In yet another incident in India’s hall of shame, a South Korean woman was allegedly molested in a moving bus in Kolkata. The incident comes in the backdrop of growing concern over the safety of women including foreign tourists in India.One of the major factors is that rapid urbanization after the liberalization of Indian economic policies led to great divide in India populace leading to formation of many India’s.

With urban development and empowered women coming out to work shoulder to shoulder with men and adopting modern lifestyle to express themselves as equals whereas a large section of society remained outside this rapid growth.

A foreign visitor among local at Pushkar Cattle Fair
A female from overseas at home with locals at Pushkar Fair in Rajasthan

With passing time, it is becoming progressively more difficult for a socio-economically and sexually repressed India to co-exist with the modern, progressive and independent India.

Tragic as these incidents which are taking place all over the countries and in cities and towns, the incidents when compared statistically and given the fact that India is a country of over a billion people are rare at best. So how safe is India for women and especially foreign women solo traveler?

According to the latest tourism data available with the government around 6.3 million tourists visited India from overseas in 2011 not to mention the fact that a large chunk of these 6 million foreign visitors are women and more than half of them traveled alone.

So it does appear that despite the media hype over such sensitive issues and global outcries (mostly media created), India is relatively safe for foreign women travelers and that these incidents are rare at best.

After the December incident of horrific Delhi rape of a physiotherapy student, the media is hyper-actively pursuing the cases of rape and sadly many channels are sensationalizing these sensitive issues instead of talking about how to find solution. 77% voted no to the poll question “Are women safe traveling alone?” in a recent poll on Wall Street Journal Blog.

While caution is the word, those rethinking their travel plans to India should not be alarmed or just cancel their travel plans. In a recent travel briefing after the rape of Swiss tourist in Madhya Pradesh, Control Risks, a global risk consultancy firm said that “although the incident is serious, violent crime against foreigners remains relatively rare in India.”

Advising caution to tourists against traveling alone it added that “India remains generally safe for female travelers and most women will experience, at worst, unwelcome attention from men.”

But the question is how you ensure your safety traveling alone in India if you are a woman?

At best the rules are a general guideline. It does not necessarily guarantees that visitor will be safer not does it mean that if you act opposite, you’ll be the victim.

1. Cell phone is a great asset and talking to someone you know when you’re on the move is even better. And always mind your space and let people know it’s not okay if they trespass your personal space and be firm.

2. If you are a female solo traveler safety standard should take precedence over budget while choosing your accommodation. The rule is that the lower the cost of a hotel the bigger the risk with safety.

3. Also don’t take accommodation is obscure places. Look for recommendations at online travel community like TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet of IndiaMike.

4. Don’t ever accept the food offered to you by the person you don’t know especially on trains, buses, hotels and tourist places.  There have been a few cases where drugged food and drink have been offered to the tourists before robbing and sexually assaulting them.

5. Clothing is also very important when you are a women traveling to developing countries like India. Following the intrinsic yet unwritten cultural codes could save you a lot of hassle and unwanted glares.

6. make sure that your arms and legs are covered fully covered especially when you are traveling religious places and market areas or neighborhoods which are not upscale.

7. If you are traveling through rural areas people will stare at you but its okay as they are just curious and mean no harm.

8. Although clothes has nothing to do with rape but some of the member of so called intelligentsia and cultural/moral brigade have also blamed ‘skimpy’ clothing for inciting men into assaulting men.

Now add that too to India’s Hall of Shame.

9. Don’t make direct eye contact and smile simultaneously as this is often misconstrued by perverts and sexually repressed people as a sign of approval and freedom to take a step further.

Not that you can’t be friendly, it’s just that you need to be very careful with your body language.

10. Appear assertive and stride confidently and ensure that your body language exude firmness. As mentioned above setting your boundaries is a must. Don’t get friendly and smile back to the people you don’t know.

11. Don’t shake hands or hug people you know very little (your travel guide, cabbie etc.). If you are uncomfortable you let the person know instead of acting friendly in trying to not appear snobbish or insensitive.

12. Don’t let anyone touch your hand or sit close as to brush you. Tell them politely but loudly to move away.

13. Get to know the many Indias you’ll be traveling to. This rule is applicable in any country to which they’d be traveling. India is vast and a potpourri of cultures and beliefs. Each region in India varies considerably from the other.

Although rapes have been reported from all around some places are much safer for a woman solo traveler. Regions like Ladakh, Darjeeling, North East, Uttarakhand, Andaman and Nicobar, Kerala and South India in general are much safer than metro cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or Kolkata.

14. Get to know the Indian woman. Walk in her shoes, observe her to get a feel of how they travel and try to imitate their style. Not that it will make it safe to travel alone but it’s always good to have more tools to work around with.

15. Prefer public transports for inter-city travel and always keep change. Don’t tip generously or where it is not needed.

16. Don’t encourage a person with politeness if he/she is trying to act extra friendly and most importantly keep your eyes and ears open and be alert of your surroundings.

A little caution, alertness and following these dos and donts could go a long way in helping you plan a safe travel experience in India especially if you are a solo woman traveler.

Contributed by Nikhil Chandra