What’s the story? Is travel in India safe?

Taj Mahal Agra India

The Taj Mahal at sunset from the other side of the river.

Why I think you should BOTH practise safe travel AND keep your perspective

A series of much-publicized rapes in India has many people wondering if India is safe for travellers. A female British tourist just jumped out of a hotel window in Agra to escape an assertive employee knocking on her door. Was she justified; was the threat real? Or is the increasing fear volume in India making people overly anxious? It is my opinion that media bias and sensationalizing is making India sound unsafer than it actually is; but having said that, I also strongly encourage using common sense and practising “safe travel.” Media sensationalizing is having another negative effect, too: it is distracting from the real story, which is the worldwide problem of violence against women and the worldwide rape crisis. Please read on to find out real rape statistics around the world and why you need to practice safe travel wherever you go.

The gang rape of a student, who later died, aboard a private bus in Delhi in December 2012 caused mass outrage in India and received worldwide media attention. The lid was blow off the systematic sexism in Indian culture, and rape began receiving the serious attention it deserves.

Earlier this month, a Swiss tourist was gang raped in front of her husband while they were camping in a remote region in Madhya Pradesh, and this terrible event also received worldwide media attention. In blog comments and on social media networks, many were expressing understandable anger and concern over these events.

I agree that India needs to address gender inequality on many fronts, and especially at the most basic, intrinsic level: The attitudes toward women and rape need complete transformation. Women should be treated with respect, and be allowed to live free from fear, harm or oppression. That’s the ideal, and India should strive to meet it in every way.

So, on the one hand, I think all this publicity is great; I am hoping it will accelerate the rate of change and pressure politicians, lawmakers and the police, etc., to act. On the other hand, it is adding a lot of fuel to the very derogatory worldwide media image of India.

But my biggest concern is that the sensationalizing of these crimes against women in India is skewing perception; and missing the big picture. I think it is making India seem more dangerous for travellers than it actually is, compared to other countries (in my opinion); and it is taking the spotlight away from the worldwide problem of violence against women.

A woman is raped in South Africa every 17 seconds…

India is not, in fact, the “rape capital” of the world. There are many countries with worse rape statistics. In fact, India was not on any of the lists I found via Google. The USA, New Zealand, Sweden are all in the top 10, though; and South Africa seems to be almost in a class by itself. Here are some lists and you are welcome to Google “worldwide rape statistics” and see for yourself. The map below is the UN Police Reported Rape: A map:

Rape map

There is a worldwide rape crisis, and it is not confined to the east, or to developing nations, or to “over there.” And that is what we should be focusing on.

Putting perception into perspective

While India certainly has its share of social problems and gender inequality, I think it’s important to put media sensationalizing into perspective; and also take into regard biases in the media. While foreign travellers in India are often uncomfortable, and usually suffer from Delhi-belly and overpaying for souvenirs and autorickshaw rides, etc., I don’t think they are more at risk for violence and/or rape than other countries. And USA Today agrees with me.

I did a quick search of articles about what countries are considered “the safest to travel in.” Some of the countries on these lists have, in fact high rape rates; and some score quite low on the happiness index.

For example, Sweden is on many lists of safe places to travel — and Sweden has a higher rate of rape, and a lower rate on the happiness index, than India:

  • Happiness Index 

In other words … there is reality, statistics, perception and media bias. All of these things need to be weighed and assessed; don’t believe everything you read.

I am not trying to defend India: I was horrified by the Delhi Gang Rape, and it played into my reasons for cutting my recent trip to India short. And my heart aches for the Swiss tourist who was recently raped while on what should have been an amazing adventure. India needs to address safety issues and attitudes toward women, among other things.

But in my experience, India is not the barbaric place the western media makes it out to be. I have travelled safely there for a total of 17 months over the past seven years. I was groped once in Old Delhi, and I have felt uncomfortable by some unwanted attention and especially staring. I had my telephone stolen from my purse by a group of women, who surrounded me at a temple in Mumbai. But I have never felt seriously threatened or really unsafe.

However, I am also cautious, I use common sense and I take a lot of preventative measures — and I encourage other women (and men) travellers to do the same.

Helping people travel safely

There has been some very active discussions on this subject on the Breathedreamgo Facebook page; and after some thought, I made this statement:

“I have mistakenly given the world the impression that I think India is a safe country for women to travel in — and I have to take responsibility for that. It’s true that I have felt mostly safe in India over the 17 months I have travelled there; and have only minor incidents to report in all that time. But what I REALLY feel is that India is no different than anywhere else. It is certainly getting a lot of publicity, and I’m glad these things are coming out in the open. The truth is; the world is not safe for women anywhere. Rape stats in the USA, in South Africa and many other places are alarming and appalling. And as far as stats are concerned, it is much more unsafe for married women than women travellers. Look at the stats. A huge proportion of VAW is domestic. I am not trying to change anyone’s mind: you definitely should NOT go somewhere that makes you feel uncomfortable. But it is a good idea to separate media sensationalizing and perception from statistics, in my opinion.”

A few weeks I ago, I helped start an online movement called WeGoSolo to support women who travel alone. Check out the blog I wrote about that movement: it lists more than 60 blogs by other women travellers and writers. Many of them argue very intelligently and persuasively that travel is a much less dangerous occupation for women than marriage: A very large percentage of violence against women is perpetrated by their domestic partners. Many of the WeGoSolo blogs also offer safety tips for women (and men) travellers; and so does the hashtag #WeGoSolo on Twitter.

The U.K. just issued a travel alert for female travellers to India, and I agree with the common sense guidelines. “If you are a woman travelling in India, you should respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, when alone at any time of day,” the advisory issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) states.

Also, please read My top tips for women travelling in India.

In other words: practice safe travel. When it comes to India, I always encourage first-timers to join a group or go with a knowledgeable friend. There is a learning curve to being in India, no doubt about it. I am always the first to admit, a bit of hand holding goes a long way.

Attitude is (almost) everything

Finally, I think our attitude and level of confidence plays a big part in our experience of travel — and this is a big topic for another day (read Travel is an Experience in Perception). But if you are seriously afraid to visit a country, it’s probably not a good idea to go. Pushing your comfort zone is okay, if you know you are up for it; but if you are really fearful, you may find yourself having scary experiences. That’s how life seems to work, from my experience. Not always, of course, but a significant percentage of the time.

I have always maintained that India is not for everyone. Travel in India really is for a certain type of traveller — those who are willing to forego comfort for experience; and who are willing to say yes to life, all of life, including what is mirrored back about oneself. It takes a certain kind of travel adventurer to open his or her heart to India — and find it amply rewarded. In the end, perhaps it as Rumer Godden said: that once you have felt the Indian dust, you will never be free of it.

What about you? Have your ideas of travel in India changed? Would you go? Would you do anything differently?

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122 Responses to What’s the story? Is travel in India safe?

  1. Neilanjeev Roy March 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    It looks like rape percentage in America is higher than India…
    and it is a shock to see New Zealand on the list

    • Tijmen March 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

      It all depends on what counts as “rape” in a country, how many of them get reported, and how little corruption there is within the police force. NZ is a well developed nation with little corruption, so for me it makes sense more crimes are reported there then in some more corrupt cities in for example Asia where the police doesn’t always care.

