Solo Female Traveler Safety in India – #1 My Thoughts on General Women Safety

The first time I went on a solo trip Mumbai – Goa – Bangalore – Mysore – Coimbatore – Mumbai was 4 years back. I planned everything out – the stay, travel tickets, backup options. Yet there were always unknown factors like the hostel I had booked in Mysore, would it be safe? I had no way to be sure of the safety. But it all turned out fine and was a great experience!

So the biggest question in my mind at that time with regards to solo travel i.e. SAFETY was answered. Yes, it is safe for women to travel on their own.

It is not like the moment a woman steps out of the known area on her own, she is raped. This is actually what a lot of women go about thinking. And I guess it is normal considering the kind of news that keep plastering media channels.

Though just because I had a few good trips does it mean everything is Safe and Dandy? No, it can always all go wrong and end up in some horrendous incident. But then it can all go wrong even in your own city when you are just out with friends. I don’t need to iterate such examples there are ample of them.

It is interesting because I overall don’t think India is a safe place for women but when solo traveling I have never faced a problem. In fact the worst eve-teasing incidents have happened,

1. In posh Mumbai streets, opposite a military gate thus lots of soldiers with guns. I had been walking to & fro from work to home for months on this street. A gang of 10 or so drivers with cars – verbal jeering and taunts. I walked off. Didn’t say anything, but shaken because it would be so easy for them to shove me in the car and do whatever.

2. In a Reliance Fresh in Bangalore, near Koramangala. Right in front of ticket counter – lot of staff and customers. A man pretty much accosted me. Everyone turned around and stared, no one voiced anything. I think they were stunned but basically no one came to support me. The guy walked off. It made me realise that it would be nice if Indian brands like supermarkets/theatres would train their staff to deal with such stuff.

3. At school by a fellow student. This was probably the worst one but people have told me that, that boy was probably being bullied himself and hence he was a bully at such a young age.

These are just 3 incidents of innumerable gropes, lewd comments and more that I as a normal girl in the city have faced. So don’t mind me but I am very, very skeptical about women safety in India. I think this applies to other countries too, but I don’t have much experience so can’t say.

This January after many solo trips I started venturing into smaller towns and cities. Coonoor, Ooty, Madikeri, Udupi, Malpe and so on… Surprisingly I found them a lot more wholesome. At least for me the solo traveler. In some places like Kanyakumari there was an issue where women are not served to, but safety was still very much there. A lot of the staff in hotels etc.. they really seemed to be doing their best for me. I don’t know why – I don’t tip them nor am I a foreigner.

Maybe it is as the truck driver I was talking to about women safety in Rewalsar said, “People come here to pray. All these things happen only in bigger cities like Delhi & Mumbai” Maybe the sheer size and dismal living conditions, urban dysfunctions are a direct cause to a rise in depravity. In fact the Mumbai police is doing a very good job considering the fact that it is under paid and under staffed.

The other thing about safety is that while getting all riled up because of that one case which hits the headlines in the newspapers is easy, what is really needed is some kind of statistics about where/who/why about the rapes. Do they happen more in the house behind closed doors by some family member? Do they happen later at night? Do they happen in any particular areas of the city? Are any group of women targeted? It is only when such stats come up that one can make an educated guess at how society can tackle them and also what precautions a woman can take. Even now, I would say that there is no real statistics about women abuse in the lower strata of society – the slums and the poorer sections.

The other thing is the idea that these cases of rape n such are increasing now. I don’t think so and I don’t think there is any authority which can say otherwise because before the cases were simply not reported. So much so that the woman involved would deny when asked, because it is her ‘shame’. It was 15 years back when I was sitting with a friend discussing these things when she told she had been raped minutely as a little kid by some distant relative. Nothing much happened then, no police and definitely no media. So all of a sudden now there is an increased awareness of these things and people are saying ‘what has the world come to’ …the world is just getting better at least in this case the parents went and reported the crime to the police and the media talked about it.

Thankfully I am seeing a change in the thinking. Taking into consideration three things,

i) Crimes against women, ii) the freedom women have at work & home iii) overall people’s thinking. While there are always those ministers who will call any woman who is raped a prostitute, overall things are improving. What I have found most awesome is that now rape survivors are coming forward, ripping away their shrouds of anonymity and standing spirited with words of strength. This is like a plague in our society – we need to acknowledge it, give succor to the victims and start treatment of the perpetrators of the crime.

So I want to blog about simple precautions that women can take while solo-traveling but I couldn’t do that until I clearly write down my thoughts on the whole safety issue. In India I don’t think you can solo travel thinking “it’s safe”, I never do. I am very skeptical of the safety and in fact in cities I am more conventional in terms of my night deadlines and stuff compared to a lot of other girls I know. Girls who go to usual offices and work late, party later and are out on streets a lot later. At times I might be close to paranoid about safety. Yet I am the solo backpacker in India. Go figure.

Kapu Lighthouse
Paranoid about safety, always. Kapu Lighthouse near Udupi, Karnataka