Brand India: Should a non-Indian girl travel to India alone?

The answer is: NO. 
I often get this question from people in Germany. Earlier this year, a girl I know was travelling to India alone and in a discussion, I casually said how there was no problem as such since it was obviously being over played by the media, especially Twitter-sque social media, where everyone seemed to have an opinion (whether verified or not). And having lived in India, and Delhi for 16 years, my love for especially the city and dis-regard for the definitive authenticity of the media promoting this made me say that it wasn’t as bad as portrayed. 

And having said that, I am aware that in 2012 over 6 million tourists visited India (source). In 2012 only Berlin hosted close to 10.8 mn stay overs from abroad (source). I’ve travelled alone to many places abroad, never in India. I’m not the only one saying how this is an opportunity wasted, and will take significant effort of brand-building.

rape in india
Rape Map of India from WSJ 

Thankfully I do not have a life-threatening experience to report. But I am aware of the rates at which people report heinous crimes like murders and rapes from India and it’s not pretty. However, without claiming authority of these crimes, or even the correct statistics (considering several such crimes are associated with shame for the victim and under-reported), the reasons for an emphatic no in the beginning stem from now living in a ‘developed’ country that largely feels safe. Several people question what we consider developed. I think developed countries treat their women well.

How’s life different in Germany for a girl, and tips for girls travelling to India after the jump

Here’s how my life seems different now in Germany:
  • 1) Picking up my sister at 11pm at the Muenchen Railway station did not run a chill down my spine. She was going back and we had booked a cab (a local one) which picked her up at 2am. There is nothing that would make me take a cab like that alone even 2 minutes from my home in Noida, or anywhere in and around Delhi, or in any other city in India. Once missing my train for my travel to Dharamshala in the night with a girl friend was enough to show me, how it was the worst ever idea.
  • 2) When I go to a very crowded Biergarten anywhere in Germany and share benches (which you do here culturally), I do not feel awkward when there are three drunk boys next to me. I sip my Apfel- Shorle mostly and have fun. Even if I were drunk it was not a problem. This is un-doable in Delhi and often if you do it, you are ‘inviting trouble’.
  • 3) Coming back from the Wasen (a sort of an Oktober Fest) in a packed train (like the Delhi Metro) where there is no space to breathe, there is no groping, touching or unsafe feeling whatsoever. In Delhi on crowded days I will always travel in the women’s compartment. 
  • 4) When I am walking on the road, no one looks at me or passes a comment with some sexual connotation. The only one time I experienced this during the Wasen in Stuttgart and could not react at all (because I was surprised) was when two South Asian looking guys called me ‘baby’. They could have been Indian or Pakistani.
  • 5) I finally wear clothes depending on the weather, not which locality I will be travelling to. My mother recently on an India trip let me buy this top saying ‘wahan theek hai’ [it is fine there- for Germany].
  • 6) As a person I am far less aggressive and over careful about my life and I can breathe without having to worry how I am travelling back home alone and will I need to have an escort from an office event. PS: I feel I have a life suddenly. And I am not hurrying on dinner and gulping food to save 5 minutes.
  • 7) In Delhi I could typically only go out/travel in the day, and if in the night, then I would stay back at someone’s place- I would be forced to. And we would go out in a group never alone. I would often feel cross with people who never understood I lived in Noida and had to travel back alone.
  • 8) As a child even as young as ten, my mother had to ask my dad to change where I was sitting several times while travelling by Indian rails because there were some rowdy college kids around. I don’t see children here in Germany suffering this torture.
 So then basics for any girl travelling to India alone
  • 1) Travel if possible with local people you know or in a group
  • 2) Do not trust random people for ANYthing. Do your own research and be totally booked with tickets/ hotels before travelling. It’s a country you over plan travel for, in the German way.
  • 3) Living in travel-hostels is not the same as Europe and not advised unless you were aware of the place from a local friend/person.
  • 4) People will look, grope, make hideous comments. Be stern back, and be aggressive. Politeness does not hold any value. But know that being over aggressive to cause retaliation is an issue. Basically, stay away from trouble.
  • 5) There is no night-life. Unless in a big group.
Maybe this is not a brave piece. But it’s an honest piece. Many people (many men in fact) and feminists on Twitter are claiming how we shouldn’t bow down to pressure like this. But I really don’t know who takes the responsibility for you in case something does happen. It’s not ideal. But it’s a fact. You are falling into stereotypes or even encouraging them, but isn’t it better than being killed, murdered or raped while you’re travelling? 

I believe the problem can be solved if the country takes up short term (strong punishments) and long term (gender equality) programmes. And that’s a 30 year path, if done right.


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