Is India Safe for Women Travelers?

by Beth Whitman (June 13th, 2013)

India Womens Group at Taj MahalThere’s been a lot of news coming out of India of late. And it hasn’t been good.

Sadly, there’s been a spate of high-profile gang rapes against both Indian and foreign women in the last eight months or so. The most recent one was just last week when a California woman was raped when she hitched a ride with a truck driver late at night (she was unable to find a taxi).

As a result of these tragic events, it’s been reported that 35% less women are traveling to India and tourism overall is down by 25%.

Just yesterday I received a call from a reporter at the Sunday Times of London about how safe India is for women travelers. It’s a good question: Is India safe for women travelers?

My take? Absolutely it is. As long as you take the same safety precautions you would take traveling to any other destination.

As I told the reporter, while these events are tragic, they are isolated incidences that are (rightly so) getting a tremendous amount of attention from the media. And it’s about time. Rape in India is not new (nor is it unique to India) but it’s been under-reported in the country up until now – whether the victim is Indian or foreign, in the past both seemed to get equally ignored.

But the truth is that the likelihood of something happening to a woman traveling in India is quite low. In my experience, India tends to be a country where opportunistic thievery and groping (unacceptable but not rape) are more common than violent, aggressive behavior (with guns or India carvings wallknives drawn) against tourists. That doesn’t make these lower level crimes OK, but what’s being reported is that India is not safe for women. Period. And that’s just not the case.

As my dear friend in the India/travel world, Mariellen Ward, pointed out in her article on this very topic, India does not come close to ranking high in terms of the number of reported rapes in the world (that distinction is held by South Africa where a woman is raped every 17 seconds!).

Having traveled there a half dozen times myself, I’ve never had so much as a pen stolen. But I’m hyper-alert to my surroundings, I protect my personal belongings and myself at all times, and am overly cautious about going out on my own (especially at night).

Though they are absolutely tragic, the fact that these rapes in India are finally being reported is a great thing. Previously, I had only heard rumors and friend-of-a-friend stories about attacks against foreign women but could never find actual reports about these stories to confirm what I’d heard.

And just because these are finally being reported in the news, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to India. It’s just a good reminder to take certain precautions when you do go.

India is a vibrant, fabulous, beautiful country filled with warm-hearted, gentle, and generous people. Yes, it’s also challenging. But your decision on whether to visit should not be based on media reports on a few high-profile incidents. Go see for yourself and…

…here’s what you can do to stay safe in India (and beyond):

  • Don’t travel or even wander the streets at night by yourself.
  • Don’t ever open your hotel room door to a stranger. And even in the case of a hotel employee (a repairman or housekeeper, for example) either leave your door open step out of the room while he is in there. You might seem rude in doing so, but it’s better than the possible alternative.
  • Wear conservative clothing. Even baring your shoulders and knees can cause unwanted attention in India and many other conservative countries.
  • Never take a taxi at night by yourself. Most taxi drivers double up with a friend traveling with them – don’t put yourself in this situation.
  • When traveling on crowded public transportation, try to board last so that you can be close to the exit. Keep your back to the door so that you are facing everyone on the bus or train and always keep your personal belongings where you can see them and with the handles tightly secured around your wrists.
  • Carry a cable lock to secure your luggage when taking an overnight train or bus. This simple measure will prevent someone from grabbing your bag while you’re sleeping.
  • Lock the zippers of your luggage together so that someone can’t easily open it and grab the contents.
  • Choose bags made with security protection, like those from PacSafe, where slashproof handles and protected zippers prevent thieves from getting your goods.

Also, check out Dianne Sharma Winter’s tips for staying safe and sane in India. She’s lived there for nearly 20 years so she’s able to offer up some sage advice.

Boy, I could go on. But you get the idea. While there are a lot of things you do need to be aware of when you’re traveling (whether to India or to somewhere closer to home), these things will eventually become second nature to you.

What do you do to stay safe during your travels?

Travel Well,

Beth

Related links:
North India Women-only Tour
South India Women-only Tour

18 comments
 
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  • Comments
    1.
    On June 17th, 2013 at 1:39 pm, Cat of Sunshine and Siestas said:

    Great advice. Kudos to you for reminding everyone – not just women – that even simple precautions can go a long way.

    2.
    On June 17th, 2013 at 1:22 pm, Susie said:

    Another tip — I had hotel managers in 2 cities try to come into my room in the middle of the night. After the first incident, I moved a piece of furniture in front of the door each night. Even a chair under the door knob helped.

