Fulbright to India Guide – 2021-2022


Fulbright Emergency Protocol

Safety and Security

The health, safety and security of U.S. Fulbrighters in India is a top priority of USIEF.

The U.S. Department of State’s Travel Page is an excellent source of information on India and includes travel advisories and other recent notices for American citizens.

The Department of State’s Fact Sheet on India provides additional useful information.

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP):

STEP is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country.  STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State can better assist you in an emergency. STEP also allows Americans residing abroad to get routine information from the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

U.S. Fulbrighters to India are required to enroll in the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) immediately upon arrival in India. It is important for U.S. Fulbrighters to have a local Indian phone number and calling plan activated within one week of their arrival in India, to register on the STEP program. 


The following information is intended to provide guidance to all Department of State and Department of Education funded Fulbright grantees in India as they consider various options and contingencies during a possible crisis.

As private American citizens, Fulbright grantees do not fall under Chief of Mission (i.e., the U.S. Ambassador in India) authority and cannot be ordered to depart. However, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Delhi can urge grantees to depart if they believe conditions are severe enough, and in such cases grantees must resign their Fulbright grant (see “ordered departure” item below). The U.S. Department of State does recognize that Fulbright grantees are a distinct group of individuals because they are under the U.S. government sponsorship when overseas and also provides a level of support to Fulbright grantees in the event of a crisis.

U.S. Fulbrighters to India are required to have a local Indian phone number and calling plan activated within one week after arriving. U.S. Fulbrighters to India are required to provide USIEF with their personal mobile phone number and email address. USIEF will activate a phone tree at the time of an emergency, including natural disaster, civil unrest, terrorist attack, etc.

Fulbright grantees should program the appropriate emergency contact numbers provided below into their mobile phones.

USIEF maintains detailed contact information of current Fulbright grantees in India. This information includes telephone numbers (home, work, and mobile phone), physical addresses (home and work), and email. If any part of the contact information changes, grantees are required to inform such changes to the U.S. Program Coordinator, Kalden Shringla .

As a requirement of their Fulbright Fellowship , grantees must inform USIEF by email when they travel outside their city of affiliation (this includes domestic and international travel).

Grantees are advised that the standard means of communication may be cut off during crisis situations. It is advisable for grantees to maintain a system of close contact with USIEF and with other grantees so that in case of a break-down in standard systems of communication there may be sufficient information available so that grantees can be located and contacted.

During crisis situations, as long as the means of communication are open, grantees should maintain contact with USIEF and provide updates on at least a daily basis (perhaps more if the situation dictates). Information about these requirements will be provided as a potential situation emerges.

If required to meet at rallying points, USIEF will instruct all grantees to have with them: passport; all currency; and important personal papers. They should also leave a written message stating that they have left for the safe haven at their site. Grantees should also be familiar with the transportation options, the likely routes they will travel, and the length of time it will take to reach the rallying point.

At the beginning of their grant periods, all grantees will receive a security briefing from USIEF. Part of the information imparted at these briefings consists of the current list of districts and other areas within India where, due to security concerns, travel is either restricted or prohibited for Americans who are subject to the authority of the Chief of Mission. Although Fulbright grantees are not subject to the direct authority of the Chief of Mission, USIEF works in close consultation with the RSO for guidance.

Anytime a grantee intends to go to a field site, he/she must check with USIEF to ensure that the area of intended visit is not on the embassy’s list of “no go” districts and update himself/herself on any security issues in that area. If security concerns make it impossible for the grantee to carry out the research that the original proposal envisioned, reasonable modifications to the research proposal, in consultation with USIEF, may be made.

If the situation is uncertain, USIEF, in conjunction with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State (ECA/A/E), and the U.S. Embassy will evaluate the threat potential to a grantee and his/her dependents and may offer grantees elective or temporary relocation to another in-country site.

If the situation is so serious that it poses a threat to a grantee’s and his/her dependents’ lives, especially when violence is anticipated or already occurring, USIEF may temporarily suspend the Fulbright Program for a specific region/locale or the entire country. USIEF will facilitate relocation of the grantee together with his/her dependents to either/an in-country safe haven, a third country location, or the U.S.

If there is civil unrest or a natural disaster where you are located, it is important to ascertain whether it is advisable to stay put in a safe place (e.g., stay indoors at home or with friends) or to leave the area.  If transport is disrupted, leaving may be dangerous.  Alert USIEF immediately about your situation.  If you feel it is appropriate to leave, you are free to do so, and can seek USIEF’s help.

