Let’s be frank ladies, you’re travelling through India, you have fair skin, you WILL get a lot of attention! Being a white British fuller figured sexy mama like myself, a lot of Indian men go crazy for my child bearing hips and ass that won’t quit. I have been fondled, stroked, mentally undressed and had the odd chat up line thrown my way on the occasions where the chance to grope me wasn’t available. You may be able to look after yourself in the westernised world but here you are entering a culture far removed from what you are used to. I am married and travelling with my husband. Out of respect for my better half, not for me of course, men do not tend to approach when realising I’m already taken. But by all means, just because you are globetrotting with a member of the opposite sex it does not mean the attention will stop, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
I have never in my life witnessed the level of sexual harassment that one encounters in India. It is constant, tiring and mentally draining. Most days you just get on with it but other days you wake up and want to keep yourself locked away.
Some of the blogs I read before leaving the UK gave really accurate advice, but it was also quite disappointing to read a handful of female travel blogs which gave the impression that there is no real threat and that in order to travel safely and enjoy this colourful country, all you have to do is to change your own attitude. I wonder if these women travelled extensively through india, or whether they kept to the safe areas and experienced an ignorantly blissful time in Goa, Kerala or other more westernised areas where the issue is not nearly so prevalent. However, if you are to go into the local bazars of the larger cities or remote towns, especially in areas less well off, you would be blind to ignore that there is a real issue.
Just by speaking to a lot of the local women and reading the local newspapers you will see what the natives of this country have to deal with on a daily basis. India is a fascinating country with many beautiful people to meet but please prepare yourself for the darker side as everywhere in the world has one. I’m just here for 5 months and don’t have to live with it. If you visit, I ask just one thing, please don’t be ignorant to what is going on right under your nose. Visit a women’s rights organisation, talk to the local men and women about how it effects them, pick up an Indian paper, volunteer! Just don’t pretend it isn’t there.
I am here to urge you to be respectful, to enjoy yourself(as of course the above does not apply for every man you meet), but to be cautious and so I have compiled some top tips:
What to wear
Dress modestly. This won’t stop people staring but at least they will have less to look at! Keep in mind that you are in another country so be respectful towards the existing cultures and beliefs and make an effort to learn.
I opted to buy a scarf which quickly became one of my essentials. Not only is it useful for protection against the sun but also to cover up when visiting temples and other religious sites. More importantly though it hides me away from unwanted glances and photographs that I didn’t give my consent to.
You could even opt to wear the local attire. Either a sari or a punjabi salwar suit. Both are incredibly beautiful and come in an endless choice of patterns, materials, colours and designs.
I choose to wear what I feel most comfortable in which is the best advice I can give. Just be aware of not causing offence to those around you and not attracting attention and giving us western ladies another dent in our already wrongfully(for the most part) sullied reputation.
A ring don’t mean a thing
Before I came to India I read a lot of articles advising you to wear wedding rings even when you aren’t married. To be honest, this does not work. If you are travelling alone you are fair game, with or without a ring. Do you think that they will be checking your left hand before giving you that x-ray stare? With my husband in tow I still have to fend off the advances from the small but extremely persistent population of Indias sleazy types. Don’t bother.
You will start to notice that your wrist has begun to ache from all the hand shaking it does on a daily basis. As well as the normal namaste gesture with a bow, it is quite common to greet with a handshake. Never offer your hand to a man unless he extends his first. This can be seen as flirting as it is a gesture that involves physical contact. The act of holding hands between Indian men and women is actually viewed as a part of intercourse so unless you’re ready to go all the way, keep your mittens on!
You may notice amid shaking hands, a strange sensation on your wrist. It must be another bloody mosquito you say. No it’s much worse! One of his fingers has extended to your wrist and started to subtly stroke you! Arghh! If only you had a swat big enough. This once happened to me at a train station, by would you believe it…a security guard! After having a nice lengthy chat with him he offered his hand which we both shook and said our goodbyes. But only when I shook his hand did he bring out his wriggly partner in crime (no, not that one…tut tut!). I swiped my hand away from his as fast as I could and we both legged it back on to the train.
