11 Safety Tips for Women Living or Traveling Alone in India
Rape is the fastest growing crime in India today. As more and more Indian women have jobs that require them to travel or keep late hours in the office, it is very important that they take these safety precautions.
There has also been an alarming increase in the number of reports of rape of women tourists in India. In July 2010, an American woman, interning with an NGO was raped in her apartment, in Hyderabad. In June two Dutch women in Delhi reported that they had been held captive and raped for 2 months. In January this year, a young Japanese woman, making a Buddhist pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya was gang raped by a group of auto drivers. In 2003, a Swiss diplomat was abducted and gang raped after she attended an international film festival in Delhi.
The primary concern of tourists so far (mostly male or heterosexual couples), has been how to avoid getting ripped off in India! But we think that for ANY women in India, the most important consideration has to be safety. It is something that cannot be emphasized enough.
Here are 11 safety tips from the 50 Million Missing Campaign for all women particularly when living or traveling alone in India.
1. Though there is no reason one can’t live or travel alone, the fact is that it is always safer for single women in India to live or travel with at least 1 or 2 other people. Often if you have a male companion, you are usually also less likely to be sexually harassed and/or molested. (We are not saying this is how it should be! It curbs women’s rights to freedom of movement and is fundamentally sexist. But it is a safety precaution that works to some degree in India.)
2. If you are traveling on assignment, or have moved to a new town or city for work , ask your company or organization to ensure your safety by making the arrangements for your stay through their local contacts. Or ask them for known and reliable contacts through whom you can make your arrangements. In the hotel, make sure your door has a latch or chain on the INSIDE, and once you are in your room always keep the door locked and chained. Always carry a portable door-stop and use it at night irrespective, or use some object like a door stopper. If it is a room on the ground level or 1st floor, make sure the windows have grills. Do not leave your balcony door open while sleeping at night. When ordering food etc. do not leave the door open, and yell for the service person to walk in. Have them knock and take your items from the door.
3. In budgeting your travel or rent expenses make safety your no.1 priority. The lower the cost the bigger the risk with safety. Hence it may seem like a good, cheap deal on a rented house, apartment, hotel/guide/transportation/tour package, BUT the more obscure it is – the bigger the risk with safety. You are better off with a known place. Also something that other SINGLE WOMEN you personally know have used and recommended. (Remember it is not the same for a male tourist).
4. Never accept food and drinks from complete strangers (especially on buses, trains and in hotels), even if they seem friendly or are very insistent (and they can be, heaping you with phrases like “Indian hospitality” or “the guest is god”). There have been cases where food and drinks were laced with drugs, and the tourists were then robbed and or sexually assaulted. Visit bars and restaurants which have more customers (that way your food is also fresher ) and whatever you drink, insist on a sealed bottle (check the seal carefully).
5. Avoid all body contact with men you have just met or even if you have known them over a few days. Do not give hugs and don’t shake hands. Use the conventional ‘namaste’ instead.
6. Your eye contact with strange men should be brief and never intimate. Don’t make direct eye contact and smile simultaneously. In a culture where the sexes still remain hugely segregated, these can often be misinterpreted. Be friendly with your words; but be very careful with your body language.
7. If you are living in upscale hotels, you can dress as you wish. But if you are living in low budget hotels, or are in public areas, the market, villages etc., wear baggy clothing and try to ensure your arms and legs are covered. This is only helps avoid unwanted local male attention. It has nothing to do with rape however! Women fully clothed too have been raped.
8. Avoid all travels at night. Never get into a cab or auto that has more than one man sitting in there. Sit near the door and if other men get in at any point, get out immediately. Never ever hitch a ride or accept a ride with a stranger no matter how friendly he seems. During train journeys mindfully gauge the people who are with you in your cubicle, and if you feel uncomfortable stay on your guard; don’t go to sleep. If you need to find your way somewhere, ask for directions. But never follow someone who says, “Follow me, I will show you.” Follow the directions and keep checking with others you meet en route to see if you are on the right path. Never agree to meet people you barely know at a house or hotel they invite you to. If you must meet and talk, ask them to meet you in some café of your choosing. Go and leave alone.
9. Set your boundaries with your body language. Usually men who are looking for an opportunity for an apparently ‘careless’ brush or uninvited physical contact, will test your boundaries first, for e.g. sitting too close. Or touching your hand. Indian women often get frightened and flustered and are unable to speak up. While foreign women are often concerned about seeming unfriendly, racist or snooty. But the rule of safety is the same for women no matter where they are in the world: IF YOU ARE UNCOMFORTABLE, IT IS NOT O.K. Set your boundaries assertively. Move away or remove your hand. If they persist, tell them firmly using very straight language, “Please sit in that seat. I don’t like people touching me.” Never appear hesitant or apologetic.
10. Avoid intensely crowded places – like buses and festivals. That is where men take the opportunity to molest women. Also, be very careful about a direct, angry confrontation in these kinds of situations, for mobs in India are notoriously unpredictable. A lot of Indian women often don’t complain because the crowd begins to blame them. In a festival try to stay on the edges of the crowds. In a bus or market place, loudly but firmly and politely say “What are you doing?” And remember guilt works better than anger.
11. The Golden Rule of Safety for Women where ever you are:
Be alert to your environment and the people around you at all times.
Listen to your gut instinct and don’t second guess it. (It is better to be wrong and safe than wrong and sorry!)
And act on your observations and instincts intelligently.
And finally – in the spirit of safety please endorse our petition against female genocide by clicking on the link below!
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Sirensongs is a founding member and a contributor to The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s Photographers Group on Flickr which is supported by more than 2400 photographers from around the world. To see more of each of her works, please click here.