Since a Fulbrighter receives U.S. government funds, you are required to follow the guidance of U.S. Department of State travel warnings.  That is, if a Travel Warning is issued for the area in which you are located, USIEF will direct you to leave that area for the time being, and will assist you with travel arrangements, if you need help.  Your cooperation is important.

If there is uncertainty about the safety of an area in which you need to conduct research, and the situation seems stable, you may ask the USIEF Program Staff to check with the Embassy to see if you may travel there temporarily.  Inform USIEF where exactly you propose to go, when, and for how long.  If the Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy clears you to travel to the specific places for a specific period of time, USIEF will allow the travel. In a situation which is fluid and potentially volatile, such a decision would not be made very far in advance of proposed travel dates.

In the event of a serious crisis, the U.S. Embassy may consider imposing either an “Authorized Departure,” or an “Ordered Departure.” Each of these situations and its effect on Fulbright grantees is described below.

A State Department announcement authorizing voluntary departure from affected posts of American personnel and dependents does not automatically require departure of U.S. Fulbright grantees, and the announcement of an authorized departure does not necessarily lead to a suspension of the Fulbright Program. USIEF will stay in contact with grantees and determine with ECA/A/E the best solution on a case-by-case basis. Grantees should not feel constrained to stay in a situation that they feel is risky; nor, however, should they feel that they must leave due to an advisory authorizing departure. USIEF will facilitate the departure of any grantees and/or dependents who wish to leave the country. ECA/A/E will assist with arrangements for temporary assignment to another country and other issues related to the grant.

Grantees will be advised by USIEF if an authorized departure is announced and they should then contact the Commission for all available information that may affect their own decision to leave India or stay in the country. It is the sole responsibility of the individual grantee to decide whether he or she leaves or stays in the country. USIEF bears no part in the decision and assumes no responsibility for the safety of its grantees. All grantees are requested to notify the USIEF’s Executive Director of their decision to leave India or stay in the country.

The following scenarios may occur after the announcement of an authorized departure:

  • Grantee decides to leave India and resign the grant: (See below)
  • Grantee decides to remain in India and continue with the grant: The grantee will continue receiving his/her grant benefits until such time as an ordered departure might occur, in which case ordered departure, provision b. below would apply).
  • Grantee decides to leave India without resigning grant: (See below)
  • Grantee is reassigned without curtailment of grant: (See below)

In the event of a more serious situation, the U.S. Embassy, in consultation with the State Department in Washington, may declare an ordered departure of USG dependents and/or non-emergency personnel. In such a situation, the continued viability of the Fulbright Program would also be evaluated. ECA/A/E, in consultation with the Commission and the Embassy, determines whether the Fulbright Program can sustain operation under current circumstances and, if not, may suspend the program. If the program is suspended, all Fulbright grantees will be asked to leave the country.

The following scenarios may occur after the announcement of an ordered departure:

Grantee decides to leave India and resign the grant: In the event grantee elects to return to the U.S. and resign his/her grant, the exact timing of departure should be coordinated with the Commission and host institution, if any. The grant would be amended to shorten it to the length of time in the country of assignment. If the grantee has received payment of benefits beyond the amount authorized in the amended grant, s/he would be required to return any overpayment to the Commission. Fulbright grants already include an allowance for return travel to the U.S. USIEF will facilitate all travel through its in-house travel agent. ECA/A/E would authorize a financial payment (stipend and/or maintenance allowance) for 30 days from the date of departure to assist with resettlement in the U.S. If a grant is terminated, all applicable reports will become due within 30 days.

Grantee elects to remain in India: If a grantee elects to remain, even after the announcement of an ordered departure, s/he must resign their grants. In that case, they may remain in country, no longer under Fulbright auspices, they may return to the United States, or go to another location. Any participants having resigned their grants would need to meet any host country visa rules applicable to their change of status. The participant must provide a written statement of release acknowledging he/she is no longer a current Fulbright participant and must not continue to represent him/herself as such. The grant will be amended to reflect the length of time in the country of assignment. If the grantee has received payment of benefits beyond the withdrawal, s/he would be required to return any overpayment to the Commission. The grantee is asked to sign a statement of release acknowledging s/he is no longer considered a Fulbright fellow and must not continue to represent him/herself as such. The grantee does not forfeit the return travel entitlement but must meet any increase in travel costs him/herself. The grantee’s State Department ASPE insurance coverage ends at the date of resignation as well. If a participant elects to resign his/her grant, and returns to the United States, the exact timing of departure should be coordinated with the post EAC, post, and/or commission.

