Travel advisories apart, foreign women tourists find Bangalore safe enough
Predatory attacks on foreign women tourists are taking the sheen off Incredible India and the latest reported incident involves a South Korean woman being targeted on a Kolkata bus. This, after the gang rape of a Swiss woman in Madhya Pradesh and a British woman leaping off her second floor room to flee sexual assault by the hotel manager.
Tourism in India is a major revenue-making sector. India Tourism Statistics at a Glance cites that in 2011, 63 lakh tourists brought Rs.77,591 crore to India. So it does not bode well that last week, the British Foreign Office updated its advisory for India, warning women tourists to “exercise caution when travelling in India even if they are travelling in a group”.
The U.S. State Department asks women travellers to “observe stringent security precautions” and “avoid travelling alone in hired taxis, especially at night”.
As for Switzerland, its Foreign Ministry advisory urged both men and women visiting India to travel in large groups and with guides.
Though Control Risks, a global risk assessment agency deemed these attacks — even though serious and violent — relatively rare in India, foreigners visiting Bangalore talk about diverse sets of experiences.
Jennifer Wilson (26), a master’s student studying developmental studies in Ireland, had come down for a few months to Bangalore for her research thesis on the transgender community. She stayed with a family here and felt it to be much safer than she had originally imagined. However, even she was exposed to unpleasant situations at times. “I moved from a hostel to a hotel for a few nights when I got very sick and an employee of the hotel took pictures of me. Later, someone tried to saw into my room. The manager told me it was some rodent. I bought a small knife the next morning and carried it with me throughout the rest of the trip. I also had a car full of guys chase me one night when I was returning home late. Overall, though I walked around the streets, came home late in autorickshaws and went to the night markets, I felt that, despite these incidents, people were friendly and kind, yet strangely fascinated [by me].
“I met men who helped me to find accommodation and showed me around the city without any ulterior motive. They were kind [and] seemed to want to make sure I was safe in their city. The impression I was left with was one of invasive hospitality, if that makes sense. Privacy and boundaries of physical space [and so on] were not respected, which is hard for an Irish person. But the people I encountered genuinely wanted me to be okay apart from a small few.”
Aleksandra Kubiak (29), a kindergarten teacher from Poland, travelled to India on a holiday with another female friend. Asked about how safe she felt here, she had this to say: “I did not experience any issue with regard to my safety, though I felt constantly observed and [people] were taking pictures of me without asking. In Bangalore though, I didn't experience any issues: people were friendly and helpful.”
Roxanne Webb (27), a student from Belgium holidaying in India, said: “I was very anxious because of the stories I had heard but I only met friendly people, so maybe the anxiety was unfounded. Actually I never had bad experiences during that month.”
Joint Commissioner of Police Pranab Mohanty has his take: “India is one of the safest countries to travel in. There will of course be criminal [elements] but that’s why the police are there. Bangalore is one of the safest cities in India for women [wherever they are from].”