      Last year a judge ruled in Holland that if you would give a french kiss to a woman against her will, it counted as rape. Because you entered her body against her will. Last week another higher court overruled the first judge, but it just shows that what’s called rape in one country isn’t always rape in another country…

      • Mariellen Ward March 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

        Tijmen, Yes, I know that rape is reported differently, and I don’t have the expertise to sort through the stats. My point is that media sensationalizing distorts truth.
        Mariellen Ward recently posted..Photo Essay: Stories of DelhiMy Profile

        • Dee March 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

          It is very irresponsible to say that India has less occurences of rape than say the US, Sweden or Norway. Are you aware that most rapes in India are never reported? You are giving people a very false impression of the actual situation. Never in my life have I felt unsafe as a woman in the US or Canada’s big cities but in Delhi I never felt completely safe and neither do my female friends that live there. So pls don’t suggest that India is a safe place for women, it is not. It is “safe enough” to travel but only while exercising great precautions. Even my Indian female friends and male friends who have sisters agree that it isn’t safe.
          Did you hear about the girl who got raped on Wednesday in the afternoon after asking a guy for directions near Red Fort in Delhi? Also, pls inform yourself about following which is not travel related but speaks volumes of womens situations in India and will clearly show you that your rape stats are wrong. http://genderbytes.wordpress.com/petition/petition-to-stop-female-genocide-femicide-gendercide-in-india/

          • Mariellen Ward March 21, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

            Hello Dee, I am not a statistician, I am only posting information I found online. I never said India “has less occurences of rape than say the US, Sweden or Norway.” You are misreading me. I am saying, look at the reported number of rapes and you will see a worldwide crisis. I am also not saying India is safe; I am saying no where is safe. Not really. I am just trying to put the media attention into perspective and you are misreading me. I am very well aware of the terrible gender inequality in India, and I am appalled by it; and I think it is a separate issue. I write a travel blog, for travellers. I do not write a women’s rights blog — though perhaps I should!

          • Sam April 3, 2013 at 10:41 am #

            Another uninformed, biased comment. Most rapes in the United States also are not reported as well as most other crimes so do not even kid yourself about the incidence of violence in India which has a population four times more than the United States and even then the raw crime numbers in the United States both reported and unreported are much higher. Remember, little kids in our country get killed at school and yes girls are raped in America as well unfortunately.

            Also, you keep mentioning only Delhi yet talk about crime in India. How would you know? India is 1.2 billion people in population and Delhi only makes up a tiny sliver of that population(20 million people maybe in the metro area). Do not equate your experience in Delhi with all of India. What was your experience with safety in my parents’ hometowns in India? Oh..I guess you don’t know because I am sure you never went there because neither is from a major city that dumb foreigners like you would know about.

            It would be like somebody talking about crime in Baltimore and then saying that must be representative of all of America.

          • Akula July 19, 2013 at 2:10 am #

            Hai Dee…

            Hopefully Mariellen Ward is not that wrong as you said ….Past decades we heard much abt dropping for girl baby After that only we started to hear more abt rapes in India,,, I agree some where ethics went wrong and brought up too But do not agree that India is not a safe place too stay. Highly populated country was safe for women still few decade any why its not now? can u answer this question….????

            Al good r bad can be controlled by us .

            I’m proud to be an Indian.
            Lots to say abt pride of India. Not juz rape stats.

            Hope every one know they heard this cases much now a days.

        • Chris April 4, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

          Sweden is one such country where the crime of rape is recorded differently from other countries. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19592372

          I don’t have a more authoritative source, but I’m sure you could easily find one. In light of this information, please consider amending the following passage in your article:

          “For example, Sweden is on many lists of safe places to travel — and Sweden has a higher rate of rape, and a lower rate on the happiness index, than India:”

      • Sam March 31, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

        Tijmen…do not kid yourself. Rape as well as crimes in general are under reported in Western countries including the United States which is where I live. The US has more rape and more violence than India and it is not even a contest and that even takes into account the fact that all crimes or possible crimes are not reported. Westerners are the last people who should be commenting on violence. I mean in America we have little kids who have been killed at elementary schools.

        • Mariellen Ward March 31, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

          Yes, I know Sam, I personally think there is an anti-India bias in the western media. It seems to be human nature to be able to see the problems in other peoples’ backyards rather than your own …
          Mariellen Ward recently posted..Dazzled by Indian classical music maestrosMy Profile

          • Sam April 3, 2013 at 10:44 am #


            One of my comments above was in reply to Dee’s comment yet it shows right below yours so I hope you do not get offended.

            It is how all the Westerners commenting keep equating Delhi with all of India. Most of these people have not been to the real India and Delhi is nothing but a tiny fraction of the country.


          • Sam April 3, 2013 at 10:44 am #


            One of my comments above was in reply to Dee’s comment yet it shows right below yours so I hope you do not get offended.

    • Sujit July 24, 2013 at 6:29 am #

      Informative blog, But i think India is not so safe for traveling especially for women.In past some years there are too many incidence happen with women like rape, robbery etc. Mostly city like Delhi is too dangerous for traveling at night and day also. Women mostly preferred to hire taxi in Delhi for safe travel.

      • Ravi March 31, 2014 at 11:28 am #

        India is a very safe country but take some precaution like wear indian dress, never travel alone in late night.always hire a good hotel …indian people are so coorporative…..
        Ravi recently posted..Getting India wrongMy Profile

  2. Andrea Rees March 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    I do agree that media sensationalizes things and your points above. I went to South Africa in December 2012, solo. I researched everything and came across stats, posts in travel related forums, media attention and warnings against travelling to South Africa because of the high incidence of rape and violence. Then I came across posts in travel related forums by women who were or had travelled recently to SA and they offered a better objective in my opinion.

    I found Cape Town to be very safe and I am glad I did not let media or stats scare me. Was I cautious? You bet, but I practice the same caution at home! Yes, those stats are correct, but as I recall it is not against foreigners, it is mostly within the townships and are domestic related. Sadly, there is a very high incidence of it. I saw the physical scars on women not only in South Africa but in Senegal too.

    It is everywhere and it needs to stop.
    Andrea Rees recently posted..Why This Mother and Wife Travels SoloMy Profile

  3. Kiran Pande March 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    I’m really concerned about these terrible incidents of rapes in my country. However, I’m thankful to you for giving an unbiased views and facts on traveling to India. To sensationalize and to create a media hype of such incidents has become a sort of a trend and may misguide a tourist, especially a foreigner. I had been traveling in India for the last 30 years and barring few incidents which I heard of, my experience had been one of peace and tranquility. I personally feel that such reported incidents should be analyzed, keeping in view the population of this country. Of course, this does not mean that it should be overlooked or rationalized. The culprits must be punished.
    I run a travel non commercial blog on India and would highly appreciate, in the interest of my readers, to either give me a shorter version of your above post or please allow me to take a relevant part (without any change of words) with a link to “read more..” to your post.
    I would like to publish it keeping your post heading as same.


    • Kiran Pande March 22, 2013 at 6:50 am #

      Thanks Mariellen. It’s nice of you.

    • Katherine April 11, 2013 at 4:42 am #

      To be fair Kiran, you have not experienced problems while traveling in India because you are a man. I think women traveling to India do need to realize that while they will most likely not actually be raped, they will most likely be cat-called (even while wearing full Indian outfits) and it is very likely if they are in a crowd they will be touched inappropriately.

      If a foreign woman just keeps her distance from men in India and is smart, she should be fine. Be wary of men who want to take a picture with you – it is normally an excuse to get close to do other things. Be cautious even in rickshaws – never if you are a female sit in the front seat next to the driver. And if you see a crowd of men do not enter it. Do not let yourself alone in a room with only yourself and a man, even in a business interaction (like a spa – they can take this as an indication that you want a “special massage” even if you have just gone for a haircut). You will get asked if you have a boyfriend, and possibly if you want another, “Indian” boyfriend. These things happen.

      I love India but even if you are prepared mentally, sexual assault can really affect your trip. However preparing will make you less likely to be harassed and more prepared in case it does happen, so that one incident does not ruin your entire trip and entire perception of the country. Understand that there are simply stereotypes in India about foreign women being “loose”, and traveling to India and showing that you are knowledgable and are not how they expect you to be can help to educate and combat these issues for foreign women who come visit India in the future.

  4. Mariellen Ward March 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Thanks for your comment Kiran. While it is getting harder and harder to keep perspective, I think you have hit the right mark.