Grantee decides to leave India without resigning the grant: The Commission may determine that it is in the best interests of the program that grantees depart without curtailing the Fulbright grant. Factors governing such a decision include security concerns at the place of assignment and potential to resume the assignment in the near future. Where it is determined that departure without curtailment of grant is advisable, ECA/A/E authorizes payment of up to one month’s stipend for a grantee who is out of country of assignment with the expectation that circumstances may permit an early return to host country. If a return is not feasible (i.e., no change, or worsening of the situation), ECA/A/E authorizes a further one month’s stipend to assist with resettlement in the U.S.

Grantee is reassigned without curtailment of grant: Grantees may select reassignment in another country; however, it is not possible for ECA/A/E to guarantee reassignment. Factors affecting reassignment include the length of time remaining in the grant, the scholar’s field of study, the need for expertise in another country, and ability to obtain timely approvals from the potential new host institution and PAO/Commission. Reassignments are usually within the same geographic region.

In an emergency, dial 112 (the Indian equivalent to 911). You will be re-directed to an English-speaking operator if you require Fire, Ambulance or Police Assistance.

In case of a local or national crisis situation:

  1. If you need immediate assistance, call 112.
  2. Follow the instructions provided by the Indian authorities, either through Internet, TV, radio or even by asking passers-by. Instructions will also be clearly posted on the U.S. Embassy’s website (https://in.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/). You may be asked to take shelter wherever you are, or will be provided with the address(es) of the Emergency Operations Center(s).
  3. If you need further instructions, contact USIEF by cell phone or landline.
  4. If you do not need assistance, report that you are fine.
  5. Text your USIEF contact either by WhatsApp or SMS.
  6. If you have Internet access, send an email to your family back home and USIEF.
  7. ASPE Assist is another helpful resource available to you.


This manual has been adapted with permission from the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) manual on the same subject, created by the AIIS Task Force for Sexual Harassment.  USIEF thanks AIIS for making this resource available to Fulbright-Nehru fellows and other USIEF administered grant recipients.

This manual is intended for individuals (male or female) coming to India on programs associated with the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF).  Terms, such as “scholars,” “researchers,” “grantees,” and “students,” are used to include all of categories of USIEF grantees.


USIEF takes the issue of sexual harassment and assault very seriously.  It is our hope that the suggestions in this manual will assist grantees in developing strategies that will stop or at least minimize this type of incidents.  Sexual violence in India has recently drawn worldwide attention due to the horrific rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in December of 2012.  Although sexual harassment and assault are by no means confined to India, it is worth exploring this sensitive subject in this specific context to facilitate discussion and develop prevention strategies.

In recognition of the magnitude of the problem and in the belief that we can take steps to confront it, this manual provides two kinds of information.  The first section discusses precautionary measures that grantees can take to familiarize themselves with social conventions and the challenges that scholars encounter when they work in a foreign country.

Grantees often find it hard to know what inferences are being drawn from their behaviour or which norms and cultural cues are structuring an interaction in a cross-cultural situation.  Furthermore, the norms and cues themselves are constantly changing and vary significantly from one part of the country to another.  The more grantees learn about these inferences and cues, the more effectively and comfortably they can deal with the situations they encounter.

We do recognize that precautions and being culturally sensitive will not prevent sexual harassment and assault.  It would be unreasonable to pile the burden of fending for their own safety entirely on grantees.  Thus, the second section provides information about the policies and procedures USIEF has developed to respond to and assist those who experience sexual harassment and assault.

What is Sexual Harassment?

We encourage grantees to recognize all forms of sexual harassment.  We reject the notion that certain forms of harassment should be trivialized and thus ignored, as the term “Eve teasing,” used in the English language media in India, implies.

Sexual harassment may include, but is not limited to:

  • any unwelcome sexual looks, words and gestures that cause humiliation, discomfort or an uncomfortable working or learning environment
  • sexually coloured remarks
  • a demand or request for sexual favours
  • showing pornography
  • physical contact and advances

Precautionary Measures

USIEF students and fellows move between two cultures and also in diverse groups within each culture.  Since scholars from the United States are often “uninvited” guests in another culture, attention to the propriety of one’s actions is crucial.

The purpose of the suggestions that follow is not to legislate or constrain the dress, action, and/or speech of scholars, but to highlight the importance of being aware of the kinds of behaviour that may be construed as offensive; or simply misinterpreted in India.  Each individual must decide how to act in light of this information.  Once scholars have settled into their communities and established themselves as professional researchers, they often find it possible to negotiate more flexibility in how they speak, dress and behave.

