Travelling as a Woman in India
Solo female travellers in India have hit the news in recent years after a number of disturbing attacks on foreign visitors. Travelling alone in countries which have distinct cultural differences and attitudes to women has always been a bit of a social hot potato. Should you cave into cultural and moral pressures that may be against your belief system? Or do you stand by your personal and liberal ideas and cross your fingers that you don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation? It’s certainly a tricky line to walk but with years of working and travelling in this beautiful if dramatically different country we decided to explore the issues facing female visitors to India.
At the end of August India’s minister for tourism and culture, Mahesh Sharma announced that a guide for visitors to India would be presented to them at the airport. This guide included a detailed list of cultural do’s and don’ts. Amongst the suggestions was the instruction to avoid short skirts and for women to avoid moving around alone at night. After over a century of feminist advances and increased freedom for women it can be difficult to accept that we are still being told how to dress and behave. However, it is important to review this ‘guide’ in the context of its cultural backdrop and not through a solely western perspective. The Indian government are at the very least taking steps to avoid further attacks on female visitors to the country and acknowledging that problems in relation to the treatment of women exist.
The UK Government advice is equally strong in its warnings to female travellers to exercise caution when travelling alone at night or on public transport, to dress in accordance with local customs and to avoid hailing taxis on the street. They also provide detailed advice on areas in India that are currently thought to be dangerous for all but essential travel. This is important reading for anyone planning a trip to India.
Attacks on Women
The scope and number of attacks on women in India makes bleak reading. Both rape and sexual assault are prevalent and attitudes to women especially in rural areas can be extremely unsettling for single female travellers. Over the last few years’ violent attacks on women have risen both for Indian nationals and foreign visitors. High profile cases include the assault of a 51 year old Danish woman by a group of men in Delhi in 2014 and the kidnap and rape of a Japanese tourist in 2015. It’s clear that there is a real risk presented to female travellers when visiting India and it’s paramount to be aware of your own safety.
Movement for Change
The rise in sexual assault and violence against women has spawned both political and ground roots movements in the fight for greater equality and protection for both Indian women and those that are visiting the country. Mass protests have been seen after high profile cases of sexual violence and Indian organisations like Sayfty work to improve conditions for women and to empower women with the knowledge to protect themselves against attacks. High profile Indian stars have spoken out against sexual violence on women. Although an ancient and in many ways traditional country there are small signs that India is modernising its attitudes to women.
Our Travel Advice
Given the sheer volume of bad news stories regarding women and India it’s easy to come to the conclusion that you should skip it as a destination all together. This would be a huge shame. 1 have travelled and worked in India for many years. It is a country of incomparable beauty, history and warmth. 1 have met and worked with many talented, kind and interesting Indian people all of whom have enriched our brand. For me it is a must visit destination and a cultural experience like no other. Remember that the vast majority of visits to India go smoothly and are without incident.
Travelling successfully in India is possible (even as a single woman!) but that means both being careful and following good safety measures. The ongoing issues affecting the treatment of women in India are heart-breaking but taking a solo stand in terms of your dress or safety will not impact this cause and could put you in real danger. Respect the cultural differences that you see and make smart travel choices to enjoy a safe and fulfilling visit to India.
These are our key tips for happy and safe travel as a woman in India:
Wear appropriate clothing
Keeping your, arms, chest and legs covered is a useful way to avoid unnecessary attention. A large lightweight scarf is always handy to have in tow especially for visiting remote areas or religious sites. Even as the heat rises, make modest choices in your dress.
Take care with transportation
Where possible arrange transportation through your guest house or hotel, this not only decreases the risk from disreputable taxi and rickshaw drivers it will also ensure you aren’t charged an exorbitant price.
Avoid public transport after dark as well as walking anywhere but the busiest most well-lit areas
It may seem obvious but thinking that everyone you meet in India is a potentially violent rapist or scammer is both unfair and will massively dampen your visit. Smile, say hello and be polite and in return most people will be genuinely friendly and welcoming.
Do your research
Before you travel to India research the areas you are visiting and learn a little of their history, culture and customs. Not only will this make you a much more educated guest it will also help you understand how to behave in a way that enable you to fit in more easily.
Listen to your gut
This is pretty true for all of life but if you find yourself in a location or situation that makes you feel uncomfortable then remove yourself from it. Don’t be afraid to decline the taxi ride, offer of assistance or the persistent guy who would like his photo taken with you. Be polite but firm and walk away.
Visiting India is an amazing experience that will take you out of your comfort zone and expose you to a vibrant and varied culture. Travel safe, be smart and enjoy all that this amazing country has to offer.