    And yes, you can use 1-2 paragraphs and a link to read more. I am okay witht it … and so is Google 🙂
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  5. MayankBhatt March 19, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    You’re an incorrigible India lover, Mariellen. I really hope someone in the Government of India is looking at all the work you’re doing to promote India, and pay you for it.

    • Mariellen Ward March 19, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

      Hahaha, that’ll be the day, Mayank! On the SAME DAY I published this piece, I went to meet an Indo-Canadian travel agency owner about doing business together — I rented a car and drove all the way to Mississauga — and he stood me up. Apparently “forgot” about our meeting. That’s typical.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Photo Essay: Stories of DelhiMy Profile

  6. Jo Carpenter March 19, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

    On Thursday 14th March, in upstate New York, a man murdered a woman whom he had carjacked at a mall. He raped her 10-year-old daughter. It was the day before the rape of the Swiss tourist in Madhya Pradesh. The latter has become an international issues whereas the former has been largely undiscussed. Mariellen is absolutely right in saying that perceptions have become skewed. Crimes against women in India are absolutely out of control, but they are almost entirely targeted against Indian women and it is right that attention should be focussed on this. Prospective women travelers to India – alone or in company – should not be deterred. You are very, very unlikely to experience violent crime in India and the very slim chance that it could happen is not that dissimilar from the risk that you face staying at home. So go!

  7. Linda Cooper March 19, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    You have published a great article which rings more true than any other article I have read lately. Media hype puts fear in people. Stop reading it. Do your own research people and don’t let fear lock you in to an unlived life. You are very clear in your article and I trust women will read it in the spirit it is intended

  8. Supriya March 20, 2013 at 12:09 am #

    Hey Mariellen,

    Thats so true and reassuring for so many of us solo travellers… I wrote something in the same vein.. http://www.lonelyplanet.in/articles/tips-for-solo-female-travellers!

    As threatening as incidents like this seem, I dont think any of us should travel lesser, just be safer and more alert!

  9. Nikhil Chandra March 20, 2013 at 12:36 am #

    Can’t believe only Indians are reading and promoting this post when this concerns mostly the overseas travelers who are looking forward to travel to India.

    I agree that developing countries like India and South Africa has more cases of rape due to rich poor divide. The thing with India is that there’s a vast chasm in lifestyle and thinking and adopting so called “modern” and “Western” lifestyle and thinking. The liberalization in India led to opening up of economy which I believe has a fair share in increasing the socioeconomic divide. Rich got richer and poor got poorer. The fact that high rise multiplexes and slums exist side by side and the great divide in lifestyle of people residing in slums and high society dwellers has also attributed to the increased cases of sexual assault.

    Another fact is frustration of the populace which could be attributed to political apathy, growth which is not all-inclusive, failure of law enforcement machinery and rampant corruption. In places like Delhi where these divides are at its peak, the cases of assault are also higher. Another factor which is unique to Delhi is the cultural vaccum which was vreated during partition. Delhi is a city of migrants which is both it’s strength (myriad cultural hues, vivacity friendly people, heritage) and its bane (social values).

    Now coming back to the topic, to say that India is unsafe just because of media sensationalized rape cases which occurred recently would be akin to saying that US is unsafe for school going children because of school shootouts that have taken place there in recent times. If travel safety in India could be judged on parameters based on recent events then it would be as unsafe to visit countries such as South Africa. The fascination of developed nation with anything exotic or wrong in India could also be understood in the light of changing global economic dynamics where India is fast emerging as a power to reckon with and the “West” still fascinated with India as a country of snake charmer has still to come to terms with.

    I’d have loved if more and more travelers from overseas have come up and shared their experience of “safe India”. And I personally know many of them I have met with several travelers from countries such as Canada, Israel, UK who have spent more than 6 months at a go. I know female solo travelers, I have trekked with solo travelers from abroad and I know writers who call India their second home. One should not judge a country based on few incidences but alas as I have seen even if you do 99 things right and 1 thing wrong, more often then not people remember you for that 1 thing.
    Nikhil Chandra recently posted..Holi – Festivals of ColorsMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward March 20, 2013 at 8:57 am #

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Nikhil. A lot of foreign travellers to India share their positive experiences on my Facebook page.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  10. Mansee March 20, 2013 at 1:30 am #

    The media has definitely sensationalised the whole issue. I have not travelled that extensively to speak about it but do understand the fear which women travellers (solo/with partners) can have, especially if they are not Indian.

    I being an Indian myself though love to travel, prefer to join groups of co travellers as a safe practice. It can be an issue sometimes (to coordinate dates/ requirements etc) but maybe such inspiring posts by women travelers like you, I can finally travel alone some day!

    Keep writing !Your beauty as a person shows in the articles you post 🙂

  11. Shehi March 20, 2013 at 1:44 am #

    What a coincidence!!! Was speaking these matters and lo! there u have put everything in the perfect way!!! Ofcourse we knw things are not happening good around but that doesnt mean its a mean place to live in. We need to fix the problems as soon as possible. Men n women are equally worried about these horrid situations…I think a change will b coming very soon…Thanks to media politics activists well wishers and beautiful people like u too…Jai Hind!

  12. kfmercure March 20, 2013 at 6:56 am #

    Thank you Mariellen for your balancing thoughts on India. While I am shocked by the reports, I know these negatives do not overpower the positives if India. The pull to it remains as strong in my heart as ever.

  13. Gelsi March 20, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    You do know that most rapes and assaults, as well as sexual abuse and harassment, go unreported in India. You really need to read some of the latest NGO/UN reports: India IS one of the most unsafe countries in the world for females. That means not only rape, but also constant harassment, discrimination, psychological abuse, long term nutritional deprivation. My daughter is 1/2 Indian but I refuse to raise her in India.
    @Kiran – you are an Indian man-of course you didn’t have any problems in India!! Get real.

    • Mariellen Ward March 20, 2013 at 10:46 am #

      Gelsi, India is ranked the FOURTH worst place on earth to be a woman. This is a national disgrace, or should be. I am not trying to distract from the harsh realities of life for women in India — but being a traveller in India and being an Indian woman living within the culture are two different things. Also, the western media is very quick to criticize India and paint it int he darkest, most negative tones without examining the problems in the their own societies.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  14. Michele Peterson March 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    A very good post Mariellen. The growing problem of rape is very concerning for women worldwide. In Guatemala, raping of women by rival gangs is done to exert control over city neighbourhoods and communities Some estimates show 10,000 women raped per year, about 77 for every 100,000 residents, and only 2% go to trial. India’s police officials do seem to investigate and prosecute crimes of rape, unlike other countries where impunity is a problem.
    Michele Peterson recently posted..It’s a Waterworld in CancunMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward March 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Michele. As a global society, we need to stamp out the worldwide rape culture. That’s why I wrote this post. It’s so easy to think it’s only happening “over there.” At least India is NOW acting, and fast-tracking rape trials, talking openly about it, and increasing punishment for rape. The new anti-rape bill was unfortunately watered down, but it’s a good start.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Professional travellers love EmiratesMy Profile

  15. Himanshu March 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    I am shocked to see the stats… Oh God…
    Himanshu recently posted..Into the WildMy Profile

  16. Ram March 20, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Well written unbiased article. It’s getting harder to give a perception about India to my friends with incidents like this happening one after another. I always try to convince, its not what you see in media. We should accept that there is a problem and we have to face it and try to control it. Make our tourists feel more safe. Tourism should take active role in suggesting and providing do’s and don’ts for travelers to make their experiences more memorable, in a good way.

    As you mentioned, if you are accompanied by a friend who is an Indian or have been to India before, I promise everyone will go back with a bunch of great experiences.

    • Mariellen Ward March 20, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

      Thanks Ram — I would LOVE to see the Ministry of Tourism doing something proactive about this problem.

