Can anyone give some advice or share experiences on how to avoid hassle as a female traveller in India? I travelled around from Varanasi to Delhi and then up to Leh and back and mostly used the train services. I have to say that never in my life have I felt so utterly disrespected as a woman. I was groped, leared at, propositioned with sex several times. I couldn't sleep on the trains because any time I fell asleep I woke to find a man groping me and even woke one time to find a man climbing on top of me. I was also harassed in a station by a man who tried to grab me and I had to use force to escape. What was most disappointing is that people just stood and watched - nobody came to help - what kind of country is this?? I was wearing a long skirt and long sleeved top the whole time. Surely just having blue eyes and blond hair is not the motive for all this hassle? This experience really made my time in India miserable, which is such a shame because it is really a beautiful country despite the men! Does anyone have advice or an explanation for this - i would come again if I could avoid this but will probably not visit again if this is how my experience would be.
There will be hassle no matter what precautions you take but there are a few things you could do to try and minimise it.
Wear loose, unrevealing clothes and say you are married with children if anybody(the locals I mean) asks. When you go into restaruants ask for the family section. Single men are not allowed in there. There is also a family carriage on some/all trains. Sit and stand near groups of women when ever you can rather than alone or near men.
Yes, it is discusting to be groped by somebody you have no attraction to at all but try not to take it personally. ie. Try not to feel disrespected. Think of it as ignorance on their part. They often think(or more accurately hope as my boyfriend says) foreign women are promiscous. They dont take the time or have the good manners to find out if we are really like that or not.
Some Indian women can also be judgemental of Western women. They think we behave badly so that might be the reason why they did not come to your rescue when that man grabbed you at the station. Maybe we do behave badly by their defination but I think they are being judgemental. Nevertheless, I think the thing to do is appeal for their help when a man is bothering you and this should make it clear to them that you are not a ''badly behaved'' Western woman and so worthy of their protection.
I think too many men there watch too much porn. It is unfortunate for us and especially you with your blonde hair and blue eyes that we look like the women in the Western porn flicks.
One more thing. Avoid wearing the skirts we buy in Indian shops in the West. Those are in fact Sari petticoats and not skirts. It is a bit like walking around in our underwear in India, which does not discourage sexual harassment.
Thanks for your quick response. I agree with you that I think it comes from bad images of western women from porn and maybe from the fact that most women in hollywood films jump into bed with the first man they bump into after about 5 seconds! They probably confuse this with real life. I was actually wearing a long skirt I bought in Nepal, which was pretty decent and worn by a lot of locals there (which is a world apart in treatment of women and I never once had any bad experiences there). I wonder why there is such a difference between India and Nepal. Anyway thanks for the tips - maybe I will return one day and only stay in family or female only places.
Here is a discussion we had which may interest you.
As well as that, all Indian men have a friend or male relation who managed to sleep with a Western woman. Not the particular Western womans fault that we all have to suffer for it, but it may be a big part of the reason. We have more social freedom than the women there do and they(many people in India) dont really understand the ethiquete which goes with it. I dont think they understand that even the most promiscuous women in the West are far more particular about who they have sex with than the average man in India is.
Lol - that's very true about our etiquette. I would always feel sorry for the foreign exchange guys at uni in London who just didn't know how to chat up the girls, would end up offending them by being too direct and then stand by and watch in amazement as some not amazingly attractive british guy would swoop in, buy her a drink and leave with her at the end of the night. It's all about the social rules!
I also travelled alone in India - I actually found it happened less than I was expecting, and I was also bothered about it less than I thought I would be - maybe because I'd heard so much about it before, and was expecting it. Also after a while of travelling, I began to start thinking of the way men can behave there, as simply childish - it's like an average 20- 25 year old man in India can behave a little bit as an 11/12 year old boy would in the west - ie the that sex may still largely be 'the unkown', on a personal level, and it's like boys trying to get a look up girls' skirts in the school playground - I felt it to be this kind of mentality a lot of the time, and when I started thinking like that, it helped a lot. This is not to minimise your experiences, because it is really unpleasant when it happens, and it's such a shame that it tainted your time in India so much.
I never went to Nepal so I can't really comment on the culture there towards women and sex, but in India, it's a very repressed culture in this way. The fact that women have to be covered up all the time keeps sexuality and sex as a hidden, 'naughty' thing - hence the outlets the men then seek in watching porn, and imagining they could get up to all kinds of stuff with western women that they're not 'allowed' to be thinking about normally. You can also see it in the way that men are very tactile with each other in India - it's like because public displays of affection with a woman is frowned on, and yet touch and affection is such a human need, it has to come out somewhere.
