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23 ways to prevent molestation in public

January 5, 2007

It’s all tumbling out of the closet. This recent molestation incident concerns an Australian woman from Sydney. She admitted on live television (CNN-IBN) yesterday that she and her boy-friend were right there – at the Gateway – and exactly the same kind of molestation that had happened to the unknown girl at the Gateway of India happened to her. There were tears in the couple’s eyes as they narrated the sordid saga of her being pinched, pushed, shoved and felt up. She asked her boy-friend to cover her from the back as that is where the hands were coming from. Finally they escaped…and ofcourse, cancelled the rest of their India trip. They are going back. They also spoke to Midday. Lee said: ‘We used to get strange looks from people for being foreigners, but we never really felt unsafe. After this incident, we fear for our safety. We are terrified.’ Midday also reported this incident where an American woman was molested by a fifteen-year old boy who had asked her to take his photograph at the Prince of Wales museum.

The bitter truth
This can happen to any girl or woman anywhere in India. But everyone, including the government, the travel agencies, the police and hotels gloss over the fact that eve-teasing and molestation is part and parcel of daily life in India. Nobody wants to know what the average woman suffers every single day at the hands of perverts. Rude and continuous staring at body parts, lewd remarks and gestures, brushing against women’s bodies, touching, grabbing and even hard pinching and twisting..these things happen all the time in all the cities in India. What exactly happens simply depends on opportunity the perverts get. It doesn’t matter how the girl is dressed (girls in traditional clothes are also teased and raped), how old she is (babies are felt up and yes, even raped), how pretty she is or where she is (patients in hospitals are felt up and raped). All that the perverts care about is that the victim is vulnerable and that they aren’t caught.

As we can’t depend on the police to stop this menace and we cannot change the mentality of these people, let’s save ourselves. It is not possible to stop the lewd remarks and staring – but molestation can be reduced.

Here are a few tips which will be of great use to the uninitiated, more so to those women new to India. This is specially for those women new to India, like foreign tourists for example.

These tips are not meant to try and tell Indian girls how to dress or how to behave. But after reading of cases of foreign women being caught in crowded suburban trains (when no local girl will travel in a male compartment) or of foreign women taking lifts from strangers without being able to judge the threat, I thought this post was required.

A few guidelines to prevent molestation..and er…they are just guidelines and not hard and fast rules!:

1) Do not go walk around in any crowded public place (meaning – packed with people like sardines are packed together, jostling, touching), whether it is a park, a procession, a celebration, a square or a market even if you are with someone, even if it is a known safe place and even if it is daylight. Be careful even in a discotheque or a party which is jam-packed with people you don’t know – complete strangers. It is possible that you might be touched inappropriately.

2) Generally speaking, shopping malls, streets and cinema halls are safe but it is possible to get caught in a crowd here too. If by chance you are caught in a rush of people (while entering or leaving a theatre for example), be alert.

3) If you go for a movie or any show, it’s best that the man accompanying you sits next to the man in the next seat. Most Indian couples do this naturally and no one thinks of it as unusual.

4) Do not under any circumstances travel in a crowded bus. If you take a local train then only use the ladies compartment. (An NRI I know traveled in a general compartment and had a bad time – it was rush hour.) An overwhelming majority of cab and rickshaw drivers are decent, at least in Mumbai and Pune (I cannot vouch for any other city) but do avoid going around in a cab or rickshaw alone in the middle of the night. I guess this is a precaution you would take in your home town too. Traveling alone after 11 p.m in any strange city is risky, specially in certain countries.

5) If you catch anyone leering at you or if you hear a lewd remark, best ignore it if you are alone. However if you are being touched you can make a fuss if you have the time. There is no guarantee of the public coming to your support though and the decision to react is entirely your own.

6) If you have to hand over money or recieve change from anyone, I mean a guy whom you think could be leching, it is better that you diplomatically suggest that they keep the change on the counter. If you do it casually no one will get offended.