      And I love your attitude — it’s the one I am most used to in India: friendly, warm, and encouraging 🙂
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Photo Essay: Stories of DelhiMy Profile

  17. Donna March 20, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    Rape is rape and certainly any rape is incomprehensible. But there is something very aggressive – and disturbing – about gang rape and it is particularly heinous. That is why there is all of the attention to the rapes in India because let’s be serious….rape, especially unreported rape, is very common in India. Women are less likely to report rape for fear of ruining their – and their family’s – reputation. There are also other cultural issues – the inequality between the sexes, female infanticide that has left some places in India with very few women, and many sexually frustrated men. Sexual suppression is widespread in India.

    The fact that police refuse to take rape reports and that police and politicians alike downplay rape by saying things like how a women dresses is the cause for rape shows how unhealthy and dangerous the situation really is. So your family doesn’t protect you and the police don’t protect you. Who speaks for the women?

    All that being said, do I think that India is unsafe? No, I don’t. I lived there for 7 years and had my share of groping, comments, and annoying stares. But I’ve never had anything stolen from me or been the victim of any violent crime. On the other hand, I do not agree that the media is sensationalizing the situationS. Any attention that can lead to change cannot be bad. You go to India with images of peace and yoga and kind, gentle people. You do not expect to encounter some of the things that you do – gang rape would certainly top the list. So YES, women travelers (solo or not) need to be well aware of everything around them and not put themselves in a potentially bad situation. I am sure most people would be shocked to learn of some of the things that really go on in India.

    Every time something big happens (Mumbai bombings, Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption protests, and most recently, the gang rapes), people throng to the streets with their signs and protests. Time goes by and eventually people go back to “normal”. A billion people strong, why doesn’t anything change? What is going to be important enough – or horrific enough – for things to change?

    • Mariellen Ward March 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment Donna — all very good points. Yes, I know things are bad in India — but the sensationalizing is about making tourists feel unsafe when most tourists and visitors leave India without undue incident.

      Personally, I am hoping that with all this attention things will change.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  18. Prem Syal March 21, 2013 at 1:50 am #

    Appreciate your article and your research ! India was and is always a great place for Women, safer than anywhere else in this world where right from the religion which prays to more Hindu Goddesses to the country which is considered as Mother “India” to great representation in the Parliament from Prime Minister to President to Chief ministers, and all senior and serious posts have been successfully handled by Women in Indian public & private system ! Least divorce rates and more equality at work place enforces more respect for women in India than anywhere else ! From girls in almost all Indian sports at the Olympics to Miss Worlds’ to Miss Universe from India has further glorified the Nation. Sparse highly unfortunate incidents like rape in collaboration with International media can in no way position a massive country of 1.2 Billion people as unsafe for women !!Women in India were, are and will always be respected and welcomed and criminals always be caught and booked !

    • Mariellen Ward March 21, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

      Hi Prem, There is of course goddess worship in India, and many Indian women have held positions of power, but India still has a long way to go to achieve gender equality. I am happy to see new measures and tougher laws to deal with rape and other crimes against women; and I think the government should do more to protect women, and also foreign travellers. In fact, I have just learned that the stats show India is more unsafe for foreigners than many other countries. As I always say, India is not for everyone; and you should practise “safe travel strategies” when you are there.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Photo Essay: Stories of DelhiMy Profile

  19. Shivangi March 21, 2013 at 3:40 am #

    This is a topic that can and shall be talked about for a long time to come. As a resident of Delhi, I do agree with you that India, and especially the capital city have been portrayed as scarier and more unsafe that they actually are. Common sense and intuition do go a long way.
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    • Mariellen Ward March 21, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

      Well, let’s hope all the media attention will have a silver lining: India will become a better and safer place for all the women who live and travel there. That is my hope.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Photo Essay: Stories of DelhiMy Profile

  20. gunjan sharma March 21, 2013 at 4:31 am #

    In my 37 years of existence, i have been mugged twice, Once in Rome and once in New york.. My wife’s camera got stolen in amsterdam metro once, Antwerp she lost her purse and i got pick pocketed in Brussels.

    This has happened during our 3 year brief stay in Netherlands when we travelled all through Europe. NO SUCH incidents YET in India.

    True, there have been a time my wife has been groped on public transport but the propensity of that happening in anywhere in the first world is perhaps as much.
    Having said that it is true that India needs a lot of introspection as far as treating the fairer sex is concerned, our declining sex ratios and female infanticide is shameful and we need to work towards that.

    I am very happy to find Mariellen on the blogosphere as indophiles like you are important for the right perception of our country..

    • Mariellen Ward March 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

      Thanks Gunjan. I’ve been groped in Delhi, too; but also on the subway in Toronto. Which is why i am saying this is not just an Indian problem. India definitely needs introspection, but more than that, action. Perhaps world wide media attention will help. Let’s hope so, because that’s what India is getting. I prefer to stay positive, keep hoping … and also keep travelling.
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  21. Shalu Sharma March 21, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    Any incidences of violence against women in a country is very shameful and it really hurts when you hear these things in the news. But the thing is, news is always negative. When was the last time we heard that everything went well for the millions of women who visit India. But the thing is, one or two incidences has the ability to ruin everything. Sometimes, you think if biology is against women. What happened to the Swiss women is very shameful but she was not alone, this shows how unsafe travel can be – be it alone or not. One just cannot be too careful. India has to come out with strong laws and strict punishments against such crimes. I think a global effort is required to ensure women can travel around the world alone and safely.
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    • Mariellen Ward March 22, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Shalu, I think you have very succinctly summarized the issues facing women and travellers in India and beyond. I would love to see women safe and respected around the globe; and tougher punishments is a good first step. India brought in a new anti-rape bill yesterday, and toughed things up somewhat; i would like to see them go further.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  22. Marcia H March 22, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    Mariellen, I really appreciate your perspective on this whole issue, as well s those of your followers. I have been to India twice in the last year since I now have an Indian born daughter-in-law, and I certainly expect to return to India in the future . I traveled in a small group of relatives on both trips, thoroughly enjoyed myself, learned a great deal, and never felt unsafe. Yes, India is a difficult country for westerners to visit, especially for the first time, and I have thought a good deal about why that is the case.

    My initial discomfort was realizing that so many things I relied on to be true, and to feel secure, simply weren’t the same as I experience in the western world, including many countries in Europe. For example, in my own country, I recognize characteristics of a neighborhood or a situation in which i ‘fit’ or I don’t, in which I should be more alert, or can relax. In India, I don’t know those visual clues. I don’t know what ‘safe’ looks like. I can’t read the language. I don’t know what is the ‘norm’. I don’t understand the social customs, the body language. I am slowly learning these things, and indeed am trying to learn to read Hindi so that I can at least read the signs, and the newspaper headlines.

    For a little perspective, either I or my family have been pickpocketed in New York, Chicago, St Louis, and Paris. I’ve been groped in Venice and Manhattan. Would I stay home from those places? Of course not! I just become a smarter traveler.

    • Mariellen Ward March 22, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

      Thanks so much for your perspective Marcia. I like what you said about learning to become a smarter traveler. After all the time I have spent in India, I have learned a lot of smart travel strategies, and I am hoping to share them with people as much as I can.
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  23. Tharun Jimani March 23, 2013 at 4:20 am #

    Those stats are shocking. I’m glad you wrote about this- forwarded your tips for women traveling in india to a bunch of my friends from abroad planning a trip here soon.
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    • Mariellen Ward March 23, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

      Thanks Tharun — and thanks for getting my MAIN point: if you want to travel in India, don’t let these incidents frighten you, but let them caution you. Always practise safe travel!
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  24. fundoos March 23, 2013 at 4:24 am #

    violence against women is a big problem. If India is not at the top of the rape list that does not mean we can ignore this problem. India is unsafe for women and we must agree.