Note that the information in this manual is just as relevant to men as it is to women.  While most of the information affects women, men should be aware of the ways their interactions with girls and women in India may be construed as harassment.  It may be natural for an adult male in the United States to make eye contact and joke with a teenage girl, but this carefree behaviour may cause consternation in many Indian households.  If scholars are unaware of how threatening informal behaviour such as this can be in an Indian context, they risk offending their hosts and, naturally, they may jeopardize relationships as well as the progress of their research.

There is another aspect that makes the information in this manual relevant to male scholars.  As men, they are in the enviable position to provide support to women scholars by looking out for their safety and becoming more aware of the problems that women often confront.

Participation in the Public Sphere

Some forms of sexual harassment reflect the challenges that foreigners experience when they live and work in a country other than their own.  American scholars may be unfamiliar or assumed to be unfamiliar with prevailing social norms.  There are also certain kinds of behaviour that are frowned upon for Indian and American women-in all but the most cosmopolitan settings.

In many parts of India, women might be seen as inviting unwelcome sexual attention if they smoke in public, or drink alcohol, especially in the presence of men.  Public displays of physical affection between men and women are almost always and everywhere considered inappropriate.  While same sex couples can hold hands in public without turning heads, as there are fewer constraints on contact with members of the same sex, they too must bear in mind that any sign of affection that suggests a romantic relationship will be frowned upon and may be considered shocking.

Similarly, male scholars should avoid finding themselves with Indian women in places, situations, or at times (after dark) which might gain them disrepute.  Furthermore, male scholars should ensure that their behaviour towards women is not misunderstood.  There are no hard and fast rules, of course.  There are variations that depend on factors such as region and class.  However, it never hurts to err on the side of caution and avoid potential harm.

To develop awareness of social norms and build confidence in dealing with difficult situations, female scholars are encouraged to become acquainted with women from different social backgrounds who can provide insight as to how to negotiate difficult gender related issues.  These women are sources of forms of everyday resistance to sexual harassment that are culturally appropriate and effective, both in the workplace and in social contexts.

Male scholars are advised to ask men and women in families with which they have close relations to understand what kind of behaviour would be appropriate in the presence of girls and women in the household and workplace.


It is important for USIEF scholars to dress in a way that enables them to fit in in the region where they conduct research.  Paying careful attention to underlying codes, especially those concerning female dress, in the area of placement or while traveling works to your advantage.

As a serious student of South Asian culture, it is important to realize that certain forms of dress will not be appropriate in the Indian context.  Both women from different parts of India and female travellers from the United States who spent time in India seem to agree that both inside and outside of domestic spaces, clothing is a powerful indicator of how you would like to be perceived by others.  Some Indian men admit they feel uncomfortable when encountering Westerners wearing clothing that covered less of their bodies than clothing worn by Indian professional women.

Wearing a saree, a salwar kameez [SAL-wr K-meez], or a “half-saree,” traditionally worn by girls are good choices.  Loose-fitting Western style clothing is also adequate.  Many scholars find that the more they adopt the local style of dress for women of their age and class, the less they tend to stand out and receive unwanted attention in the street or on public transportation.  Some scholars prefer to wear certain clothing around their neighbourhood, but adopt other clothing when they are traveling alone on trains or buses in other parts of India.

Certain kinds of clothing will identify scholars with a particular religious or social group within the wider community.  Therefore, scholars will want to be aware of the implications of their choice of clothing.  In any given area, dress styles may differ according to religious affiliation (Hindu, Muslim, Christian) and social status (landowner’s wife, sweeper).  While in large metropolitan cities, Indian women often wear clothes similar or identical to what is currently worn in the West, in other areas Western clothes denote foreignness, class position, and wealth.

Responses to female scholars may vary according to the ethnic background of the scholar.  For example, American women of Indian ancestry, may often find themselves more targeted than other women if they break dress codes.  They are often perceived as “looking Indian” but “acting Western.”

On the other hand, American women of Indian ancestry who dress appropriately are often able to conduct research on topics that would not be freely discussed with people dressed as and considered to be Westerners.

Awareness of the messages that jewellery and hairstyle can send is also critical.  A golden neck chain or tali around a woman’s neck is often a good idea, as are bangles on her wrists.  In many parts of India, these are perceived as indicators that a woman is modest and worthy of respect which may reduce the amount of harassment she experiences.  Women with long hair often prefer to bind it in some way (braid, bun), because loose hair often has negative cultural connotations, depending on the region. 