I also found south India, on the whole, to be a little different - there was a lot less staring and leering (though it happened a bit) and so by the time I got up to northern India, I'd sort of had a gradual introduction to it (!) and felt more able to cope. Why not start off in south India next time, and slowly travel north?
Lol - that's very true about our etiquette.....
We should start a school of ethics in Delhi or Mumbai.
We could teach guys like the one who was climbing on top of you while you were sleeping on the train a more successful approach. Did he really expect you to wake up and be delighted to find him there.
as an Indian, and a man at that, i can't find any place big enough to hide. I can only imagine what it would be like to be in Sara's place.
I will not try and tell you India is any different to what each one of you experienced (even though it is in many places), all i would say is if you do find yourself in a situation like Sara did, do not sit quitely and take the shit.
Raise the alarm, i am pretty sure there are people who will come fwd to your aid. I completely agree with Deb, anyone going to India should try and start in South and gradually move up North. People in South are more exposed to Western culture and way of life than most people up North.
This is partly due to higher literacy rate in South and partly cos almost every 2nd family have been overseas at some stage or have family members who live abroad.
Sara, i just hope if you do decide to visit India again, (and i m not for a minute suggesting you must), you come back with better experiences.
I think there are probably plenty of sophisticated Indian men like you in India. Unfortunately they are rarely the ones we meet.
Maybe this is because many of us are students or travelling long term and looking to make our money stretch so we stay in the cheapest hotels and go the the least fancy places and that is where the rougher types of Indian men are.
That's good to hear that things may be different in the South - maybe I will try there next time. Also I found that once I reached right up north to Ladakh things were much better. Rohit - I realised that there are lots of polite and kind Indian men out there so I won't make generalisations! Actually I have a friend who lives in the UK and is from Mumbai and is one of the nicest and most well-mannered men I know. Unfortunately though Mell is right, I was travelling on the cheap in places where the "nice guys" probably don't hang out very much! I will probably try to go back because of the rich culture, history, wonderful food
but this time I'm bringing my husband with me. Maybe he can teach at our school of ethics on how to approach the western girls!
Last time I was in India I was in Mumbai. I did get a lot of unwanted attention from men, but none of it was physical. So maybe it does happen less in the South.
I will be going to the North of India next time. My boyfriend and daughter are comming too, so hopefully that will mean no sexual harassment.
I wonder what would keep the touts away.
They are almost as bad as the sexual harassment.
I've been travelling the south solo now for the last 2 months and had some really funny experiences. I was holed up in Chennai for a week waiting for a flight and stayed in a very cheap budget area. Needless to say I was the only white face around and definately the only solo woman...the men giggled in groups whenever they saw me (they really liked my same same t-shirt) and when I went to the tea stand on a daily basis with my tetley tea bag in my mug for hot water they thought it was the funniest thing in the world...However after about 4 days,the whole road (net cafes/tea bars etc) stopped staring at me like I was from outer space and treated me like a local...was a really nice expereince. Going back to the same shit hostel on said smelly road when I fly back in a weeks time as it left such agood impression on me.
Try swimming in public swimming pools...they usually have 1 hour a day for women, and the rest of the day for men! You have to wear a 1 piece (I got publically told off the 1st time for wearing a bikini) but I can't tell you how many times I've had the pool to myself as the women generally are too shy for public swimming! Bliss! Travelling India as a woman has its advantages! btw only travel in the women's compartments on night trains...they're a bit cramped but fine
I'm travelling the North of India in August with a girlfriend, then on to Pakistan, will be interesting to compare the differences here too
what will keep you offlimits from touts is male company. They are hesitant to approach you if you are not all by yourself. But then again, there are tons of single female travellers like Felix who manage nicely, so no amount of generalisation works.
I think on most occassions, a firm "NO" to the touts does the trick. If you take it all in silence, thinking ignoring them will discourage them, that will only give them more ammos to fire at you.
If they still don't relent, unfortunately as i said on my earlier post, you have to get verbally aggressive. As nerve wracking as it may sound, this will work, although you may attract plenty of unwanted attention. As long as they think you are a naive westerner who could be bullied into buying "stuff' from them, they will persist.
Also, if you think they only target westerners, that's not correct. I have been subjected to a lot of hasseling in my own country plenty of times and that is perhaps why i understand their sales pitch and what puts them off, a bit better.
Despite all the recent growth and development, India is still vey much a closed society, submerged in deep rooted superstitions and ill conceived notions, one of them unfortunately being "Western women are money for jam".