    • Mariellen Ward March 23, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

      Yes, I do agree Fundoos. I hope and pray that new legislation, new attitudes and a new generation will make things better for the women of India. I would like to see India move from being the fourth worst place to be a women up to the top 10 list of best places to be a women. That is my what I hope for.
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  25. Destination Infinity March 23, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    I have traveled extensively across many tourist destinations in South India, and they are quite safe. I basically take less cash with me and no valuable items, just as a precaution. I have never felt even threatened. I feel that popular tourist destinations are quite safe, even for women.

    I think people should exercise caution if they travel alone to an off-beat location. In this case, it is best to travel as a group. Perhaps, solo travelers in the same location could network online and plan for such a trip. In India, people might more readily over-charge foreigners (and even locals), but serious crimes against foreigners is quite rare. Following conservative dress-code also helps to a great extent, while in India.
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    • Mariellen Ward March 23, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

      Thanks for your perspective and also tips. I agree about the conservative dress, that’s what I always do — and the idea of finding other solo travellers online is a good one!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Photo Essay: Stories of DelhiMy Profile

  26. Sc March 23, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    1. Majority of the rapes in India never get reported because the female victims are betrayed by their own protectors. The mindset of many Indians is that the girl must’ve done something to deserve the abuse. I highly suggest you take a look at the debate that took place before the new anti-rape laws were approved. Men in power made comments such as “what man hasn’t stalked a girl at least once?” Often the victim fears reporting the attack because she will not only be ignored her justice, but also blamed for the attack and her own family would turn against her because she has shamed them. 2. Read any indian newspaper. Every single day there is at least one new gang rape on the front page. Everyday! 3. My boyfriend born and raised in India and currently visiting his family is telling me about how he is trying to encourage his sisters to come to the states because he fears for their safety. He says although the new anti-rape laws are extremely harsh, it most likely won’t affect the attacks since its common for laws to not be enforced. Marriage dowries are illegal in India, yet it’s still practiced on a daily basis out in the open with no consequences. This is one of many examples. Although I plan to visit india in a few months, I certainly would’ve canceled my ticket if I were not in the company and safety of his family at all times. 4. Indian women fear for their own safety and live with precautions you will never see in a typical suburb in the western world. It’s rare to see an indian woman out after dark, many colleges request that females stay within their hostels after 6pm, even in daylight women prefer traveling in groups. These are words coming out of a few indian women living in Nagpur. This article is misleading. Yes crimes happen all over the world to unfortunate tourists, but even with India’s modernization, at least in big cities, there is a certain mindset amongst majority of Indians justifying such attacks that one will seldom find in countries such as USA. Knowing as much as I do about this particular subject, it upsets me to see articles that give a false sense of security. These attacks are happening daily on indian females, child females, school girls and foreign females.

    • Mariellen Ward March 23, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

      Hello SC, Thanks for your comments and sharing your story and insights. You are right, women in India face a lot of problems — India has been assessed as the fourth worst place on earth to be a woman. I do know this; and I also know that a lot of rape is unreported in India (and elsewhere).

      My point was not to mislead people, and I apologize if that’s how it looks; my point was to put this story into perspective. Rape IS a crisis in India …. and just about everywhere else. My worry is that media sensationalizing makes it sound uniquely Indian. It is not.

      Also, this blog is about foreign women travelling in India, not about Indian women living in India. I can only comment from experience about what it’s like to be a foreigner in India. And my experience has been largely positive. More then 6 million people visit India each year, and the vast majority do not face serious crimes. That;s really the only point I am making.

      However I always encourage people to travel safely. If I have had good experiences in India, it is perhaps because I have alway practised safe travel strategies. I can’t say thins enough.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  27. Shanta Lavee March 26, 2013 at 4:48 am #

    hello, very good post, that’s true information are being manipulated, but in every lie there’s always grain of truth
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  28. Monica April 2, 2013 at 1:25 am #

    The real concern for female travelers in India is not so much rape, but lesser forms of sexual harassment. Yes I agree India is safer than most people think (especially regarding theft, europe is much worse in my opinion) but your article completely ignores the reality of the situation. It may or may not be true that there is a higher incidence of rape in some western countries than in India, but I can guarantee female travelers in the US will not encounter anywhere near the extent of harassment that they would receive in India. The fact is the majority of Indian men think that white women will put out to anyone, anytime and they behave accordingly.

    You said you were only groped once, well lucky you! That is very different from my experience. On my last solo trip I was harassed in one form or another on a daily basis. On several occasions I thought I was going to be raped, including one time in my hotel room by the hotel owner and another time by a hindu priest in a temple. After those experiences all I can say is that learning self defence is essential because you need to hit these men HARD straight up. At first my initial reaction whenever someone would grab me was to always yell and struggle, but they would just get more worked up. It was not until I could give a good hit in the face or balls that they would realise that I was serious when I said no.

    Yes dressing modestly might make you stand out less, but it will not prevent you from being targeted by sex-depraved losers. The most important thing is to minimise the opportunity for men to get cosy. Do not accept help from young men when they walk up to you and offer it out of the blue (i.e. directions, take a photo for you). Just say no and keep walking, don’t let them start a conversation. Pretend you can’t speak english if need be. Same goes for young men and photographs. Often taking a harmless picture with them will be followed by a pinch on the bum, or worse they may follow you everywhere you go asking for more photographs or a kiss. In fact if you can, just avoid walking by any large group of excitable young men. Keep these things in mind, even if you are traveling with a man or other female friends.

    • Mariellen Ward April 2, 2013 at 8:12 am #

      These are all good points, Monica, and I don’t disagree with you. I have ALWAYS maintained that India is a challenging tourist destination, and that it’s not for everyone. I NEVER expected India to be like Canada or the USA, so perhaps that’s the difference. I am very aware that as a blonde, female foreigner I am the target of interest and unwanted attention, and I act accordingly. I also avoid groups of boys, and practise all kinds of other evasive tactics. To me, that is part of the price of travelling in India. As I said, it’s not for everyone. Do I wish India was NOT like this, do I wish the men behaved better and the society had more respect for women? Yes, of course I do. But wishing isn’t going to change anything. Good, solid, practical safe travel tips can help, thought. Thanks for contributing.
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    • Katherine April 11, 2013 at 4:58 am #

      I basically just submitted this same comment, before reading your’s Monica! I entirely agree with everything you have said here!!! On my second trip to India, I had an entire 2 months straight where I did not have a single interaction with a man that did not include some sort of sexual harassment. No, you probably won’t get raped, but you probably will have to deal with more sexual harassment on the streets than you have in your life. Don’t not visit India because of it, just be on guard and exercise caution and come to terms with the fact that it might happen so you aren’t shocked into flying on the next plane back when it does.

  29. binoy April 8, 2013 at 1:44 am #

    I don’t understand why people are classifying problems country wise or state wise. Here some readers are saying India is the rape capital of the whole world.some says its not.

    But the fact is,whole world is not safe for women. This we can not proclaim as an achievement, but an embarrassment to total human race. Everybody has to accept it and do the rightful to avoid such incidents in our society in future.Statistics shall be used only to understand the scenario and to get a perception on the size of our “real” enemy.

  30. Kiva April 9, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    I’ve been living in India for a while now and have found the crime rate to be quite low. That’s based on both my experience (not a single problem) and other travellers I talk to over here. The number of crimes that happen is totally overblown. It’s so easy for the media to sensationalize a negative story like the incident in December because it sells. And to the person who has never been to India it all seems believable, which is so typical of travel stories… people exaggerate and outright lie because they can get away with it since the audience for the story has never been there and has no way of knowing.

    Same thing with Kashmir. It’s on many countries’ official do not travel list, despite the war having ended a long time ago. Which is sad because it’s an incredibly beautiful place (and cheap too) but few people go. So both the local economy loses out and travellers miss out.

