SAFETY: The topic of women travelling, specially unaccompanied, always brings on bitter debate with safety concerns escalating in recent years
The UK travel advisory issued this year has some disquieting warnings for those intending to travel to India and Goa
By GO Staff
WOMEN should use caution when travelling in India. Reported cases of sexual assault against women and young girls are increasing; recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas and cities show that foreign women are also at risk. British women have been the victims of sexual assault in Goa, Delhi, Bangalore and Rajasthan and women travellers often receive unwanted attention in the form of verbal and physical harassment by individuals or groups of men. Serious sexual attacks involving Polish, German and Danish women travellers were reported in 2014. In January 2015, a Japanese woman was kidnapped and sexually assaulted close to Bodh Gaya and a Russian woman was seriously assaulted by an auto-rickshaw driver in the Vasant Kunj area of New Delhi. In July 2016 an Israeli national was sexually assaulted by a number of men while travelling in Manali. Women travellers should exercise caution when travelling in India even if travelling in a group.
If you’re a woman travelling in India you should respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, when alone at any time of day.
Avoid travelling alone on public transport, or in taxis or auto-rickshaws, especially at night. If you have to use a taxi get them from hotel taxi ranks and exercise caution when using pre-paid taxis at airports as there have been instances of British tourists becoming the victims of a scam by taxi drivers and others who offer cheap transportation and/or hotels, unwanted tours and extended taxi rides. Travellers who accept these offers have reported being threatened with violence when they have declined to pay.
Try to avoid hailing taxis on the street. If you’re being collected at the airport by a hotel driver make sure they have properly identified themselves before you set off. If you book a taxi online, there’s a facility whereby you can let your friends/families know the details of your journey in case of an emergency. You can send your details to pre-selected contacts who can then pinpoint your exact location. If you’re the victim of abuse call 100 for police assistance or 1091 or 1096 if you’re the victim of sexual harassment.
Take care of your passport and bank cards, particularly when travelling by bus and train. Do not leave your luggage unattended on trains at all. There has been an increase in handbag snatching in Delhi. Keep a photocopy of your passport, Indian visa and flight ticket separately from the originals when travelling. If your passport is lost or stolen notify the police immediately and obtain a police report.
Be wary of confidence tricksters, particularly in Goa, Agra and Jaipur, who promise large amounts of cash for delivery of jewellery abroad in return for an initial deposit. The jewellery is worthless and the deposit, often amounting to thousands of pounds, is lost.
If you’re travelling into Mumbai‘s International Airport and transiting between International Terminal 2 and the Domestic Terminal 1A and 1B, you should be aware that the shuttle service between them can be inconsistent. You should allow sufficient time for any transit between flights. At any of these terminals please be alert to unofficial taxi drivers who may charge high fares. Official pre-paid taxi services are available and many hotels offer airport transfer facilities.
THERE have been a few serious incidents involving British nationals, most recently the murder of a young female traveller in March 2017. See our travel tips for women travellers for further advice. You should observe and respect local dress and customs. Take particular care of your bags and purses and avoid unlit and remote beaches after dark. Keep your passport and other valuables safe.
Don’t leave your drinks unattended. There have been reports of drinks being spiked and travellers, including British nationals, subsequently being robbed or assaulted.
You should follow warnings posted at beaches and instructions issued by lifeguards. Every year several people drown due to the strong currents in the sea. Emergency service standards may differ from those in the UK.
Road traffic accidents are common and many fatal accidents occur each year. Wear a good quality helmet if renting a motorcycle or scooter.
Possession or consumption of drugs is illegal. If arrested, you may be incarcerated for several years whilst your case comes to trial, and a conviction for either offence may lead to a very long prison sentence.
CAR and motorbike accidents are one of the biggest causes of injury and death overseas. Several British nationals die each year on Indian roads. If possible, avoid travelling at night. Always travel in a well-maintained vehicle with seatbelts. If you travel by motorbike, wear a helmet and proper footwear.
TOURIST boats and other small crafts rarely carry life-saving equipment.
Although piracy has not so far affected India’s territorial waters, it poses a significant threat in parts of the Indian Ocean, especially for shipping/mariners that don’t take appropriate precautions or follow agreed shipping industry best practice guidelines. Mariners should be vigilant.
THERE are strong currents off many coasts. Most beaches don’t have warning signs, flags or life-saving equipment. Drownings are common.
DON’T accept food or drinks from strangers. There have been reports of travellers being drugged and robbed on trains often on overnight journeys. Take particular care of your passport and valuables when boarding and while on the train. Avoid individuals at railway stations offering tickets and tours.
POLITICAL rallies and demonstrations occur frequently throughout the country and can turn violent, particularly around elections. Transport and public services may be disrupted at short notice.
TERRORISTS are very likely to try to carry out attacks in India. Terrorist attacks are carried out by a number of terrorist and insurgent groups including Lashkar-e Tayyiba, Jaish-e Mohammed and the Indian Mujahideen. There have been recent media reports suggesting Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL) interest in attacking targets in India. There may be an increased threat to places visited by British nationals such as religious sites, markets, festival venues and beaches.