However, i can strongly say that things are changing rapidly and in another 5-10 years time, hopefully we wouldn't have to worry about these things.
I totally agree with what you say about touts - and have been to enough countries to have prepared myself for dealing with them - a firm but polite no usually does the trick and then I walk on. But I didn't find that India was particularly bad for this, and have been to other countries (in Africa) where people were more agressive with selling techniques. What I was referring to instead was the unwanted sexual advances/agressiveness, which is something different from a sales pitch. I know that many women can confuse the two - especially when the would-be salesman is telling you that you are the most beautiful woman in the world and he will sell you this exquisite handicraft at a mere 5% of normal price because of your stunning beauty! Ermmm yeah right! Unfortunately I found that with the other type of attention, although I did get verbally agressive and request people to help, all too often this didn't help and people stood by and watched. I found I actually had to physically defend myself, slapping, kicking and removing/holding hands away from me at a distance - this really gets a bit tiring after a while and is NOT a nice way for a girl to be spending her holiday. Sorry to go on a bit! But I really think this is a different issue from the sales touts that happen in many other countries and comes from different cultural values about sex and women.
I know you say they don't only target westerners but I didn't see any Indian women being hassled in the same way, on the streets or on public transport - of course it may be even worse for them behind closed doors, who knows?
Thank you Rohit
It sure is good to get advise from somebody who understands how Indians think.
I will be in India with my boyfriend and daugher next December. Hopefully touts wont bother a family as much as they bother lone travelers. I heard that people love children in India and have a lot of respect for parents. That would sure make a nice change from Germany which is not child friendly at all.
Last time I was in India I noticed that Indians wave away touts and beggars. Many Westerners would feel shy about doing that because it would be a very impolite thing to do in most of the countries we come from. But maybe we should make an effort to do it because it works when Indians do it.
know you say they don't only target westerners but I didn't see any Indian women being hassled in the same way, on the streets or on public transport - of course it may be even worse for them behind closed doors, who knows?
I think Indian women would be more equipped to give the touts and sexual harrassers an earful because they can speak their language. Also they are not usually wandering around alone so not as vulnerable and the men in the streets may fear that if they do anything an angry husband or brother may be called to deal with them.
I think the women certainly have it worse behind closed doors than we do. Womens rights have quite a way to go before they reach the standards of many Western countries. When I was there 10 years ago they were only starting to recognise domestic violence as something that should not be tolerated. I switched on the TV for 5 minutes one time in my hotel room just to see what Indian TV is like. There was a very graphic advertisement against domestic violence playing. At the end of it the police were leading the guy away. And domestic violence is only one of the issues that women in India have to deal with.....
I've found the perfect way to discourage touts...
Facial piercings!!! I'm not excessively pierced by any stretch of the imagine, but in pretty much every country I've been to I've watched touts approach, glance at me, turn around then target the next nearest westerner!! Of course this does have its down falls as I was stared at constantly, had numerous strangers come up and touch my face/ears without a word of warning, whole families gather round for photo opportunites... I've even had a train guard usher away about 50 people who gathered around me in China after word got out that there was an 'odd' looking westerner in the station. Although it can get tiring at times it does open up a lot of dialog with local people who see it as part of my 'culture'.. I learned not to let the stares bother me as some of the people in some of the countries I've been to rarely see a westerner, let alone one that looks like me, and I imagine if a Masai Warrior was strolling down my street I'd stop and stare.
On the female travellers in India topic, My Wife and I were there for 7 weeks at the beginning of the year (all North) and she didn't experience any harassment at all, in fact she struggled to be noticed when in conversation with locals as all the men directed all their attention to me. So it definately helps to have a man in tow... preferably one larger than the average Indian who does crazy stuff to his face!
.....So it definately helps to have a man in tow... preferably one larger than the average Indian ...
My boyfriend should be a suitable bodyguard when we go to India then. Over 6 feet tall and large build.
Hopefully his blonde hair and blue eyes wont attract a heap of curiosity.
One trip to India alone will probably change your wifes mind about struggling to be noticed. When I was in Iran I was always relieved when I went out with one of the European guys staying at the hostel instead of out alone. It meant that the endless questions were directed at him for a change instead of me. They were of course being sexist rather than considerate but might as well see some advantage in a bad situation.
There are many reasons behind the misbehaving of Indian men. Right from the school the the boys and girls are separated, very rarely they mingled, and in the modern Information era, every thing is reachable too, It makes them sexually tensed. but I am sure the if you got in to any trouble and if u raise an alarm, many will come forward to help you