Tourists should just learn to adjust

A short Facebook post about how hard it is for women to travel in India went viral a few weeks ago, prompting a whole lot of people to weigh in. Some believed the tourist was right to complain, while a few others pointed out that some awful experiences weren’t enough to label a whole country as inhospitable or unsafe. The complaint mentioned how Indians insist on cheating tourists at every available opportunity, and pointedly requested Indian men to stop staring at women for no reason.
 
My first reaction was disbelief, because I couldn’t imagine any female tourist feeling unsafe in India. This is arguably one of the safest countries on the planet for women, and anyone who disagrees with that is clearly an enemy of the state. Ask any woman you know if they feel unsafe on any of our streets, and the responses may surprise you. I couldn’t imagine any foreigner being harassed by Indian men who, as everyone knows, are the most well-behaved, docile creatures on our streets, after cows. Who amongst us has ever seen an Indian man stare at a woman, let alone try and touch her in an inappropriate manner?

Despite what I felt, I couldn’t get the complaint out of my head so, out of curiosity, I decided to Google recent experiences involving tourists across India. I wanted to get a sense of whether that complaint deserved to be taken more seriously, and whether untoward incidents involving foreign visitors ever occur within our safe borders. Here’s what I found: 

In March 2023, three people were taken into custody in connection with the alleged harassment and manhandling of a woman from Japan in Delhi on Holi. The incident surprised me because women are never harassed during any of our festivals, which meant this was obviously an aberration. Women love our festivals because they don’t involve catcalls, leering, or molestation. Ask your female family members for proof.

That same month, a 29-year-old Dutch woman was allegedly molested and stabbed by a staffer at a resort in Goa, hours after she arrived for a yoga retreat. This was surprising too, because our hotels have always been safe and no one I know has ever been molested in one. The incident was obviously a mistake, and the worker in question was probably just showing the tourist what India’s famed hospitality is really like.

Then, in June 2023, a Dutch YouTuber was attacked by a man in Bangalore because he was upset about something. Again, this made no sense because we are among the least angry people on Earth. When was the last time you saw anyone lose their temper on our placid streets? A month later, five men were arrested for attacking a tourist in Agra. There was also video footage of the tourist running inside a shop to save himself from the men who were reportedly holding batons. I don’t have access to the facts regarding this incident, but I’m pretty sure the tourist must have been at fault. After all, we are a nation renowned for our commitment to non-violence.

In November 2023, an engineering student travelling by train during Diwali put up a post claiming to feel unsafe on the train because several ticketless travellers were drunk and openly trying to molest women passengers. I didn’t believe this because the student who put up the post happened to be Indian. Have you ever heard of an Indian feeling unsafe in India? I dismissed the post assuming the person was probably a member of some minority community.

Another video went viral in December, featuring a Russian tourist being repeatedly harassed by a petrol pump worker in Jaipur. Apparently, the tourist was touched by the worker multiple times, which doesn’t make sense because women are never touched without their permission in India. That same month, a South Korean YouTuber was recording a video somewhere in Maharashtra when two men popped up beside her and one put his arms around her shoulder.

This year had its share of alleged incidents too. In January, a 30-year-old British woman complained of sexual harassment on a Hampi-Bengaluru train, and filed a case of sexual harassment against an unidentified person who allegedly took advantage of her sick condition under the guise of helping her.

There were more news reports, all of which made me feel as if the fault lies not in India or Indians, but with tourists who choose to visit us. Why can’t they just Google before turning up?

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira

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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper

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