While the main focus of terrorist attacks has been against Indian government interests, terrorists have also targeted places visited by westerners including public places like restaurants, hotels, railway stations, markets, places of worship, festivals and sporting venues. Be vigilant, especially in public places. Always monitor local media before planning your travel for any local travel warnings. If you see unattended baggage, report it promptly. Security has been strengthened, notably at major hotels and transport hubs (airports, railway and metro stations). Take particular care in the lead up to and on days of national significance, like Republic Day (January 26), Independence Day (August 15), Diwali (October 19, 2017) and Eid (June 26, 2017).
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Local laws and customs
DRUGS are illegal in India. There is a minimum sentence of 6 months for possession of small amounts deemed for personal consumption only. A 10-year sentence for possession of other amounts applies. The judicial process is slow and pre-trial detention lasting several years is normal.
It’s illegal to buy, sell, kill or capture any protected wild animal or trade its parts without a licence. India has a strong legal framework to regulate and restrict wildlife trade and is also a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). If you’re caught purchasing or trafficking such goods illegally, you will be prosecuted and receive prison sentences or fines.
The laws governing alcohol vary from state to state. Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Bihar, Gujarat, Kerala, Manipur, Nagaland and the union territory of Lakshadweep. Consumption or possession of alcohol in prohibited states can lead to arrest without bail and charges which carry a sentence of 5 to 10 years. In some states foreign nationals and non-resident Indians are able to buy 30-day alcohol permits. Seek advice from your local travel agent/hotel or the authorities to ensure you’re aware of any alcohol prohibition in the state.
During major religious festivals, national holidays and elections a ban on the sale of alcohol is often imposed.
Indian customs has strict rules about goods and currency that can be brought into and taken out of the country. Failure to declare contents you’re carrying which may be prohibited or subject to a tax or duty payment can lead to heavy penalties including imprisonment.
You can find more information about the list of items and rules and regulations on the Indian Customs website.
On December 11, 2013, the Indian Supreme Court set aside a 2009 ruling of the Delhi High Court that decriminalised homosexuality. Although prosecutions of gay people are rare, conviction for engaging in a homosexual act could lead to a prison sentence. See our advice page for LGBT travellers.
British nationals have been arrested for bringing satellite phones into India without prior permission from the Indian authorities. More information on the use of satellite phones can be found on the Department of Telecommunications’ website.
You may need prior permission from the Indian authorities to bring equipment like listening or recording devices, radio transmitters, powerful cameras or binoculars into India. Seek advice from the Indian High Commission in London.
There may be very serious penalties for breaking a law which might seem trivial to you, or for doing something which may not be illegal in the UK. Hobbies involving cameras and binoculars, like bird-watching or plane spotting, may be misunderstood particularly near military sites, government buildings, airports and railway stations.
The penalties for paedophile offences are severe.
Indian family law is very different from UK law and particular caution is needed when, for example, child custody becomes an issue.
On November 30, 2016, India’s supreme court ruled that the national anthem must be played in every cinema before a film is screened. Audiences are expected to stand when the anthem is played.
ADDITIONAL SAFETY MEASURES FOR WOMEN
Stay safe in your accommodation
Use your first initial and no title (‘Miss’, ‘Ms’ or ‘Mrs’) when checking in
Never leave your key where someone can note your room number
Don’t leave your window open, especially if your room is on the ground floor or has a balcony
Lock your room door when you are inside the room
If the door has a spy-hole or chain, use these before opening the door to unexpected visitors
When you’re out and about
Be respectful of local dress codes and cover up as appropriate
In some countries, it helps to wear a ring on your wedding finger to avoid unwanted attention
Be aware that what might be taken for harmless flirting in the UK might be interpreted differently in some countries
Avoid walking alone in deserted areas, such as the beach, at night
Don’t tell strangers where you are staying or details about your travel plans
Plan your daily itinerary: know where you’re going and how to get back
Ask your hotel or hostel to recommend a taxi firm
Store the number and address of your accommodation on your phone in case you get lost
If you ever feel uncomfortable or in danger, don’t be afraid to draw attention to yourself by shouting and making a fuss.
In English-speaking countries you may receive more attention if you shout ‘fire!’ rather than ‘help!’
Drug-assisted rape or ‘date rape’
Drugs are increasingly being used in rape. Once someone has added drugs to your drink, you won’t normally be able to detect them. Rape drugs can also work in non-alcoholic drinks, such as coffee and tea. They are normally colourless and tasteless, and can make you virtually unconscious and defenceless.
Drink responsibly: alcohol is the most frequently used drug in drug-assisted rape. Don’t leave drinks unattended and don’t accept drinks from strangers. If you begin to feel strange, sick or drunk after only a couple of drinks tell a trusted friend. They should take you to a safe place, such as your hotel room. If you’re alone, phone the local police, a hospital or the nearest British embassy or consulate.