For some USIEF scholars research entails a great deal of travel.  You may find you need to engage in activities at places and times where it is not customary for women to travel alone.

It is usually wise to arrive before dark if you are going to a new place or have not yet arranged for a place to stay.  If you need to travel after dark, you may want to hire a research assistant to accompany you.

Men should always pay attention to the impact that their behaviour may have on those sitting near them while traveling.  For example, men can make their female fellow-travellers more comfortable by trying to ensure that the women are not seated next to an unknown man.  In a row of seats, she could take the window and the male companion sit in between her and the stranger.  Men should also be sensitive to the preferences of Indian family travellers.  They might feel uneasy if the male scholar takes a seat next to their daughter.  Please remember that public displays of affection (touching, holding hands, kissing) between men and women traveling together are considered inappropriate.  Such behaviour would be seen as indicating the “bad character” of the woman and may compromise her safety.


There are several options to keep in mind when traveling by train.  First, many women scholars buy train tickets to travel in the ladies’ compartment, a second-class seating (or berth) reserved entirely for women and children.  This can be a pleasant travel experience, or it can sometimes be more crowded and noisier (if there are many children) than other parts of the train.  Second-class air- conditioned (“2-tier AC”) is generally a safe, comfortable way for women to travel alone, if the train is a corridor train with berths along the side, not separate compartments (not always the case on trains in South India).  If a woman who prefers to travel in first class arrives at the train and discovers that her compartment (coupe) is full of men, she can ask the train conductor and politely request to be shifted (moved) to a coupe with women or a family.  This is considered a perfectly reasonable request.  It is usually a good idea for a woman to get an upper berth, instead of a lower one, if possible, to ensure more privacy during the night.

When traveling on an overnight train, one should wear clothing that keeps one’s body covered.  One is sleeping in a public space, so a salwar kameez, for example, is often both practical and appropriate for women.  Also, if a man looks or acts overly friendly, it is probably better for a woman to move or at least not respond to his overtures, keeping in mind that he would be unlikely to display this kind of “friendliness” toward an Indian woman.  It is always appropriate for a woman to request that a man stop uncomfortable or inappropriate behaviour, because this implies that he is not acting in a morally appropriate way.  If a woman finds that a man is constantly staring at her, she can use her dupatta (long scarf) or the end of her saree to drape her head and cut off eye contact.  Many foreign women have reported this being a particularly effective technique for discouraging unwanted attention.


There are many different kinds of buses in India: public, private, local, long distance.  In some parts of South India, a part of the bus is reserved for women.  The ladies’ section is often the left side of the bus as you face forward.  In many rural parts of South India, the front of the bus will be reserved for women.  There is less chance of a woman getting jostled by a man, either intentionally or unintentionally, if she is in the women’s part of the bus.  It is not recommended that a woman scholar sit on the men’s side, since that kind of action can give the message that she is not aware of regular norms of behaviour.

If a woman scholar gets a seat on the women’s side of the bus and a man who is not related to her by marriage or kinship sits next to her, she should request that he move, especially if another woman is standing nearby.  It is well within one’s customary rights to tell the man politely that this is the ladies’ side and ask him to give up his seat for one of the women standing nearby.  When asked politely, most men will respond quickly to such a request because they know that the ladies’ side of the bus is reserved for women, and the scholar’s request tells them that she knows this too.

 If a male scholar travels on such a divided bus, it is crucial that he sit on the men’s side.  Alternatively, he and his female companion could sit together on the men’s side in a two-seat row, with him on the outside.  Also, male scholars should take extra care not to graze against the bodies of women standing on the bus.

In most parts of India, however, neither city buses nor long-distance buses have special sections for women, so it is important for a woman scholar to try to sit or stand near other women whenever possible.  Many instances of harassment experienced by female scholars occur on these undivided buses, especially when they are very crowded.  Most Indian women try to avoid grazing against the bodies of men, as such an action is sometimes taken as an invitation to sexual attention (although in certain kinds of crowded situations one does not have much choice about where one stands).  If you can choose what time of day to travel, make your best to avoid rush hour.

Given how crowded buses can be, some amount of accidental jarring or bodily contact may be unavoidable, but repeated actions need not be ignored.  Many scholars do not know at first that it is culturally acceptable to respond immediately to such affronts.  Indian women in these situations often respond as soon as inappropriate behaviour begins, rather than waiting until it escalates.  It is considered appropriate to do so in a polite but firm way.

