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How safe am I as a woman in India?

Frauen Reisen durch Indien

Women Traveling Through India

Delhi City. Midnight. 31 December 2009. The streets are dark and deserted, no human soul except me and my friend in the quiet alleys of the normally crowded metropolis. There, suddenly people. They come closer to us: 10 boys, drunk, exuberant.They see us. Get excited. Running towards us. Reaching their hands out to us and loudly wish “Happy New Year! Happy New Year!” and then they don’t let go, their hands everywhere at once!!! A loud scream of my friend and they run away…

This incident happend 5 years ago, when I was working with a friend as a volunteer in Delhi, still makes me sad today. Yes sad. Not angry or anxious. no. I am only still disappointed that there are a few male Indians who are destroying the reputation of their wonderful country and making women being afraid to get to know India.

I don’t know what would have happened if my girlfriend hadn’t taken her thoughts together that night and screamed out loud.

At that time, both of us were nineteen years old. We lived with an elderly Indian woman who constantly warned us not to be outside in the dark or to spend time with male Indians.

We just nodded, but were not to serious about the old woman’s talk. We got into cars of drunken men, came back from the cinema late at night, or slept in the cheapest train class, which was crowded by men.

Except for this one incident, nothing ever happened to us. And yet, today, 5 years after, I still live in India, but much more cautiously than before!

I love this country. I have never been so happy in my life as in India: great nature, the best food, colorful colors, interesting cultures, the friendliest people and a lot of spirituality.

In this article, I do not want to give any advice for women travelling to India. There are already a lot.

In this essay, I want to share my personal life as a woman in India and my experiences with the Indian male world.

Despite the warnings of the media, my family and friends, I have deliberately chosen to live in India and have never regretted it.

I have to say that, of course, I do not live in Delhi or in any of the other metropolises of India, even living in the poorest states of India, such as Bihar or Madya Pradesh, does not really appeal to me. Honestly speaking the mindset of the people there is still very narrow minded- due to lack of education and wrong interpretation of their culture

No, I live in a small mountain village in the Indian Himalayas: in Manali. Manali is located 500 km north of Delhi and is a very popular tourist destination, both for Indian and Western tourists. Many people are drawn to outdoor sports in the mountains and so I came to Manali.

India is not the same as India. I am often asked general questions about India and I find it difficult to answer them. The Indian subcontinent is 3.3 million km² big with 29 states. Each of them is very different from the others in terms of landscape and culture: other languages, clothing, food, religion… the countries are as different as European countries are with each other.

Frauen in Orissa

Women in Orissa

All I can say is, that in some regions of India I feel very safe, in others I give a little more attention and in some I prefer not to be alone as a woman.

Himachal Pradesh, the mountain state where I feel at home, is probably safer than many corners in Germany. Here people live in villages, everyone knows everyone and everyone cares about each other. Also for me! People are big landowners and work hard physically on their apple orchards, but they are not poor, every child goes to school. People are used to foreigners and hardly pay much attention to them.

It is similar in the Christian states of Kerala and Goa, in the Buddhist Ladakh and in some parts of the metropolises of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

I find other regions, especially rural ones in the poorer countries, very interesting, but I prefer to visit them accompanied by a handful of Indian friends.

As a white woman, I simply attract too much attention from often uneducated men. These know “Westerners” only from their “Sexy Movies” . What they see in these films is quite different from what they are used to from home. There the whole family usually dwells in one room and there is no room for intimacy. If alcohol comes into play and the “white” is a little underdressed, then the Indians sometimes loose their mind.

In addition, unfortunately, these Indian men does not have too much respect for the woman itself due to cultural reasons.

Education, prosperity, tourism. From these parameters, one can therefore clearly measure how safe an Indian region is for a woman, both in the country and in the city. That doesn’t mean, that rural places are unsafe. Experiencing the simple life with so freindly hard working villagers is a great experience and mostly very safe. Often Indians value the visit of a foreigner and are very honoured to have one in the home.

I have so many Indian male friends (much more than female Indian friends) and they are the best I can wish for! Protective, attentive, fun, enterprising, friendly and always there for me: you can indeed rely on an Indian friend!

Actually, it is them who warn me about the “other” Indians.

Nevertheless, I move freely in India and, in my opinion, quite normally. For this article I surfed a bit on the internet and found many great articles with behavioral tips for women in India!

Basically, these articles simply list normal Indian behaviors: appropriate clothing, appropriate conversation, appropriate accompaniment, appropriate time of day. If you stick to it, you as a woman are as safe in India as in any other country.

I was shocked by how many negative comments came to these tips, according to the motto: “When I travel to other countries, I want to behave there in the same way as in Germany!” But that’s not travelling. Travelling also means adapting to and living with the culture and customs of the locals. And that is what we should do in India as well.

With a little respect and caution and a lot of curiosity, a trip to India can be the most beautiful experience for any Western woman!

More information on that topic you can find on my podcast Chalo India.