Thursday, 16 February 2012

Is it safe for women to travel alone in India?

I have been reading some about this lately and the general consensus seems to be that yes, it is unsafe. However, I have been travelling alone for 27 years now - yes, we reveal our age in public interest. And I have had problems about thrice so far. I have used all forms of travel - air, train, bus, tractor, ferry; I even hitched a ride on a truck once. Other than a long lecture from the driver on my foolishness, nothing happened. That was, of course, a one-off and I wouldn't recommend it to others. I have travelled at all times of the day and night - I hope I am not daring fate by saying this!

My worst experiences have been in city buses, especially Delhi of yore - where I have been mauled and received no support from anyone else. In Madras (not today's Chennai), I have had tough times in buses, but if I asked for help then the guy is pummelled. The critical thing is to ask.

I do take some precautions.

1. I will avoid reaching or leaving Delhi late at night or too early in the morning. Other metros - I am not so worried. But I still have my time limits for each place.

2. I will dress in loose clothing and have a scarf or dupatta once I go north of Goa.

3. No logic to this, but blue denim jeans still attract attention. Other trousers don’t. I haven’t understood this.

4. I will talk to someone else in the train or bus - usually a family with at least one woman. Ask them where they are going, comment on the weather, anything, but strike up a conversation or at least exchange smiles.

5. Smiling - don’t make the mistake of smiling at a guy - young or old. But do smile at other women or their children. Typically they become more helpful then.

6. Accept that you are giving up a little of your independence by initiating contact with others - a small compromise to make if and when there is a problem. So by reaching out to others you run the risk of them asking you a zillion questions and then telling you how to live your life - but in return you get solid support when you need it.

7. I also make sure that I don’t pull out my computer, camera, wallet full of money when I travel. Fortunately MP3 players have become common even in the remotest parts of India.

8. If I have to take a taxi late at night, I will go for a reputed name even if it costs a bit more. Akbar Travels is quite reliable even in the smaller towns. Given Google, I find out before I reach, what transport is available.

9. This is usually useless, but I carry my Swiss knife and have given at least one person in a bus a nasty poke with the corkscrew.

10. If I travel alone I will avoid the First AC compartment since it can be locked from inside. I have had a TTE try to lure me inside once. I fled in search of a family right away and got the guy to exchange places with me.

11. Overall people in India are helpful - especially away from the metros. There are the occasional rotten eggs, and I use my instincts on whom I trust and whom I don't.

Any women travellers want to share your experiences?


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