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Safety and Emergencies for Expats in India

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: September 2013


India is generally quite a safe country. Natural phenomena that may be dangerous are tropical cyclones, earthquakes and floods. Areas near major rivers, particularly the Gangetic Plain, are susceptible to flooding. Tropical cyclones occur in all coastal areas, though they predominate on the east coast. May to November is the main cyclone season. It is important to keep abreast of the cyclone situation; to help do this you can familiarise yourself with the India Meteorological Department’s cyclone webpage:


Though normally minor, earthquakes occasionally cause a great deal of damage. Mostly occurring in the north-east and the far north, near the Himalayas, they are also frequent on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Associated with earthquakes are tsunamis, which affect coastal regions. They are caused by earthquakes in the Indian Ocean, such as the catastrophic one that occurred on 26 December 2004. There is useful advice in English and Hindi about how to deal with earthquakes in this PDF:


The threat from terrorism is high in some parts of India. There is severe terrorist activity in Jammu and Kashmir, and, some of the states in the north-eastern borderlands. Parts of these areas are in fact restricted to foreigners. Eastern Indian states such as Bihar and West Bengal also suffer from occasional terrorist acts. Terrorists do target areas frequented by westerners, so it is prudent to be vigilant at all times and report any suspicious activity.

The crime rate in India is lower than average. The rate of homicide is also lower than the world average. In most parts of the country you are unlikely to experience any trouble.

However, India has a higher than average rate of rape and sexual assault. India is not considered a particularly safe country for women at the moment. The world was made aware of the dangers women in India face after the brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi last year. The incident provoked outrage, and since then there have been widespread protests. Considering this, and that four of the defendants have been sentenced to death this month, the situation may start to change. But this will take time, as the whole attitude of men towards women needs to improve.

Despite the current focus on this threat, such crimes are still rare. However, the provocation, sexual harassment and indecent assault of women, known by the vile euphemism ‘Eve-teasing’, is rife in many cities, with foreign women often being targeted.

There are steps you can take to minimise the risks. Dress modestly, particularly in local clothing such as salwar kameez, as this will help you to blend in with the locals. Travel whenever possible with in groups, learn some of the local language and be aware of those around you at all times. Needless to say, taking any risks, such as travelling alone at night (including in taxis), is in no way recommended.

Petty crime, such as pickpocketing, is the most common hazard. You are most likely to be pick-pocketed or fall victim to other forms of theft in crowded areas and on public transport. Robbery and violent theft are, however, very rare. As in any country, theft prevention is about being aware of what is going on around you and keeping your belongings safe at all times. You can help reduce the chances of theft by wearing a money belt and keeping items such as mobile phones and laptops out of sight as much as possible.

Another thieving activity of sorts is short-changing, which is endemic to some parts of India, such as Delhi. Make sure you either have the correct money or insist that they give you the right amount. Regarding scams in general, treat anyone who is making an unbidden offer or giving you unsolicited advice with at least some suspicion.

Another problem you may face, particularly acute for women, is begging. Beggars, especially in large groups, are probably best ignored. They will go away eventually. Making a scene with one beggar may just encourage others, leading to you being surrounded.


In India, what emergency number you should dial depends on which state you are in, as shown in the table below.

Emergency Service



Police, Ambulance & Fire


Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh



All other states and territories





In Delhi, a new text-based emergency service has recently been launched. For more details, see this webpage:

Note also that calling an ambulance may not be the quickest way to get someone to a hospital, as urban motorists can be rather deaf to the sirens. It may be quicker to rely on private transport.



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