The short answer is—not really. If you throw caution to the winds, trouble can certainly find you. However, if you understand and respect the culture and adjust accordingly, and if you are sensible and alert, you are almost certainly much safer from assault than if you stayed home. There are no guarantees, of course, but the odds are in your favour.
Whenever a foreign tourist is raped in India, it hits the headlines in a big way. It’s something that happens several times a year, which is actually not a lot compared to the relative number of reported rapes in, say, the USA, especially considering that a few million tourists come to India each year. Even accounting for the fact that many rapes are not reported, it’s still relatively quite low.
Obviously, even one rape is too many, but do think about how many rapes are reported in your home country (in the US, it’s somewhere between 25-30 per 100,000). The reality is that in just about any country, the women of that country are more at risk than visitors, mainly, it seems, because most rapes are committed by men known to the victims rather than strangers. It’s certainly true in India.
Don’t think I’m trying to downplay the much more insecure situation of Indian women and girls. My heart aches for anyone who has to face sexual assault or the risk of it anywhere. I’m just trying to keep things in perspective. Rape is a worldwide problem, not just an Indian one. Every woman should be able to go anywhere without concern, but that’s not the reality, is it?
Yesterday, the rape of a young woman in Manali was in the headlines. Like most similar assaults I’ve read about over the years, I think she could have easily avoided this by being more alert and aware. In this case, getting in a car with six strange men and no other women, even if she believed it to be a taxi, was not a wise thing to do. There may have been other factors involved that compromised her safety, but that is something I can’t comment on. Just so you know, taxis in India have yellow license plates. Share taxis are generally safe if there are families or other women in them.
Last year in Manali, a girl got raped after hitching a ride in a truck with some men late at night. Come on, does that seem like a sensible thing to do anywhere? It’s not victim-blaming to say that such assaults can be prevented by being more alert and cautious and clued-in. There is no excuse for rape and the blame must be entirely on the men who commit such crimes—but since there are men who don’t care to control themselves, we have to be proactive in keeping ourselves safe.
That’s what inspired me to write my new book, Travel Fearlessly in India: What Every Woman Should Know About Personal Safety. It will be available worldwide on August 5 from Amazon. The Kindle version is available for pre-order now. All women visiting India should read this book.
Don’t let the fear mongers keep you from coming to India. Having been in places with US State Department warnings in effect, I’ve found that the warnings are extremely conservative and often heavily overstated.(I wish the US government would pay as much attention to the dangers of living in the US as it does to the situation for Americans abroad.)
My book is aimed at non-Indians. While most of the advice also applies to Indian women, of course, there are certain considerations that make our situation distinctly different. The reality is that we are regarded differently in ways that can’t be ignored. There are both advantages and disadvantages in the way we are seen. The advantage is the awareness that there are more likely to be serious consequences for messing with us. The disadvantage is that because of how we are portrayed in the media, we are generally perceived as being sexually available.
There are places in India that call for more precautions than others, including places with an active drug scene, which Manali is, are invariably among them. I stayed there for a while and personally didn’t feel unsafe, but I also made a point of being a little more cautious than usual.
There is no other book that goes into the cultural considerations of women’s safety in India like this one. Please, for your own security and peace of mind, do read it. You’ll enjoy your time in India much more when you understand what’s going on around you. There is, of course, a lot of practical advice in the book, as well as cultural information.
“Travel Fearlessly in India, What Every Woman Should Know About Personal Safety is a remarkably comprehensive, sensible, and astute book that’s packed full of perceptive information, tips and strategies. It covers everything from the mindsets of Indian men and how they conduct themselves to what you need to do if you have to go to the police. It’s a book every female should read, and reread, before traveling to India.” — Sharell Cook, India Travel Specialist for About.com and author of Henna for the Broken Hearted