It was during the second week of January, last year, when I arrived for the first time in India. After landing in Delhi, I was able to explore the ancient city for some days before leaving for my workplace in another part of India. I was not unfamiliar with the culture, which I had been studying for the past three years at the University in my home country, and neither was I unaware of the dangers and the difficulties that a foreign woman roaming alone in Delhi could face, even during daytime.
On my second day in India, I was walking on the streets of central Delhi, and going towards a Lakshmi Temple. Despite the distance being a few kilometres, I chose to walk and look around instead of rushing in an autorickshaw. That’s when a guy, looking simple and nice, approached me. He started walking next to me, smiling and asking me questions. It was kind of pleasant to have a chat with someone who genuinely looked like he wanted to know more about me, my country, my studies and at the same time shared things about his life. He offered to walk with me to the temple, which was no more than two kilometres away. I agreed.
After a while, he suggested that I take a different road. As it seemed to me that it was going more or less in the same direction where I was headed, I said yes, mostly because I didn’t want to seem rude after a nice conversation.
After 15 minutes the road became narrow, more dark and isolated. People around seemed a bit different, and so I stopped, saying that I preferred to go back. The look on his face changed and he started insisting that I follow him and asking me why I didn’t trust him. The feeling was strange. There were people looking at us and I didn’t feel comfortable. Until a policeman whistled and quickly came towards us.
The guy started walking away, but the policeman shouted at him and ordered him to stop. They talked for a long time, and while I was staring at the scene the policeman asked me many times whether this guy had been importuning me. I really didn’t know what to say. Call me stupid or naive, but I didn’t make the situation worse and accuse him. The young fellow was imploring me to say that he had done nothing wrong.
I was speechless. Mostly, because I really didn’t want to think that a person who had been so kind and gentle to me was someone who had bad intentions. That is precisely what struck me. The idea of being a vulnerable, easy target for some people, and nothing more.
Finally, the policeman told me they had been looking for him as he had cheated many people before. Eventually, they allowed me to leave, while the policeman took the guy somewhere else. I was safe but had a bitter taste in my mouth. Nothing happened, but something could have.
By writing this story I don’t want to condemn a city or Indian men. The point of writing this anecdote isn’t to highlight the same old story about how India can be a dangerous place for foreign ladies. It’s not about being a foreigner. Even though chances of being cheated are higher for sure, and Indian women would be more sceptical and would know better how to avoid certain situations.
This experience, luckily far from being harmful, made me think again how women, especially from foreign countries, are seen by many local men. I feel sorry because eventually, it goes back to these people. It generates a negative stereotype of Indians outside the subcontinent. It makes India not a safe place for those who want to explore it at the local level, by talking to people and knowing them, instead of choosing a package tour which is far from reality.
But this event taught me that sometimes we, as foreigners, should get rid of any kindness and smile on our face, and be more suspicious, just as many Indian women have learned to do. Less naive, more cautious.
It must be an unofficial requirement to come to India.