Planning your travel in India can be overwhelming. You probably need multiple vacations to cover its 29 states, enjoy the food and culture of a stunningly diverse population, immerse in spiritual traditions, or dabble in 22 official languages and countless dialects. Abhijeet Deshpande has traveled to 24 of these states and suggests a list of faux pas to avoid landing yourself in arguments.
Beware – no two Indians share the same idea of their country. Hence social standards of acceptance vary for each of these and if you ask around, you are likely to get a slightly different version of a list. For whatever its worth, here’s one take.
As a visitor, you should have a trouble-free journey across the incredible country. Other than curious looks and people eager to strike a conversation, you may not need to withstand much. Locals are likely to go out of their way to help. Most Indians live by the mantra ‘Guest is God’. Speaking of God, it is important to note that many take their belief in God seriously. Hence, be respectful about the various religions that co-exist here. In general, it is good idea to avoid showing skin when visiting places of worship, avoid touching a sacred symbol or statue with your feet, and avoid tattoos of Indian religious symbols or deities.
Swastika – A Symbol of Well Being
Swastika is one such religious symbol. It is an ancient sign of well-being and continues to be used extensively in India. You would find it on vehicles, on tonsured heads of young boys, on doors and walls of homes, and on the entrances of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples. This hand-traced symbol is also a prime motif during Indian festivals such as Deepavali, the festival of lights.
As with everything else, social standards vary for this point too – some people may not know of the Aryan propaganda while few others may proudly call themselves Aryan and yet not know about the Nazi regime! To avoid social awkwardness, it is best to not express shock at sight! For more, you may want to read this: Swastika is pre-Aryan, dates back 11,000 years
Careful with Public Display of Affection
While you may not get noticed kissing your partner in certain cosmopolitan areas of cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, or Bengaluru, it remains a taboo. If caught in such an act of PDA, you may be slapped with an archaic British-era penal code that deals with ‘public obscenity’ and land you in prison. So even though social standards vary, to avoid jail-time in India, it is best to avoid kissing in public spaces. Other than that, hugging a person of the opposite sex may be frowned upon – especially if you are a man interacting with an Indian girl or woman. There’s nothing criminal about hugging, and again social standards vary, but as a safe practice, let locals offer to shake hands or hug.
Careful with Quoting Media
In recent times, India has been portrayed as an unfriendly country for women. Violence against women is deplorable. Period. It would be helpful to do some homework to know which are the most unsafe places in the world for women. Here is rape statistics by country (based on UNODC data). Violence against women is a global problem. So when you visit India, take measures to be safe, just as you would elsewhere. But, in your interactions with others, drop any bias. If you need more on the topic, here’s a perspective by Maria Wirth – Why this focus on ’rapes in India’ by world media?
Though most young fellow travelers sport a diversified view of the places they visit in India, few tourists perhaps continue to seek value in poverty porn. They might click and post misery pictures on social media that give rise to questions such as this one – Why do all foreigners from west, while visiting India, try their best to click the worst part of India?. Many Indians frown upon the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ style portrayal of their country. Guard that reputation and request fellow travelers to stop this practice too.
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Credits: This piece is edited from its original version, written in response to a question, on Quora?
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