand your politeness or friendliness as overtures for something more than what you are willing to offer. While interacting with locals is a part of the charm of travelling, always be on guard. It’s never prudent to reveal too much of information about yourself.
2) Avoid late night arrivals
I always avoid going out at late hours of the evening or in the wee hours of the morning. Since I travel to new locations that I am unfamiliar with, I feel safer reaching my destination in broad daylight when the roads are swarming with people.
3) Book the upper compartment when travelling by train
I’ve learnt this the hard way!
I’ve had to deal with unsavoury incidents where men have tried to grope me in the middle of the night while I’m fast asleep. So if you’re travelling by train, always book the upper compartment so that perverse men find it difficult to feel you up when you’re sleeping. Also, travelling in two tiered air-conditioned berths or three tiered air-conditioned berths is safer than travelling in the general compartments.
4) Avoid accepting food or drinks from fellow passengers
There have been innumerable incidents involving unwary travellers who’ve been robbed after accepting food laced with sedatives or some kind of drug that leaves them unconscious. Hence, avoid accepting snacks or even water from people you’ve just met.
5) Choose hotels wisely
I once stayed at a hotel where certain guests present made me feel uneasy. I dismissed my instincts and instead of changing hotels, my friends and I decided to stay put. Soon enough we regretted that decision when we were woken up in the dead of the night and were made extremely uncomfortable by the noise of drunken revelry of the same guests.
The point that I’m trying to make is that always trust your instincts and act on them. If you get a negative feeling or vibe about your surroundings, extricate yourself from those settings without losing any time. Referring to travel websites and relying on hotel recommendations by travellers is always a good idea.
6) Sometimes, people in India stare!
It’s not necessarily only the men; I’ve even had women stare at me. Many a time, the staring is due to curiosity about outsiders and tourists.
Be prepared! If you’re a white woman travelling in rural India or touristy places, you may be hounded with requests for photographs. It’s okay to politely turn the pleas down if you feel uncomfortable.
7) Asking for directions
If you’ve lost your way, rely on technology and use GPS. Asking for directions is a good option but don’t let people lead you to your destination. You never know where they are actually taking you. Verifying the directions you’ve received from a passer-by with others will ensure that you’re on the right route.
8) Invitations from locals to visit their homes
While there have been plenty of incidents where my fellow travellers and I have accepted invitations from locals for tea or dinner, this may not always be safe. I dread to think of the outcome, had we come across unscrupulous men with malevolent intentions. Luckily, we’ve always been at the receiving end of some warm hospitality from kind, fellow countrymen.
9) Your cell phone is your guardian angel
Your cell phone may prove to be a true friend in times of need. Keep it on your person at all times.
10) Taking lifts
This is all too common with travellers and trekkers visiting the Himalayas. Rely on government buses or hire private vehicles while travelling in the mountains. Taking risks like accepting lifts may land you in a soup sooner or later. Why invite trouble, eh?
11) Keeping family and friends in the loop
Always keep your loved ones updated about your whereabouts and future travels plans. They may be able to track you down and help you in case the need ever arises. Texting or emailing them certain information like your travel itinerary, name and telephone numbers of hotels you plan to stay at and the numbers of taxis and rickshaws you travel by will hold you in good stead.
You could even ask the rickshaw or taxi driver to tell you the number of his vehicle after boarding it and then repeat it to a friend on the phone. This is a trick to let the driver know that you are being vigilant and their information has been passed on.
12) Pepper spray is your weapon
Carry a pepper spray with you at all times and do not hesitate in using it to defend yourself if you face any kind of harassment.
13) Skinny dipping is a complete no-no
Recently, a group of 50 Russian naval personnel went skinny dipping off the coast of Karnataka, South West India. This incident irked the locals and other tourists present, causing the local police to intervene.
I’ve seen foreigners and Indians strip down to the bare minimum at beaches in other states like Goa but it would be sensible to avoid indulging in such practices since locals interpret such acts as a sign of disrespect towards their culture.
14) Avoid visiting deserted locales
On a trip to a pristine beach aeons ago, my friend and I realised we were alone at the beach with no other human in sight. While we were exhilarated at the time, I later realised how unsafe that situation could have been for two young girls alone at a beach. Avoid putting yourself in similar situations.
Always do a little bit of research on the city or state you plan to visit to get an idea about the security situation of the area and take the necessary precautions while travelling.
16) Report miscreants
If you ever come across a situation where you find men misbehaving with you or around you, report the incident to the local police immediately. In my experience, the general public takes incidents of women being ‘eve teased’ head on. Create a scene if men try to grope you or make inappropriate sexual comments. The public is bound to come to your aid in such situations.
17) Appearing self-assured
If you’re travelling alone for the first time or if you’re travelling to an unknown location where the local language is not one that you are familiar with, it’s natural to be a tad bit apprehensive. But the key lies in putting up a self-assured or confident front. Your demeanour, to a certain extent, may determine how people perceive you and the attitude they adopt towards you.
The vibe people need to get from you is that you’re a strong woman who is capable of taking good care of herself and being defensive. You need to come across as a woman who is sure of herself. Strong women get troubled as well but there are situations where people back off because confident and outspoken ladies intimidate them. If you appear nervous or apprehensive, it may make it that much easier for people to try and manipulate you.
For some of the men out there, here’s some food for thought for you.
The true test of your manhood is how you treat a woman; any and every woman. If you do not respect a woman, you’re only half a man – Times of India.
Having said all of this, I must add that there have been numerous occasions when I’ve received help and guidance from fellow travellers and strangers alike. Indians are a helpful and hospitable lot and there’s no greater thrill than exploring a country as beautiful and diverse as India. However, like all other countries, we have our share of criminals and the pointers mentioned above will hopefully help you stay off the radar of these rogues.
Happy and safe travelling!
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.