How to Defend Yourself Against Assault in India
“You have very beautiful eyes.”
And with that statement, seemingly innocent and complimentary, the whole context of my conversation with the Indian man sitting next to me was immediately altered from a friendly exchange aboard an overnight bus to Bangalore to a heart stopping, potentially threatening situation.
By itself this incident seems perfectly harmless. And it’s tough and unfair to automatically jump to conclusions when one of the beauties of traveling is meeting and communicating with strangers. But after three months of living and traveling throughout India, after three months of the unrelenting inability to blend in as a white western woman, and after three months of frequent sexual harassment and molestation, I was on my guard. Big time.
During my stay in southern India, I, and many of the female volunteers I was acquainted with, had experienced multiple instances of uncomfortable staring, catcalling, marriage proposals, unwelcome cameras flashing in our faces, and groping.
During my stay in southern India, I, and many of the female volunteers I was acquainted with, had experienced multiple instances of uncomfortable staring, catcalling, marriage proposals, unwelcome cameras flashing in our faces, and groping. Fortunately, to my knowledge, nothing worse happened. But these occurrences were enough to keep us all on edge, even when we wore modest clothing and traveled in groups.
To be constantly vigilant and thinking about how to defend yourself is not only exhausting, but it diminishes your ability to fully immerse yourself in your surroundings.
To immerse yourself requires you to have trust in people, and sometimes that just isn’t safe. Most of my bad experiences occurred while traveling alone via bus, especially on overnight trips. I did my best to always have at least one travel companion, and I highly recommend making sure you are with another person on long, overnight bus or train trips throughout India.
How to Defend Yourself Against Assault in India.
If you are unable to do this, try to find a seat next to a woman or one in which you can easily get away. If this is not possible, and you find yourself next to a man and/or in an uncomfortable situation, do not let your fears control you. Be forceful and loud. Even if he doesn’t understand what you’re saying, he will understand your angry facial expressions, and your raised voice will attract the attention of other people. This should be enough to make him back off and leave you alone.
Being in a country in which you don’t understand the language, that has a tendency to discriminate against women, and has unfamiliar laws and police force structure is unbelievably intimidating. When I was attacked, I felt like I didn’t have any way to report the crime or seek punishment for the man who violated me. I felt entirely alone and defenseless, and that is a difficult thing to come to terms with. Upon returning to America, I felt like I could finally fully relax and breathe in a way that was impossible in India.
Although these are some unnerving and disturbing realities, it is important to not throw in the towel and forgo any future travels. Being the independent, adventuresome woman I am, I don’t want to adjust my travel plans in the name of misogyny and sexism.
When I was attacked, I felt like I didn’t have any way to report the crime or seek punishment for the man who violated me. I felt entirely alone and defenseless, and that is a difficult thing to come to terms with.
That would be akin to letting discrimination win, and I can’t stand for that. You shouldn’t let a few bad experiences prevent you from enjoying all the beautiful things the world has to offer. It is important to be aware of the issues and potential hazards you could be subjecting yourself to, but that doesn’t mean you have to hide in the confines of your comfort zone.
Since my stay in India, I am still somewhat anxious when I find myself in situations with strange men and am extremely wary when it comes to a man making physical contact with me. It is something that will unfortunately always stay with me. But the fact that in less than a month I’m packing up my backpack and heading to southeast Asia for three months–and solo traveling for some of the time–proves my resiliency and desire to give the world another chance.
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Have you traveled in India? What were your impressions? Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.