Will India ever be safe for solo women travellers?

Prasanth Aby Thomas
Published: January 2015

The issue of women’s safety in India has been a persistent cause of concern for us, especially in the recent past as more and more women find the courage to speak about their experiences. Unfortunately, despite the natural outcry to each atrocious act, the ground reality is that nothing much has changed when it comes to making this country a secure place for women.

The latest incident of a Japanese student being held captive and gang-raped (by a group of men in which some were reportedly fluent in Japanese) has once again proved how weak our system still is. The case came to light after the woman who finally managed to reach Kolkata, contacted the Japanese Embassy who informed the police.

As if the incident itself was not horrific enough, its subsequent investigation has thrown light of an organized mafia targeting single women travellers and many of the members in this mafia were fluent in Japanese. How many other such groups do we have? Do we have to wait for more such incidents to unearth these abhorrent characters and bring them to justice?

An often heard argument is that many Indian men consider rape as the fault of women. To be frank, I never for a minute believed that Indian men are so clueless enough to think something like that. But a quick check on some facebook comments, some by guys I am familiar with also shared this perverted mentality. And I for a moment, felt I had never known my country!

Unfortunately, we Indians are still not conscious of the concept of safety. To many of us, safety is something we have to make sure ourselves. Sure, this is partly true, we are all ultimately responsible for ourselves, but there is a concept of safety beyond this, that allows more freedom in life and thus an opportunity to improve and develop ourselves and our nation.

However, we Indians are extremely sensitive to any form of criticism, even those which are clearly factual. In such a context will India ever be safe for women? And as the recent issue has made foreigners ask, will India be safe for single women travellers?

The answer to this question is far from easy. A quick search on the internet will show you that there are a lot of guides on how women can safely travel in India. A common factor in all this guides would be that you should be wary of strangers. If you are thinking this is an advice valid in any part of the world, you are quite right, but why is it that more single women travellers seem to get into trouble when they come to India than anywhere else?

Here we have no option but to accept that India needs to improve its infrastructure and security system. We need the police to step up its efforts, but above all, create an attitude to service that would encourage people to approach them at a time of need. Do these words sound too familiar? I am afraid they would be, as this is what we say each time another incident of rape is reported.

Perhaps it’s time to think beyond and find out what else we can do to make the system better. I don’t claim to have all the answers here, but I can clearly say that the first change to occur is that of our concept of safety.