As our plane touched down in Delhi my nerves were on edge. I was wearing my most unattractive ensemble (to hide any semblance of the female form), I hadn’t washed in days and I had already been felt up at four different checkpoints between checking in and boarding the plane at Kathmandu airport. (Those Nepalese officials prefer the intimate approach to security every time!)
After traveling through Nepal and experiencing the best traveling has to offer:
- Being pushed by a middle-aged man into a rabid dog fight (whilst he hid behind me)
- admitting I was probably going to hell after denying beggar children rupees and offering food instead
- being walked in on in a squat toilet
- defecating on the side of the road
- Being serenaded by a stoned Israeli at 7am
- Asked ‘what paradise do you come from?’ as a legitimate question
Why was I so worried about arriving in Delhi?
The reason for my hesitation was that, despite the vivid experience of traveling to a new and third world country, Nepal was a breeze. The people were delightful, the cities were busy, dirty and exactly what you need to shake up your wealthy western ideals. Ya know what I mean? Just get some fucking perspective.
So yes, my irrational fear of Delhi…
Not long before I left home, Delhi was given a new name by the Australian media — Rape City. For those of you who live under a rock, a few months ago a woman was gang-raped on a bus in the Indian capital.
This event was and still is, one of the more horrific news stories I have followed. It sparked international outrage and brought attention to the way women are treated in India. Ever a country of contradictions, India’s women are scientists, teachers, doctors, nurses, writers, philosophers, and politicians. They also number as India’s largest percentage of illiterate and disadvantaged in every sense.
Domestic violence, rape, widow shaming, dowry burnings, child brides, female infanticide… am I missing anything? The list of hard knocks for Indian women goes on and the world’s largest democracy is taking its sweet time in dealing with the issues.
So how does this affect me? An educated, wealthy (comparatively) female westerner.
Well, I was about to step out into a city where many people I had spoken to were genuinely afraid for my safety. ‘You are going to Delhi? What!’
In the weeks after the story broke and I left Australia, I was told to cover up, wear a wedding ring, not go out at night, dye my hair…the sense of fear and foreboding was palpable.
I imagined I would be met at the airport by thousands of pawing, desperate hands clawing at me through the arrival gate. All too ready to drug, rape and murder me.
What I found instead was that Delhi is a modern and spacious city. The ATMs work, the men stare but don’t salivate at you, there are women out and about and everywhere people are living relatively normal non-tourist murdering lives. The issues of being a female traveler in India are no different from anywhere else, don’t be a douche-bag and use your common sense. If you’ve ever been on the train to Frankston, you’ll be fine.
I’m in no way trying to simplify the situation for women in India. There are many things that need to change for my female counterparts to feel truly equal in their home country. Interestingly, India had a female president in 2007, at a time before an Australian woman has ever been elected as Prime Minister.
What frustrated me was that I realised that women are often scared out of doing things ‘for their own safety’. If I’d listened to some of the advice I’d heard, I might not have come to Delhi. I would have missed out on the best dosa masala I’ve ever had and missed the chance to really see if it was Rape City for myself.
Yes, there are many issues that affect Indian women. Rape is a horrific and brutal crime and the Indian government need to deal with it by swiftly enabling correct court procedures for victims and penalties for those who offend.
But terrible things happen everywhere and unless bombs are dropping, I don’t think negative news stories should affect your decision to travel to an entire country. Whenever you travel, be aware and safe. Fear doesn’t do anything to lessen the issues that affect everyday Indian women, but education and female empowerment does.