    What people have to realize is that the country has 1.2 billion people so of course lots of stuff is going to happen… but really that “lots” of stuff isn’t nearly as much as it seems. One tip I always give people, female and male, is to carry pepper spray (both for use on people and dogs). It’s about the best thing you can do for both yourself and a would-be attacker, because even if you unload an entire bottle in someone’s eyes they could be better off than if you got into a serious fight with them. So looked at that way it’s actually a preventative self-defense measure. You can probably bring it on the plane (I did… Toronto to Delhi) if you keep it in its package and check it in your luggage. Otherwise, you can find it in a city in India if you look around.
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    • Mariellen Ward April 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Kiva, I appreciate it. You have said many things I have been saying, too, about media sensationalizing. I distorts the truth of what life is like on the ground in India for travellers. Also, thanks so much fo the pepper spray tip. I am far more worried by the dogs in India than anything else! I”m going to get some: I will feel better knowing I can deter an aggressive street dog.
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  31. Kiran Pande April 13, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    I have given an introduction to your above post in my blog with “Read more…”. If it needs any changes, let me know. By the way, without your permission, I have put your picture too, which I liked very much, before “About Author”. Hope you don’t mind.
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  32. Abhinav April 15, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    Just came across this article… Mariellen I really do appreciate the fact that you are trying so hard to be neutral and unbiased…but I feel you’re trying so hard you’ve actually become a bit biased towards India. I’ve grown up in Delhi, I love the city. I however accept the fact that my experiences growing up were different from those of my two sisters. The fear and nervousness you speak of is not limited to foreigners but very much there in everyone who lives in the city. Hell I feel terrified if its just my sister and me walking on some deserted road and I spot a bunch of guys… they don’t even have to say or do anything.
    This unfortunately is partially justified. Delhi has a huge floating population of migrant workers, not just casual labour but blue collar and white collar employees. The somewhat systemic sexism dormant in many Indian men seems to really flare out when they don’t need to worry bout ‘what the Sharma’s next door will think’. This is compounded by the fact that there is a large class of people in Delhi who became very very rich, very very fast. These people think they can buy themselves out of any problem…and maybe they’re right.
    I would love to see more people coming to my city to explore its various monuments and eat its awesome food… but as things are , as a Delhiite, I would not recommend travelling around India for a solo female traveler…
    You’re very right in saying that bad things can and do happen everywhere, however the problem here is that there is a tacit (and sometimes not all that tacit) ‘boys will be boys, so its up to the girls to be careful’ attitude which is not going to go away in a hurry.

    • Mariellen Ward April 19, 2013 at 9:27 am #

      Thanks for your comment Abhinav, it is a complex problem with deep roots in attitude. The feminist in me would of course like to see a big attitude shift in India (and elsewhere) towards women, so that all girls and women are treated with respect and equality, and feel free and safe. Of course I know that is NOT how it currently is; but that’s what it should be. However, the traveller in me is willing to accept India the way it is, so that I can travel there and enjoy all the positive aspects of the culture and society. And, as a traveller, I do take a lot of extra precautions, knowing that India is not the same as Canada. But somehow, I’ve managed to travel in India for 17 months with very few incidents, and I know other women who have too, so I guess I am saying it is not perfect for women and travellers; but it’s not as bad as the media makes it out to be.
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      • Abhinav April 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

        Well, maybe what you say has some truth in it. None of the (Indian) women I know have ever tried travelling alone in India so I really don’t know how feasible or practical it is. However ,if any of my friends brought it up, I have to admit that I would discourage them..

  33. Anisha Singh April 19, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    I have to disagree with the article. The groping of young girls and women in India is rampant problem. It has only gotten worse. It may be that other countries show up more on ‘google search’ but is ‘google search’ a criteria for real numbers on the ground. The fear is part of every person’e psyche in India. So the reporting of so called ‘minor’ incidents is very low but violation of a women’s body is violation- there is nothing small about it. By calling this just a media hype, you are making the problem worse. I am an Indian- born and raised in India and I think it is high time, we bring this problem to the forefront by talking about it. The british woman’s case is agra got highlighted ‘cos the woman had not the deep seated fear in her and so she spoke about it and went to the police. Many Indian women may have faced similar situation in the same hotel and would never report ‘cos of fear and shame. It is not just women but men too, who do not stand up ‘cos of fear of repercussions. So let’s applaud the media for highlighting the issue and truly, it you have to take so many precautions (different clothes, no night travels, pepper spray etc), then let’s jus face the truth- India need to do better for it’s women and sadly, women are not safe in India.

    • Mariellen Ward April 19, 2013 at 9:31 am #

      Hello Anisha, I do not disagree with you; I realize there is a big problem in attitude towards women and girls in India. What I object to is the media hype that makes it sound like this problem resides in India alone. Perhaps if you read abut a recent case here in Canada, where a 17 year old girl killed herself after being raped by four boys; having a picture taken of the incident and circulated; suffering two years of bullying and abuse; and having the authorities not do ANYTHING about it. These problems are everywhere. That’s my point. By making it sound like India’s problem alone, it distracts from the true nature of the global crisis.
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  34. Ella April 20, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    Those statistics are useless. The reason why well developed countries end on top of the stats is that rapes are actively reported in those countries and the system supports this. So you get the real numbers. India has a seemingly low number because if you are an indian female and go to the police station to report being raped you might get raped – by the police officer!! So you choose not to report it and the numbers get wrong…

    • Mariellen Ward April 21, 2013 at 11:05 am #

      I do realize this Ella, but thanks for bringing it to attention. I should have written this post a bit differently — my point was to show that violence against women and rape are worldwide issues. At the time, the media sensationalizing made it sound as if they were only in India. It’s different now, terrible incidents all over the globe are coming to light. The stats may change considerably in the next few years.
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  35. AO April 20, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    I have to disagree that by bringing the spotlight on India, it has taken the attention away from other parts of the world with regard to safety of women. If anything, it has made people think about safety of women in their own countries, while legitimately worrying about traveling to India.

    As an Indian, I am glad the media focus has been sustained. Yes, it does hurt the image of India a bit as a travel destination, but its a small price to pay if it compels us to focus inwards and get to the root of these issues. Hopefully the sustained focus also helps us bring about lasting changes to ensure safety of each and every woman who lives or travels in our country.

    • Mariellen Ward April 21, 2013 at 11:03 am #

      Hello AO,

      Yes, I actually do agree with you. As time has gone on, since I wrote this, worldwide attention and awareness has risen about these issue and incidents in Rio, Canada, the USA and elsewhere have come to light. I wouldn’t write this post now; I would write something very different. At the time, I was trying to counteract media sensationalizing. It’s a different story now.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Shop online for clothes, jewelry from IndiaMy Profile

      • AO April 22, 2013 at 3:46 am #

        Perhaps you should update your article for the benefit of your readers, it will be good to see the trajectory of perception (even if the sample size is 1 :)). In the meantime shocking incidents continue to happen in India. Maybe it is not such a bad thing if tourists stop traveling to India as a sign of protest. It appears it is less Incredible India more Incorrigible India as of now 🙁

  36. Joanne April 27, 2013 at 5:17 am #

    I completely agree, Mariellen. We often let media sensationalism distort the way we see the world around us! While I am very happy that the media attention has forced law enforcers, government bodies and agencies and even citizens to get their heads out of the sand, we need to find a way to channelise our anger and outrage!

    Berating the country as being the rape capital will not solve the problem at hand. Buying into the sensationalism could actually be counter-productive – like your blog already seems to suggest, it could eat into foreign tourism, which is actually a thriving industry for India, generating livelihood for millions of people.

    Finally, you are right, women’s safety is a problem world-over. For the change to happen begin, though, women themselves need to be aware and educated about their rights and be confident enough to begin making inroads. I love that you have advocated common sense and basic safe-travel tips to tourists.

