Posted by Social Media Intern Veronica Owen
Photo taken by Veronica Owen on a train between New Dehli and Varanasi, India.
While India is an exciting place to explore the expanding cities, haggle with shopkeepers, and learn about a variety of cultures, the country has recently begun to pose a danger for female citizens and visitors. New Delhi, in northern India, is alone home to over 7 million women and many female travelers, solo and in groups, yet many feel unsafe in the area after a series of rapes that have plagued the country. In fact, the problems involving rape and the treatment of the female population has become something that makes many female travelers wonder how safe it is for them to travel to India.
Michaela Cross is an American student who took a trip abroad to India for three months to do something similar to what I did when I traveled there: to see some of the most beautiful sites and learn about the many cultures. She was stalked countless times, groped in all sorts of situations, and even had hotel staff try to rape her roommate and sexually harass her through the phone. Michaela describes her time as “a traveler’s heaven and a women’s hell.” She tried to prepare for the sexual harassment she might face throughout her travels, but found there was no way to prepare for everything:
There was no way to prepare for the eyes, the eyes that every day stared with such entitlement at my body, with no change of expression whether I met their gaze or not.
Michaela’s quote continues:
Walking to the fruit seller’s or the tailer’s I got stares so sharp that they sliced away bits of me piece by piece. I was prepared for my actions to be taken as sex signals; I was not prepared to understand that there were no sex signals, only women’s bodies to be taken, or hidden away.
Michaela is not the only foreign traveler affected by the sexual assault in India. In March of 2013, a Swiss woman was gang-raped while her husband was tied to a tree in Madhya Pradesh. And yet many officials in India say that it was the couple’s fault for staying the night in a dangerous area. Beyond that, hundreds of female travelers are groped on a daily basis and have no way of reporting it other than warning other female travelers.
As a female visitor to India myself, I was warned of the possibility of being groped on public transportation many times. All of the females in my group were told that if we were groped to tell one of the leaders at once. At one point, we took train cars that were separated according to gender in order to prevent some of the sexual harassment. While my group was lucky to have no one groped, the threat was constantly there.
Yet female travelers are not the only ones worried. While much of the press on this issue has focused on the experiences of female travelers, women who live in India are the ones who face this threat of sexual assault in the cities where they live and work. Imagine feeling afraid to do something as evidently non-risky as to walk 500 feet after dark to a coffee shop. The threat is real. In December of 2012, a 23-year-old female student was gang-raped before being beaten to near death while taking a bus through New Delhi. In April of 2013, a 7-year-old girl was led into a train bathroom from a nearby park and raped by a family friend. Rape is becoming more common in India, but females are continuously groped. Stories like these — and Michaela’s — are crucial in spreading awareness about this issue. Bhavyaa Sharma, a student at one of the women’s colleges in New Delhi, told CNN about the times she felt vulnerable in her own city:
“’It [being groped] wasn’t traumatic. But I cannot forget it, either. Definitely, I cannot forget it… I feel vulnerable here,’ said Bhavyaa accompanied by her classmates. ‘I am very sure about it. Delhi is not safe for women.’”