I took a walk by myself on Sunday. I slipped on my sandals, swung on my backpack, and told someone I passed on the stairs that I might be late for dinner; I had a museum to visit before we left Pondicherry.
I’ve done this countless times in Seattle. About this time last year, you might have found me three blocks from home checking my neighbor’s plum blossom tree for buds. If the sun had already set when you began to wonder where I’d walked off to, you might have found me at the town center, frozen yogurt in hand, complaining about how the flavor selection hasn’t changed in years. “I should really,” you might hear me say to my brother, “stop patronizing this place to protest its disappointing lack of culinary ambition.”
I walked alone a lot when I studied abroad in Nanjing, too. After class, I would wander around campus armed with little more than a brick phone that belonged in a museum, directions scrawled on paper, and a wallet empty of cash because I had once again miscalculated how much I needed to exchange at the bank.
In Bangalore, I have a smartphone with plenty of data, Google Maps and Uber to take me where I want to go if I get lost, and a debit card in case I run out of cash. But here, where I seem to have so many advantages, I don’t walk alone. A 2018 report by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked India as the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the frequency of sexual violence, lack of access to justice in rape cases, and more (1). UN Women ranked India as 125th on its Gender Inequality Index (GII) Ratio (2). For comparison, UN Women ranked the United States at 43rd and China as 37th (3). The larger a country’s GII number, the greater the inequality between men and women is. While the Indian government has contested the methods and findings of Reuters’ report, the perception that India is a dangerous place for women remains. It’s why my friends and family asked me repeatedly to stay with others at all times while studying abroad.
My job while I’ve been here has been to acknowledge the nuance in statistics like those found in Reuters’ and the UN’s reports. As in any country, risk varies from region to region. New Delhi, for example, is widely acknowledged to be unsafe while Bangalore and South India more broadly are considered to be the opposite. I have also been trying to adjust my understanding of my environment as I gain additional data - SJC students and other female GCIL students move independently without issue.
This reasoning is why, after having lived in India for two months, Sunday afternoon was the first time I stepped onto an Indian road unaccompanied.
It was a good feeling.