    You have a great blog! Kudos!
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  37. Ms. Kenche May 2, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    I hope someone has already pointed this out. If they haven’t, here it is. I am confident when I say you have NO IDEA how under-reported rape/ sexual harassment is in India. I lived in India until I was 21 and if instead,, I had been in the USA, i probably would have registered at least a dozen complaints of sexual harassment. And that is just me. This was the case for someone from an upper middle-class family. I cannot even begin to imagine how grim the picture must be for people of limited means.
    Yes, it is possible to avoid being raped in India. However, the statistics cannot be used to come to the aforementioned conclusion. Correlation does not imply causation. You’ve been lucky. I have been lucky. My mom’s been lucky. That is what it is. Lucky.

    • Mariellen Ward May 2, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

      Yes, I know rape and sexual harassment is under-reported in India. But I also think it is under-reported here in North America too. And just about everywhere else. My point is: these are worldwide problems. There is a deeply embedded misogyny just about everywhere. Scapegoating India is not the answer. Addressing the global problem is.
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  38. Bum from kerala May 19, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Please stop peddling this bs Marie.You know India isn’t dangerous as long as you observe some common sense rules.Per 100,000 rape capita is about .1% compared to 20 or so in the USA.Please grow up!


    • Mariellen Ward February 3, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

      I’m really not sure who you are addressing this to. If it’s me, I think it means you haven’t read the article
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  39. Shabnam Akram May 28, 2013 at 2:04 am #

    Finally somebody who sees the whole picture!

  40. tirtha June 7, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    thank you for this piece!!

  41. kiran June 24, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    well i am indian(born and brought up). After visiting various places in my country and living for 23 years, all i can say is there are a few places in india where there is serious crime rate. Maybe country as a whole is less. These few places include uttar pradesh, madhya pradesh, bihar, jharkhand, chhatisgarh, uttarakhand, uttaranchal, and arunachal pradesh. Whenever you plan to visit these places never go alone. Always come to visit these places of india, in a group greater than four. Going alone to these places would prove to be very fatal especially for girls.

    also what i want to say is most of the crimes(about 70%) commited in various places across india are commited by people originally belonging to above mentioned areas.

    long story made short, whenever come to india be in a group of more than four(especially when females involved) then you are 99% safe from crimes.

  42. charan July 13, 2013 at 2:38 am #

    Read your article with interest. However, there are some facts that have been ignored. In India, rape cases are often not reported, fearing social stigma. Police often refuse to book a rape case, because it will make their area look bad, and there will be additional responsibility of working on the case. Rape is only part of the bigger problem of social decay and a break down of traditional social constructs. But it is a reality we live with everyday. We are extra careful about our female family members, colleagues and friends. Here are some common sense tips:

    1. Travel in a group
    2. Keep someone informed of where you are, and where you will be
    3. Avoid shady areas – every city has them and be informed about these before you reach there
    4. Shout if approached – most Indian men would be intimidated by a woman who can raise her voice. They dont expect you to put up any resistance.
    5. Do not share your contact details with an unknown person. I met a German girl, an exchange student who shared this experience. Random men would ask her for her phone number, and if she refused, they would act offended and hurt. Dont do it. You are asking for trouble. Go on, hurt them.
    6. Do not make an eye contact and smile. Indian men take it as a sign of “availability”.

    Be safe and never hesitate to ask for help. For every 1 stupid Indian man, there are a good 10 Indian men.

    • Mariellen Ward February 3, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

      Thanks for the tips. I think there are probably 1,000 good Indian men (at least) for every one who’s a goon.
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  43. Hemanth July 19, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Thank you Marie for focussing my country in some positive way. I feel we (especially men)need more moral education & a class on social etiquettes than technical education (to take over the world). I really get annoyed when i see people spitting here and there. Recently one of my female friends got attacked by 2 thieves in Bangalore at night 8.30 that too in a well lit residential area (she escaped unhurt, without losing anything). When Indian women are more vulnerable for sexual assaults & robbery even Indian men are vulnerable for other types of crime. Being a foreigner you might get more attention but vulnerability level is slightly less than the local population (may be because usual robbers/ offenders have a kind of hesitation approaching you ). I always believe in fate, if something bad has to happen it will happen no matter who you are, where you are & in whatever circumstances you are. That does not mean you sacrifice small happiness in life like travelling alone or travelling to new destinations. Just enjoy life the way it is & forget the uncertainties and threats it poses. However little caution, a bit of courage, self confidence, common sense, small self aides like pepper spray/knife/chilly powder can become life saviours at times (any where). I wish to see my country as a better place to live/ travel for all human beings. Liked your unbiased views. I wish you success in whatever you do & more pleasant future experiences in my country.

  44. Ram Cherala July 21, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    Beautifully written. I agree that attitude can make or break an awesome travel experience irrespective of which country one travels in. Expect trouble and you will find plenty of it. Expect to be surprised and you will be. Expect happiness and you will be happy!!

    • Mariellen Ward February 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

      There’s a lot to be said for having a positive attitude, that’s for sure (as long as it is mixed with common sense).
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..The RiverMy Profile

  45. V July 22, 2013 at 6:15 am #


    After reading through your blog I have to say whilst I wouldn’t discourage anyone to visit, I would recommend them to be very careful. I am a girl and honestly I am scared of going out on my own. Its not that there wasn’t always eve teasing or staring in Delhi but recently I have noticed that the men are more unabashed. It is more rampant and its probably just media sensationalizing the cases but they have also increased awareness about it and highlighted the weakness of the law and order forces. I fail to understand why we have become a society where men are like hungry wolves just waiting to pounce on any female. I’m just talking from my experience but I recently took a road trip in US, travelling from the famous cities to the ones where probably no one passes through, and I have to say not once did I feel uncomfortable, or anyone stared at me. And mind you in most places I was probably the most exotic person 🙂

    It is such a sad state when the Ministry of Tourism wants to make the female travelers feel safe so it decides to post banners informing about the safety procedures yet on the ground level nothing is being done.

    • Mariellen Ward February 3, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

      I really do not understand why some men have such a terrible attitude towards women. It doesn’t make any sense. It is not the natural way — the male in most species protects the females and the babies. And don’t these men have mothers? Sisters? Don’t they want loving wives? It’s all so screwed up!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..The RiverMy Profile

      • honey singh September 26, 2014 at 3:04 am #

        indian men don’t think they have mother..problem is ms Mariellen Ward you don’t know indian men..there is word in india indian men don’t love they rape..don’t compare india with US..you don’t know how harassment is gonig on public trans port in india for women.even i don’t know if any indian female tour lonely in india. indian men belive in “athithi repo bhaba.”

  46. Emelie Stephan potts August 20, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Seems like its fake, my sisters and her friends from Chicago and Tennessee, been to India (Mumbai, Jaipur and other south Indian cities) few times in last 10 years. They were all safe. Its all depends which area you are visiting.

    The crime is everywhere, can you travel to Bronx (NY downtown), Chicago downtown, Dallas etc at night time, no matter you are girl or boy, white or black, the crime and those rapist they can’t differentiate.

    We have seen Cleveland case Ariel castro kept 3 girl in captivity for 10 years and they went through lot of pain and hell.

    So when you are visiting those countries, you have to save your as* on your own, you shouldn’t blame those country and culture. BTW Indians don’t ask the skin colour, its your sick mentality. There are thousands of indians and south asians in different cities in US and we interacted most of the times. Do you feel safe if you are travelling to Africa, South American countries or europe.

