Russian women tread the path of caution and wisdom to feel safe in India

India is once again witnessing protests over lack of women's safety. Source: AP

India is once again witnessing protests over lack of women's safety. Source: AP

Increasing incidents of violence against women and children in India, including in relatively safe Mumbai, leave many resident Russians concerned

It happened twice: The first time in December 2012 when a 23-year old medical student was brutally gang-raped in a moving bus in Delhi. Then last week when a 22-year old photojournalist was gang-raped in Mumbai while on assignment.

Two highly profiled cases triggered mass protest, daily media coverage and a dramatic rise in the number of reports on rape of women and minor girls, sometimes even 2,3,5 year olds, from all over India. Thousands of other frightening stories of violence happening against women in India are being untold and unheard.  

It is not that rape did not happen before, it did. It is not that rape did not happen in metro cities – Delhi as well as UP, Bihar, Rajasthan are well known as unsafe places for women in India. It is not that rape happens only in India – it happens everywhere, including Russia, and the statistics are dreadful.
However, unlike in Russia, concern for security is a daily routine for hundreds of Russian women and their children living in India, particularly in Delhi and Mumbai.

Avoiding the general public
Most of the women married to Indians and living here with their families, whether housewives or professionals, limit their public life to traveling with husbands, relatives, colleagues by chauffeur-driven cars or by cabs. An auto-rickshaw ride can happen in a rare occurrence, but local buses and trains are usually avoided.

Photographer Natalia Arantseva has been living in India for the past decade. “Earlier it was not like that. We could walk anywhere and see ladies outside even at 3 am. Everyone believed Mumbai is safe,” Arantseva says. “But, yes, Delhi was unsafe even 10 years back. When I had to go there I always covered myself and still men used to stare at me.” Natalya is planning a trip to Delhi for street photo shoot with a group of photographers soon. “Now I am a bit scared to go for shooting in Delhi,” she says.

Elena (name changed), working as business development manager with a private company in Mumbai for past three years, can speak Hindi and is well informed about Indian culture and traditions. She still avoids going out much, except to the office and for meetings. She adds that irrespective of having better living standards in India with a car, driver and life in a guarded housing society, she feels more secure in her home country.

“Violence against women happens everywhere, in Russia too. But there we know what to do if something happens,” Elena says. “Here we don’t know what to do, that is what scares most. I don’t believe the police will help, I don’t believe and passers-by will help either. I have seen people not stopping when someone was lying on the road.”

However, Natalya Arantseva says if an assault happens in public in India, people will always gather, help and even punish the assaulter, thus advising women not to go to slums and uninhabited places alone.

Earlier this year, three months after the country was shocked by Delhi gang-rape case, a 39-year-old Swiss woman was raped by four men, in Madhya Pradesh when she and her husband were staying in a tent in a forest. The local authorities later blamed the couple of not informing the police about their plans to travel in remote areas.

Recalling this case, Arantseva says she would never stay in a remote forest even in Russia, leave alone India.  She believes there should be certain level of prudence. Security should be always a concern.

Never alone

School-going children’s safety is another issue Russian ladies have to face, considering the number of reports about sexual abuse in school buses. Russian mothers check many times how safe the school and school buses are. If possible, they drop their children to schools themselves.  

It may be easier for children born in India to understand how to behave outside the home, rather than for children who lived in Russia before coming to India. “When my kids have to travel in an auto rickshaw I tell my daughter not to wear a short skirt,” says Irina, who came to India with her Indian husband and 12-year old twins from Moscow a couple of years back. “She does not understand why it is so or what’s wrong with the skirt.”

Her children study at a private boarding school outside Mumbai, and Irina is sure they are safe there. “I’ve never heard anything alarming from them or other kids or parents. There is a strict control in the school and boys and girls are kept separately,” Irina says.

She admits security concerns back home were much less than in India. “There they can roam around on their own, and I’m sure nothing will happen. Here it is not possible. We are living in a highly secured complex in Navi Mumbai, and my children never go out alone,” she says.

“My 15 year old-daughter never travels alone, only in a car with our driver. Even if it is a rickshaw, I will call her hundred times, and she is informed about all possible troubles,” Natalya Arantseva says.

Taking up a challenge

 “If you are a foreigner, why do you get into the train and attract problems, hire a driver!”- Those are the words a foreigner, particularly a foreign woman hears in India.  White-skin is always associated with prosperity in India. To imagine a foreigner having a mid-level job or studying in a college in India and not having money for a personal car and driver, even for a cab or a first class train ticket is something indigestible for the common man in India.

At the same time the country with its growing economy and booming IT industry is one of the favourite destinations for foreign corporates, interns and MBA students.

Natalya Durbanova, who works with an IT company in Mumbai, spent several years in Malaysia before to coming to India. “I opted for India as it’s a great experience and a great challenge. Before moving I consulted with friends about which city to choose. Mumbai seemed the ideal choice. Even then, much before Delhi gang-rape case, I was informed that Delhi is not at all safe. I’ve been avoiding going there even for corporate tours. I’ve never faced any problems in other cities though,” she says.

Durbanova travels to work daily in auto rickshaws and sometime in the local trains. She believes wearing local attire and covering her head makes her unnoticeable among locals thus helping her avoid stares and trouble.

Marina (name changed), living in South Mumbai for past nine years and working with a company advices ladies to be modest and never react to so-called “eve-teasing.” However, a couple of times she herself had to scold passers-by in Hindi: “Aapka problem kya hai” (What is your problem?)

Natalya Durbanova thinks it’s important to follow the rule: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. And it is not about the skimpy clothes that ladies should avoid wearing in India. “Everything is logical in India, it is just we, foreigners, do not know and do not understand this logic. You need to keep learning, keep talking to people around, only then you will be able to understand and accept many things.”

Continuous learning about the country, its history and development, economy, social issues, including religious and caste discrimination, discussing issues with Indian friends and relatives may help a Russian woman face many things happening around with wisdom, not fear or anger.  

Some names have been changed in order to protect the identity of respondents.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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