The Perception of Safety / by Ankita Dhussa

For most of my time since arriving in Delhi, and even as I prepared for my trip, I've thought a lot about how to navigate feeling safe in Delhi and throughout India. I've thought about this through the lens of my identities as a woman, an American, an Indian-American, short-haired, iPhone user...the list goes on.

I knew my perceptions of safety would be different than what I was used to in the States. I was prepared to generally feel unsafe. But I'm starting to wonder if that's not the case, or if it doesn't actually matter. I know this may seem confusing or hypocritical, especially since my research topic is women's safety and I lament about how different and gendered many of my experiences in India are. 

In a way, I think I've become so vigilant about protecting myself, it's just become another one of my identities: someone with trust issues. Most of my fears have to do with assault, abduction, rape or theft. I'm not saying these fears, or even my constant awareness of these things, is something that people, men and women alike, should be concerned about (again, related to my research), but it has forced me to keep certain fail-safes in place. For example, auto rickshaws are my preferred mode of transportation--I can easily jump out, if needed. I avoid eye contact and smiling in public, avoid traveling alone at night etc. If I'm in a situation, where I feel uncomfortable, I shoot a message and my location to the 'Delhi Girls' Whatsapp group us Delhi-based female Fulbrighters created for this exact reason. I'm also indefinitely sharing my location on my phone with my sister in the US, and my parents and Fulbright always know of my travel plans outside of Delhi. 

Yet, after waking up to news alerts about yet another mass shooting in the US, I can't help but reflect on which place is actually safer. I know, it's not that simple and there are statistics, economics and politics at play, along with individual perceptions of safety on a daily basis. But it does make me wonder if other foreigners visiting India share my thoughts when encountering the frisk/bag checks at Indian malls, movie theatres and metros systems: how possible is it still for someone to bring a firearm? Or is that just another 'American thing?'