    • Mariellen Ward February 3, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

      Excuse me, my sick mentality? I am one of the least racist people you will ever meet, jeez. But I agree that crime is everywhere, and there is a lot of media scandalizing going on because these stories are salacious, and sell newspapers.
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  47. Rajesh Kutrapali August 24, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    Please Check this Out before deciding to visit India https://www.facebook.com/IndianHeterodoxyInitiativeRealIndia

    • Mariellen Ward February 3, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

      Yes, there are some very atrocious crimes happening, and it’s just good they are now more out in the open, where they can be confronted and addressed.
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  48. Sid September 24, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    I appreciate your effort for creating such amazing article. I really like the way you represent things in-front us. I know it’s little unsafe place of women but not all the place. Here in Mumbai, you will see women used to come home from office late night without any fear. Everywhere whether it’s India or any other country, some bad peoples are there and because them it’s not right to blame whole. So, we should be cautious of them.

  49. Sherry Nash October 21, 2013 at 5:08 am #

    I’m not agree that some people taking about women unsafe in India but I will not agree on this because I’m still on India trip from new york and I never feel unsafe while traveling in anywhere India so how can i accept that????
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  50. trip in india October 23, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    I am just new to exploring India and catch up really very interesting information keep carry on thank you so much this story

  51. Sharon January 6, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    I thank you for your very insightful blog on travelling to India. I love that you were just in Ireland as well.
    I am thrilled to have come across your more than informative blog about life, humanity and travel.
    Thank you once again.

  52. Lisa February 3, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    I am a British Expat who moved to Delhi just as the rape case was hitting the headlines, having been a victim of this crime before I can say that hell it really does matter how you present yourself and dress and I hate to say it but if you are drinking you don’t make the best judgements. But even with all I have learnt and with maturity I can’t fight the fact that the men I walk past with my husband judge me as easy because of the colour of my skin. So I’ve been spat at i Conaught Place and advise to take care round there as it seems full of opportunists…the thing I think is more of a problem is the ‘accidental’ brushing up against you, falling into your breast…it takes the skill of a jackal to avoid this…your tips are what I do now but still torn on whether shouting is the best way to deal with this though.

    • Mariellen Ward February 3, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

      I get stared at in India, too, obviously — I am tall-ish, blonde, wear salwar kameez and even sari, and travel all over the country, sometimes by bus and train. But most of the time I don’t let it get to me. I ignore, or stare back or sometimes get mad. But I never lose my sense of confidence because I do believe most people in India are very good, very kind and very helpful. I think my positive attitude plays a big part in how I am treated, which is almost always with kindness and respect.
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  53. Vijay Paul Gupta August 19, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    Sensationalism about the rape and murder problem in India was essential. I see a massive reduction in the problem of street stalking, staring, and lewd comments. (Which was never that big a problem anyway in my state- Rajasthan.)

    Indians who get so defensive: women are not free from fear in most of non-tribal India. You should visit a tribal area or hangout with some matriarchal Roma/Gypsy communities to see the natural walk, smile, laughter, and confidence of a women. (But you won’t cause you believe they are a lower and polluted caste who don’t follow caste rules of female repression .) We Indians have a sickness. Actually, it is a South Asian sickness.

  54. Parmesh November 18, 2014 at 2:43 am #

    I read most of the comments. The people who have never been to India, who have no knowledge about India are commenting. It is very sad that people mainly from West will have such a poor knowledge. America has the highest rape percentage. Most of the crimes go unreported in America, Europe too. Women in India are safer than anywhere in the earth. With the billion population with some incidents of rape is nothing in comparison to thousands of rape with million population(USA, Africa, Australia and Europe).Leave rape, murder and robbery is too common in American and European countries. Leave this, even in defence and crime prevention agencies like police and navy, the sexual assaults are common in USA and Britain. You people should also prevent sexual assaults in Universities of your country. They all go unreported. In India, no one assaults sexually in the Universities.

    • Mariellen Ward June 3, 2015 at 3:23 pm #

      There’s an old saying in Ireland: “Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?” People love to jump into a melee, even if they have no idea what they’re talking about. People also like to point fingers at others, rather than take a close look at themselves or their own society.

      The TRUTH is that women all over the globe face the fallout of patriarchy every single day. It’s better or worse in some places, but we’re all on the continuum.
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  55. jancy May 31, 2015 at 8:32 pm #

    I am a girl from southern india.i never felt too unsafe in my state but can never ignore that fact you may not be raped but wouldnt be able to escape the stupid comments or the stare from the men.I also think that the youngsters treat women with more respect nowadays as opposed to the other parts of india.

    • Mariellen Ward June 3, 2015 at 3:25 pm #

      Women everywhere have to be on guard to a greater or lesser extent, and men everywhere stare at women, that’s how it is. South India does tend to be a gentle place. I have never felt unsafe there, either. And I hope the young generation will be better. I suspect young women will not put up with negative or repressive attitudes or behaviour from men!
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  56. Murray Feldman June 3, 2015 at 4:24 am #

    I am now 70 years old and have been coming to India regularly since 1970 and have spent about 18 years in total in India.I am replying to this from India. I have hitchhiked from Mumbai to Puri and from Jaipur to Brindavan and Delhi. Have wandered with sadhus through villages and been in areas where they have not seen white people since the days of the Brits. I love it here and have been treated with great hospitality. I feel relaxed and safe here.

    I was pick pocketed once on a crowded commuter train in Mumbai and had someone pull a knife on me once somewhere in the Deccan Plateau asking for money. Those are the only times something has happened that was frightening. The pickpocket was not frightening except that I lost everything, but boy was he good at his job.

    I am cautious where it is necessary and after all these years not at all naive, but I do feel relaxed and safe here, but when necessary I do keep my guard up. Both my wife and I can get by in two languages. I am a male, so that is a different story than for a female.

    My wife came here first in 1973 and is here now. She spent a total so far of about 23 years in India . She has also generally felt safe but lately has thought ‘have I been naive since I hear so much bad stuff?’. She has never been raped or anything close to it. She does not know any other western women here who have been raped.. Has she been touched? Yes. She thinks maybe about 10 times in 23 years. Has she been rubbed against. Yes. At times in crowded buses, trains, and streets. Does she get stared at? Yes. I as a male foreigner get stared at in the villages in India, but certainly not the same as her.

    She never shakes hands with strange males, never has her photo taken with strange males, she walks with dignity with an invisible shield around her and usually wears Indian clothing. She never makes eye contact with strange men or with strangers.

    Could anything happen? Absolutely. I have female friends who have been stared at, whistled at and groped in Europe, particularly Italy. The incidents of rape of foreign women I believe is quite low in India when we consider the numbers and how they dress sometime. Sorry, people, it is generally still a very conservative country when it comes to things like that, whether we like it or not. There was a time, not so long ago, that if a woman travelled alone, she was seen almost as a prostitute. This is changing.

    Take care, do not be overly friendly with single men or groups of men. Keep your guard, but be confident and relaxed at the same time. If a strange man asks you for something, ignore him and keep on walking without feeling bad about it. Don’t be out in the dark at night unless it is a very built up area where there are other people. In most cases, even though it might be harrowing at times, India is generally safe for foreigners of both genders. Generally, from my experience and my wife’s it is a relatively (and I say relatively) safe, friendly and hospitable country. After a total of being here for over 40 years for the two of us this has been our experience.

    • Mariellen Ward June 3, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

      Thanks so much for leaving this comment here Murray. Your age and experience carry a lot of weight, and cut through a lot of the hype and misinformation. I really appreciate your perspective! If you want to write a guest post on Breathedreamgo, I am officially inviting you 🙂
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Hotels in Delhi: My top choicesMy Profile

      • Murray Feldman August 15, 2015 at 1:12 am #

        Hi Mariellen I would love to write something as a guest. I asked you a few things on FB messenger. Maybe you could get back to me about it.

  57. Rahul Reddy January 13, 2016 at 9:43 am #

    As long as you travel in South India and take minimum precautions you can be very safe.Regarding North you have to be more careful and on guard.

  58. Sophia October 6, 2016 at 6:22 am #

    Travel In South India is very safe.And lots of hill station,Beaches & National parks are here to visit.

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