Questions and Answers: Security Concerns in India

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When it comes to medical and security issues in India, the lines often overlap. Last week Dr. Vineet Datta, Medical Director, India, International SOS, discussed medical follow-up questions from our “Spotlight on India | Navigating the Barriers,” the second in a four-part webinar series on the BRIC countries. Here are a few questions from attendees with my answers. You can find the full answers, as well as the executive briefing, recording and presentation here.

Question: The road accident statistics are staggering. Are there any additional precautions for the traveler to improve safety?

Answer: The poor quality of roads, coupled with the low regard for traffic rules, inefficient or sporadic enforcement of laws, and the significant incidents of drinking and driving all contribute to chaotic driving conditions in the country. As such, it is inadvisable to self-drive.

When hiring a driver and vehicle, ensure that all road journeys are conducted during daylight hours and the traveler should have confidence in both the vehicle and the driver. Furthermore, travelers should ensure that they are in control of the driver at all times and are comfortable with the speed and driving style. The traveler should make a visible inspection of the vehicle before setting off and should demand an alternative if they felt there were any issues. There should also be sufficient equipment in the vehicle to support in the event of a breakdown and this should be checked prior to departure.

For longer distance journeys it is advisable to travel by air. Where air travel is not a viable option, travel by rail is preferable to long car journeys. While the rail network is occasionally targeted by terrorist groups, train-travel remains significantly safer than driving given the extremely high rate of fatal road accidents.  

Question: Should women avoid traveling alone in all parts of the country, or just urban areas?

Answer: As in any country, urban centers have a higher crime rate than more rural areas, with Delhi and Mumbai recording double the national average. Delhi in particular has seen increasing levels of crime, including those that are specifically targeted at women – these include incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Yet in these metropolitan cities, attitudes towards women can be quite modern. In smaller towns and in rural areas, while crime rates are lower than in urban settings, patriarchal structures that place women at a disadvantage, remain deeply entrenched.

Question: What are some additional tips for avoiding petty theft, like pickpockets and purse snatchers?

Answer: Sensible security precautions will help in significantly reducing the risk of petty crimes. Personnel should be aware of their surroundings at all times and get to know the location they are in, including what times are busiest during the day, which locations are busiest and map the various routes they are going to take around the area. Travelers should also attempt to understand the geography of the location they are in, as lower income areas tend to have higher crime rates. Information and preparation are essential.

Travelers should take with them only what they require for that day and all other items should be left securely in the accommodation or in the hotel safe. Avoid ostentatious displays of wealth as this would attract opportunistic criminals and avoid using expensive electronic devices in public. For men when carrying a wallet; put it in your front pocket rather than at the back and consider utilizing a chain to attach to the wallet to your belt as this will act as both a visible and physical deterrent. For women, if carrying a bag with a long strap, put it over both shoulders and ensure the bag is kept to the front; avoid carrying smaller bags with handles as these are much easier to snatch. Do not carry around brightly-colored bags as these attract opportunistic criminals who believe they are more expensive. Travelers should also consider the use of a ‘mugger’s wallet’ – an old wallet or purse that has old credit/ bank cards and a small amount of loose change/ notes.

Above all else, if attacked – acquiesce immediately. If criminals are met with resistance they may use force or violence.

The next webinar in this series, on travel to and doing business in, Brazil, is set for May 31. Register here.

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