The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs periodically releases Consular Information Sheets advising its citizens about the not-to-dos on their visits abroad. They make an interesting read. I was going through their latest Information Sheet on India and found it amusing. Not because of any fallacies or inaccuracies in the American perspective on India, but because of the underlying humour. Here are some excerpts:
U.S. citizens should be aware that there have been unconfirmed reports of inappropriate sexual behavior by a prominent local religious leader at an ashram or religious retreat located in Andhra Pradesh. Most of the reports indicate that the subjects of these approaches have been young male devotees, including a number of U.S. citizens.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
Travel by road in India is dangerous. A number of U.S. citizens have suffered fatal traffic accidents in recent years. Travel at night is particularly hazardous. Buses, patronized by hundreds of millions of Indians, are convenient in that they serve almost every city of any size. However, they are usually driven fast, recklessly, and without consideration for official rules of the road. Accidents are quite common. Trains are somewhat safer than buses, but train accidents still occur more frequently than in developed countries.
On Indian roads, the safest driving policy is to assume that other drivers will not respond to a traffic situation in the same way you would in the United States. For instance, buses and trucks often run red lights and merge directly into traffic at yield points and traffic circles. Cars, auto-rickshaws, bicycles and pedestrians behave only slightly more cautiously. Indian drivers tend to look only ahead and often consider themselves responsible only for traffic in front of them, not behind or to the side. Frequent use of one’s horn or flashing of headlights to announce one’s presence is both customary and wise. It is usually preferable to have a licensed experienced driver who has a “feel” for road and driving conditions.
If a driver hits a pedestrian or a cow, the vehicle and its occupants are at risk of being attacked by passersby. Such attacks pose significant risk of injury or death to the vehicle’s occupants or at least of incineration of the vehicle. It can thus be unsafe to remain at the scene of an accident of this nature, and drivers may instead wish to seek out the nearest police station.
A number of U.S.-citizen men who have come to India to marry Indian nationals have been arrested and charged with crimes related to dowry extraction. Many of the charges stem from the U.S. citizen’s inability to provide an immigrant visa for his prospective spouse to travel immediately to the United States. The courts sometimes order the U.S. citizen to pay large sums of money to his spouse in exchange for the dismissal of charges. The courts normally confiscate the American’s passport, and he must remain in India until the case has been settled. There are also cases of U.S.-citizen women of Indian descent whose families force them against their will into marriages to Indian nationals.