7) Avoid eye-contact with strange men. Generally, women talking to strange men is unusual here unless it is a commercial exchange like in a shop or restaurant.

8. Do not share taxis or rickshaws with strangers. Ever. And definitely avoid getting into a cab or rick if there is another person next to the driver, his friend or relative. There have been many crimes committed in these type of situations.

9) My suggestion is that avoid traveling to India as a tourist if you are a single woman. Single women living in India know the ways here. A single foreigner will not unless she has lots of guidance from a local. If she has the guidance then she can always take the necessary precautions.

10) Avoid small talk and chatting with cabbies, shop-keepers or other strange men. While most men might be decent, how are you going to judge who isn’t? As a foreigner you will not be able to. Don’t accede to any male’s request to take his photograph and never ask any man to take yours. An Indian woman approached in this way will probably snub the man. There is no way of knowing whether the man wants  help or is acting fresh. Most probably he is trying to be fresh because in a such a situation an Indian man will approach another man to take his photo, not a woman.

11) A hotel employee might genuinely want to help you, as part of the ‘good service’ of the hotel. However, be alert. If the man looks at your breasts or crotch, refuse the help. There are always ladies around who can help.

12) It’s a sad reflection on our society but a woman who shows skin (legs above the knees, low cut top) is thought to be a woman who wants or deserves to be ogled at and molested. I am not saying that the clothes are the cause of the eve-teasing, because women in all kinds of clothes are teased because finally it is the locality which counts. A locality with louts and lafangas will mean more eve-teasing for girls and women, and even elderly women will not be spared, nor little girls. Walking around in short clothes does attract attention and that’s a fact however much feminists deny it.  Sure, it’s time our public got used to women dressing the way they want to, and if you can handle the attention you get, go ahead.

These are not hard and fast rules, simply tips. But generally you find that in India, girls in minis go around in cars, and do not use public transport. It is safe wearing a mini dress in a mall or even on the streets, specially if you are accompanied by a male, and you can always ignore the attention. You may be able to handle it. In fact in Mumbai its very common to see young girls in short skirts and in certain areas no one will give you a second glance.

13) Any woman who sits in a restaurant alone or is in fact even walking alone is considered a fair target by road-side romeos. By this I mean that there will be eve-teasing. Again I am not saying don’t do it. I am saying be aware and be alert to people following you.

14) Be alert while standing in lines – airport lines, railway station lines or in fact any line. The guy behind you could be a pervert (don’t be fooled if he is well-dressed). It is easy for a man to sidle up to you in a line so casually and so quickly that you will only know when the feeling up or breathing down your neck process is over.

15) While walking on the road always be aware of those behind you. It’s not just a pick-pocket that you have to watch out for, but a pervert who will try to brush against you. There have also been several cases of cyclists coming from behind and grabbing a breast as they cycle past. This usually happens on deserted roads or at night. It happens often in Delhi.

16) Do not hang around alone in any one place for too long. People will notice and might get interested. I guess this could happen anywhere in the world.

17) Do not for god’s sake travel to an Indian village unless you are in a group or with family. I know that the author of Shantaram (Gregory Roberts) did it but he was a toughie. Law and order in villages is not as good as it is in the cities. Rape is far more common in the country-side. You will realise if you read this article or this.

18) It goes without saying that do not ever go out to a deserted place. This applies to any place in the world I guess.

19) If you have to return home at night make sure you have trusted company and a vehicle with a trusted driver. In many cases of rape and molestation, drivers have been involved. If you do get a decent driver, best not to be chatty.

20) Occasions like New Year’s when people get drunk and are feeling festive are dangerous nights. Even people in a vehicle can be stopped. Anything can happen. People I know make it a habit to stay the night at the party and leave the next morning.

21) Wearing a swimsuit can attract stares unless you are in a good hotel…or in places like Goa! Ofcourse if you don’t care about the stares, it’s fine.