    3.
    On June 17th, 2013 at 7:58 pm, Sandra Foyt said:

    Common sense can go a long way. I traveled through India last summer with my two teens, without any incident. There was one hotel that gave me the heevie jeevies (very flimsy door knob on guest room) so I switched hotels. It was inconvenient but I figured it was better to be safe than sorry. In a similar situation in the US, I jammed the door with furniture. Bottom line, unsafe situations arise all over the world. I don’t feel any less safe in India than elsewhere.

    4.
    On June 18th, 2013 at 6:38 am, Jennifer said:

    Good advice. I hope that the idea of so many “rules” to follow and precautions to take don’t in themselves frighten women away, too, though.

    5.
    On June 18th, 2013 at 7:47 am, wanderingeducators said:

    I hope that all travelers practice these safety tips – it’s always worrisome when you’re in a strange place (even in your own country), to think about these things. Better safe than sorry.

    6.
    On June 19th, 2013 at 6:03 am, Beth Whitman said:

    Good for you, Sandra, for asking to switch rooms. Many women don’t think of that as an option and it’s that simple change that might make the difference between having a safe journey and not.

    7.
    On June 19th, 2013 at 11:16 am, namesis said:

    Media Industry explosion in India is just bringing the news of those rapes in front of eyes but it were there all the times as in other countries. With a population of 1.2billion, you can’t expect everybody a perfect gentleman, neither you can control those vermin with administration/police. But 90% of the people minds his own businesses if not helpful to others. A list of restriction should be maintained -like dress conservatively, keeping low profile, mixing with wrong kind of people for wrong puposes(Dont think India as Amsterdam). Rather travelling in group or with the help of any tour conducting company. Choose safe hotel over cheap ones. And it may seem offensive but don’t show your skin that much

    8.
    On June 19th, 2013 at 12:45 pm, Prasad Np said:

    Hi Beth: Thanks for writing this post.You are absolutely right being extra careful about surroundings is the key. We do have problems in India and as a country and people we need to work to make our guests comfortable when they visit India.
    On Susie’s point most of the crime against women are done by somebody known, so the best policy is to be always careful and never let your guard down and take precautions.

    9.
    On June 19th, 2013 at 12:08 pm, Micki said:

    Beth, thanks for this balanced and helpful look at traveling in India. Honestly, these are rules I abide by wherever I travel.

    10.
    On June 19th, 2013 at 12:21 pm, Beth Whitman said:

    Thanks, namesis. You’re right that these things happen around the world but they are just being widely publicized (yay for that) now in India. This will calm down and the right laws will eventually be put in place to at least punish those who continue this behavior – hopefully stopping others from doing it in the future.

    11.
    On June 19th, 2013 at 12:22 pm, Beth Whitman said:

    And you’re right, Micki. These are practices that should be followed everywhere!

    12.
    On June 19th, 2013 at 11:13 pm, Dale said:

    Though we have the security as travelling as a couple, it’s good to know some of these tips for the safety of the both of us and we can’t help but share this with our community in the hopes that it can help someone travelling alone at this moment in time.

    13.
    On June 20th, 2013 at 8:38 am, Beth Whitman said:

    It’s true that there’s more security when traveling as a couple (or in a small group) but it’s also important to remember not to let your guard down under any circumstances.

    14.
    On June 20th, 2013 at 8:41 am, Beth Whitman said:

    Prasad – you’re right. We often let our guard down with people we know and that can be the cause of the trouble. But we also have to remember not to put ourselves in dangerous situations like the woman who hitched a ride with a truck driver at 1 a.m. did. (NOT blaming her, just suggesting that we all have to be super careful no matter where we are.)

    15.
    On June 21st, 2013 at 9:48 pm, Bethaney - Flashpacker Family said:

    Great tips Beth! Applicable to many destination, not just India.

    16.
    On June 22nd, 2013 at 9:12 am, Marina K. Villatoro said:

    Traveling as a solo female these days is not what it was like when I did it 12 years ago. There are a lot more precautions to take and be aware of.

    I remember meeting a western girl while traveling 12 years ago and she just came from India, she said that there were actual tours for Indian men arranged to go to the beach to see and ‘touch’ western girls.

    17.
    On June 24th, 2013 at 9:10 pm, Gabi- The Nomadic Family said:

    yes, good points made about how to keep safe as any traveler really, but, yes, moreso for the lone female. you make the world seem like a walk in the park sometimes. cheers, gabi

    18.
    On June 25th, 2013 at 7:14 am, Beth Whitman said:

    “you make the world seem like a walk in the park sometimes”

    I’ll take that as a compliment?

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