Last month, Gunjan Dixit, a 21-year-old Nepali student, was groped by a group of boys while walking to her gym in Koramangala. Gunjan said that this was not a one-off incident. She has also been a victim to several pinches and “accidental” pushes.
“I have now become more alert and try to avoid going to crowded places. I am also scared to travel at night,” she said.
While public discourse in the past few weeks, following the Delhi rape, has focussed on the lack of safety for women in public spaces, the fact is that it’s twice as tough for foreign students.
They are often stereotyped as “easy” and a soft target, many students told The Hindu.
Even in Bangalore, which wears its cosmopolitan tag on its sleeve, students complained that they felt “insecure and unsafe” on the roads and in public places.
Explaining the helplessness of students like her, Gunjan said that she feels cut off given the language barrier and without a family here.
Another Nepali student, Akanchha Karki, has faced sexual harassment abuse when an autorickshaw driver exposed himself during her commute to college. “The way people perceive foreign nationals is very different. Did he misbehave with me because I look different?” she asks.
Senashia Ekanayake, a Sri Lankan student, feels that things are easier for students from other countries in the Indian subcontinent as they cannot be easily identified as “foreign”, citing the example of her African friends who have found it harder to cope.
Although most colleges with a large number of international students on their rolls have an international student wing, students said that these only conduct cultural activities and don’t address the security concerns.
“So far we have not heard of any complaints from international students, but we have told the students that they can contact their mentors in case there is a problem,” said the coordinator of the international students’ cell at Mount Carmel College.
Sarala Unnikrishnan, Regional Director, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Bangalore, said that colleges with a large number of foreign students are advised to conduct orientation programmes for them so that they don’t face any difficulties within the college premises. “We tell international students that they need to be on their guard. At the same time there is a need for the local people to have a positive approach and make them feel safe,” she says.
Gunjan said that introducing measures such as an international cell at police stations would go a long way in encouraging students like her to report cases of sexual harassment.
The last word
However, Grace, an African studying in Bangalore, said: “No law can change the situation and help women like us feel safe. There is a need for a change in the mindset of people. They need to be more open-minded, only then will the city will be safe for women like me.”