22) Do not imagine that the public (no, not even women) or the police will support you. Lewd remarks, leering and touching strange women are not considered serious issues. Women who talk about it are thought to be making too much fuss. Unless ofcourse you are in a decent place and/or in a group…but then this might not happen in the first place. These kind of incidents usually happen when a woman is alone – at a railway station or in a bus. So do not assume that the public will support you.

23) Carry a pepper spray at all times. You may ofcourse never need it.

Safety issues in different cities based on my personal experiences:

DELHI – a city in which I lived for almost 6 years.
This city is unsafe for women. Being alone in any public place is a risk even in the day . Going out after dark is positively dangerous. Ogling, lewd remarks, touching is a daily ocurrence. Rape statistics are high. Women drivers are often heckled. Cab and rickshaw drivers are not to be trusted.

CALCUTTA – a city in which I lived in for 4 years.
Though the city is generally safe, there are not too many women on the roads. One of the reasons is that the percentage of working women in this city is not too high. However, even in vegetable markets I was usually surrounded by men buying vegetables. It felt odd. Yes, there is plenty of staring but as long as you avoid going out after dark chances of being molested are very low. I have traveled in Calcutta by a public bus (not crowded) and have never faced a problem. Once on the metro I had a bad experience – in a crowd. While the local Bengali people are respectful towards women, there are a lot of bad elements from other states who live there. This city is not safe after dark.

BANGALORE – We lived here for a good four years.
It is generally safe to move around alone in this city. You will find plenty of women on the roads, in rickshaws, behind the wheel in cars, in pubs…infact everywhere! This itself makes one feel safe. However there is ogling and leering and in some places you might get a rough crowd. Take all precautions and avoid traveling alone at night. Just this summer (May 2006) my daughter’s friend was walking to a bus-stop in Jayanagar alone (by chance there was no one else in sight on the road) at 10 p.m. and two men on a scooter came up to her, jumped off the scooter and molested her. They were rough and she was bruised. She started screaming loudly and they ran away. This girl was badly shaken but she did not report the incident to the police.

MUMBAI – I have lived here for three years now but have been visiting this city ever since I was a child.
Generally safe, even in the evenings. Here too there are plenty of women on the road, in public places, in vegetable markets, in offices…everywhere. However there are cheap men here too and one needs to be alert. The only bad experience I have had in this city has been at the railway station.

PUNE – my birthplace and a city where I have lived for over a decade.
Like Mumbai and Bangalore there are plenty of women in public places in this city. I have had several bad experiences in crowded buses – once when I was in the seventh grade and on the way to school in a 35 number bus, a Sadhu (holy man) in orange robes who was climbing into the bus behind me took out his thing and tried to touch me with it. It was one of the sickest experiences I have had. And I have had a bad experience in a Ganpati (Holy) procession on Pune’s Laxmi’s road. I had gone with a group of two other girls (it was six in the evening) and all of us were surrounded by a gang of boys and touched. We were all just 14 years old. Since then I have never gone to see a Ganapati and do not allow my daughters to see them either. In fact religious processions are taboo as it usually means huge crowds.

AHMEDABAD – I have not lived here but my daughter who is a teenager, has.
This city is full of road-side romeos who leer at women. It is supposed to be a safe city in many ways but there is plenty of eve-teasing.

MEERUT – I lived here for one month
Horrible place. Even walking in a group of girls invites lewd marks (in the day-time too). Absolutely unsafe for women.

But I must add something here. I lived in a city called Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania for two years. This is an African country and when I went there I was all prepared for an onslaught of lecherous men. But there were none! Our driver there never looked at my breasts (here drivers all do and if breasts are not visible they try and get a glimpse one way or the other!) and in the shops the men were polite and respectful. I used to buy vegetables from the main market (crowded), but no man ever tried to caress my hand as he handed over packages or change. I have never been stared and ogled at there either. It was such a huge relief that I wanted to stay in Tanzania forever! I felt free.
Once, I went to a seedy place in Dar to buy movie tickets and I saw a group of heavily built African youths with tattoos lounging around just outside the ticket window. It was clear that they were poor and that they were rough types. There was no one around and my car was parked at a distance. I hesitated, but only for a few seconds. The men had not even looked up as I approached. So I went right to the window and bought the tickets. They did not even look at me inspite of me being dressed in tight jeans and top and being a foreigner! I could not get over this incident and thought about it for days afterward. I came to the conclusion that in India many men are lecherous without respect for women. They could be starved for sex and therefore look at every women from the sex angle. They simply cannot see women as human beings.
By the way – sex in Tanzania is no big deal. The society is very open that way. Why should I judge them? I think they are far more moral than us. Forcing unwanted attention on a female is immoral. Consensual sex is not.