Whilst on the topic of physical contact, eye contact is another big invitation for some Indian men to try their chances. Most Indian women will not make direct eye contact with men they do not know. It can be seen as encouragement to flirt and start a conversation. It is hard to be firm at first and get used to being what I would deem as unfriendly. I’m very open but under these circumstances it is hard to know who to trust and who not to trust. Normally you would smile walking past a stranger in the street back home but depending where you are in India you might as well ask them to jump into bed with you.
Photos and flip flops
Your ego begins to inflate and you feel like a celebrity super star! Everybody wants a photo of you or with you. When you say yes to one group you will be hounded by another ten so get those face muscles ready for a long stint of smiling. This is just normal, friendly curiosity and it can be a great way to strike up some wonderful conversations with many interesting people. Just be wary if it is a group of men as they can sometimes take things a little far.
I was unfortunate enough to experience this first hand. A group of young men approached us at a religious temple and we started to chat away until they asked for a photo with us. We kindly obliged, with this being quite a normal thing for us to do by now. They took a couple of photos then excitement broke out and we realised that my partner was being pushed to the back. In between all the flashing lights and switching positions before I knew it someone had grabbed my boob! Luckily I had been reading up on what to do in these situations.
So instinctively I whipped off my flip flop and threw it at him. I kicked up a massive stink.
I shouted all kinds of profanities and everybody joined in, chasing the leach out of the grounds. Looking back at this I can laugh now but in all seriousness if something like this happens to you then publicly shame them and make a massive deal. Respected members of society do not stand for this behaviour and will always help. Throwing a shoe is seen as a huge insult, it is seen as unclean and therefore a sign of disgust. If they only want photos with you and not your male companion then say no. I have heard from natives of the country that men want photos with western women so they can show them to their friends. Then they can boast and make claims that they have had you in the sack further perpetuating the stigma about us lovely ladies. So the moral to this is…if in doubt, throw a flip flop!
Not all peachy on the other side of the globe
Things can be just as bad at home. I worked in a bar in Cornwall during which time I was spat at, touched up and once slapped bang in the face with some sleazy douche bags baby maker. I even resorted to punching a man twice my age straight in his gut after he felt the need to grab my boob(AGAIN!?)from over the bar. Needless to say I left the creep winded and curled up on the floor.
My point is this, I see my self as a strong willed female who can look after herself in an array of situations and sleazy men come from many cultures, backgrounds etc around the world. Gender inequality is everywhere. It may be more prevalent and obvious in some places than others (if you have to put a sign up on trains to reiterate that it is wrong) but it is something that many men and women are striving to eliminate together.
So contradictory to what I have said, keep an open mind and open heart when meeting new people. It always pays to be cautious but this does not mean every man you encounter will be out to get your goodies.
We have met so many kind and generous men who have bent over backwards to help make our stay in India an amazing experience.For example, during our first trip on the overnight sleeper train Carl and I finally stumbled upon our 6 bunk carriage looking completely clueless! Before we knew it, two of the men jumped up and helped us with our back packs whilst the other grabbed our sheets and blankets and made our beds for the night. We hoisted ourselves up on to our bunks to then find one of the same lovely men tucking us in, all cosy and tight, just like your Nanna used to. 🙂 In the morning we awoke to a feast of foods which they were kind enough to share with us for breakfast.
The key piece of advice that I can offer is to always have your wits about you, understand each situation as it is happening and research other female bloggers on this issue before you depart. This way, you will be more tuned to spotting a situation that is potentially dangerous. If you smell even a hint of suspicion, be firm, move on and create some new and wonderful experiences elsewhere rather than leave with an experience that may scar you for life.
We would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this issue. Have you had any similar experiences? Or have you any advice that we haven’t included? Please take the time to comment below.
~The Vagabond Beans~