Note 1: In this article I am only suggesting ways to avoid harassment on the streets and in other public places. If I am not advocating confronting a guy (I have got feedback saying that confrontation is the way to deal with it!) because if one confronts a guy on the street it would be like confronting one every few days/weeks. In these circumstances it will become impossible to live. I am not talking about dealing with rapists or even sexual assault. Nor am I referring to office harassment as harassment in the workplace which can be continuous and has many ramifications. That has to be dealt with differently. Also, one comment by someone directed me to another woman’s (a westerner) site which had tips on how to deal with the problems of sexual harassment. She suggested talking with the guy and looking him in the eye and slowly convincing him that she is worthy of respect. This was so ridiculous that I wanted to laugh! Certainly it is a mistake to do this on the street or in a public place. I will never do it. Looking a stranger in the bus in the eye and trying to talk it out with him!! How stupid. I would never advise anyone to do it.

Note 2: A lot of foreigners who come to this post find the advise a little weird. Well, what I am saying is not new to those who live in India. I would advise those who are not familiar with India to simply google search words like eve-teasing, rape, molestation, sexual harassment along with words like India, urban, rural and they will find that the picture is indeed a grim one. I am giving one link here: It tells you that “preventing situations from developing in the first place is important…Do not promote undue familiarity, especially if you are a woman. Indian women keep a good distance from men who are strangers. Touching, even hand shaking, is inappropriate.” This site is for tourists but believe me it’s pretty mild. They don’t want to frighten away the tourists. The documents you get in India for Indians are far more revealing and hard-hitting.

My advise may not be politically correct and it may not be perfect but then these are just guidelines, that’s all. Every individual is different and every individual situation is different.

Update: A shocking incident of molestation. Some girls, some from Jai Hind College were molested near Wankhede Stadium on Marine Drive in Mumbai. This happened on 26th of September 2007 when our cricketers were riding in an open bus to celebrate their win in the T20 World Cup. This was an open bus and there were huge crowds along the way. This is the link to the incident. This incident was largely hushed up as the girls (who came from good families) refused to report the incident to the police.
The girls were molested very badly and apparently a lot more girls were molested and seen crying on the side of the road. Groups of men surrounded the girls and did whatever they could. This is a part and parcel of our society now and everyone should beware. The police do nothing and give stupid statements like these things did not happen at one time. They always happened in India and always will unless these offenders are put behind bars for at least 10 years. Is that harsh punishment for these molesters? I don’t think so. No girl is safe in crowds in any city in India.

Related Reading: Reasons and Solutions for Molestation.
Why is eve-teasing accepted in India?
Molestation of a girl at the Gateway of India
The psychology of rapists
Men who see women as sex objects improve with counseling
Teenagers in India have to lie about their relationships with the opposite sex
Societal values make many Indian teens see dating as a prelude to marraige

108 Comments leave one →
  1. Sneha permalink
    August 2, 2016 9:36 pm

    Nice article. I agree with everything said here. I have lived for 25 years in India in the major cities of India and incidents happened still give me night mares. Most of the men are so arrogant and iltreat the women. They have no respect. Staring and molestation is just common. I faced it even in US by Indian men. It’s not the place that make men to do this its their cheap mentality. Sometimes I feel so helpless and angry towards them. Yes There is a huge need to take some actions towards educating men with their attitude and behavior.

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