Rickshaws and Taxis

Many scholars use auto rickshaws or cycle rickshaws for traveling short distances.  In getting into a rickshaw, it is important to act as though you know where you are going and the shortest route to your destination.  For major cities, such as Delhi or Bengaluru, detailed street maps are available.  If you are traveling to someone’s residence, ask your host for specific directions when coming from a generally known landmark (cinema, hospital, government building, temple).  It helps if you can speak to rickshaw and taxi drivers in the local language.  It indicates you know your way around.

Some women consider cycle rickshaws a safe form of transportation because they cannot pick up speed, and so it is unlikely that the driver would do something undesirable: slowed down in traffic, it would be quite simple for the passenger to jump out.  In the event the driver stops to pick up one of his buddies, especially at night, it is perfectly reasonable to tell the driver not to do so and to threaten to leave his rickshaw if he refuses.  If a man and a woman are traveling in the same rickshaw to different places, it is advisable to drop the woman off first and then drop off the man.

Female grantees traveling home alone at night by rickshaw or taxi can use this strategy to ensure the driver does not try anything inappropriate.  Have someone accompany you to the rickshaw or taxi stand.  Make an explicitly public act of writing down the license plate or car number and give it to the person with you before getting on the vehicle.  Make sure the driver hears you when you tell your companion that you will call as soon as you arrive home.  Taxi drivers that respond to a central office reached by phone often know that a passenger can lodge a complaint if their behaviour is offensive.  Indian professional women who regularly have to work late; caution against offers of rides from single or married male colleagues.  It is always better to travel with another woman.  As anywhere else in the world, it is safer for a woman waiting at a bus stop late at night to ignore car drivers that may pull up and offer her a ride. 


It is rare for a woman in India to live by herself, regardless of her class or status.  It is even more unconventional for a single woman to entertain male visitors in her private residence.  Such behaviour will often be interpreted in sexual terms, even if the male is just a friend.  If possible, a female scholar should try to share an apartment with another woman or rent a room from a family.  Male scholars who want to visit a woman living alone would do best to visit her in the company of another woman, if possible.  If the female scholar lives with an Indian family with daughters in the home, and a male scholar wants to visit her, he should be sensitive to the parents’ possible concerns for the reputation of their daughters.  For a male to flirt or be overly familiar with, joke around, or touch young women may be interpreted as highly offensive behaviour.

Female scholars sometimes encounter harassment by landlords from whom they have rented flats (apartments).  Many times the landlord begins by acting “friendly,” coming to the scholar’s flat when she is alone, and staying to chat.  Gradually, in some cases, such visits become more frequent and more intrusive.  If one stops such behaviour as soon as it begins, there is less chance for this kind of escalation of behaviour.  A woman can politely keep the landlord at the doorway rather than inviting him inside, and state clearly that she does not let male company enter when she is alone.  Alternatively, she can make arrangements to drop off the rent at the landlord’s home at a time when his wife and family are there.  If the landlord has to supervise repairs in a woman scholar’s flat, she can arrange to be elsewhere while a workman and the landlord are there, or she can arrange to have a friend be present with her in the flat during that time.

When a male scholar goes to drop off his rent at the landlord’s house, he should demonstrate respect for women and the norms that govern the household.

If a female scholar brings a respected older local person, a trusted professional contact, or a friend with some status with her to introduce her to the landlord, this often conveys that she has a respectable “guardian,” which may reduce the likelihood of her being perceived as a vulnerable target.  Grandmothers are particularly good people to accompany a newly arrived female scholar, since they are generally respected because of their age and experience.  When a scholar is first beginning research, especially in an out-of-the-way place, it may be difficult to find such a person; any prior contacts will be helpful.  A formal and official looking letter of introduction from USIEF would also help establish your good standing.

Scholars may find different kinds of residential issues in rural settings.  When a highly educated, English-speaking researcher comes to a small village, while this is not always the case, many report that there is a tendency for this person to be attributed high status and shown more respect than in a city.  Furthermore, if female scholars are more likely to spend a fair amount of time with women during the day, sexual harassment may be less of a problem in that context.  This may be the case especially if the scholar lives with an Indian family and practices the customary avoidance behavior toward older males.  A female scholar may find it helpful to learn some terms of relationships with male members such as “uncle” or “brother” in the local language.  Addressing a male person with an age-appropriate relational term of this type can help set a boundary of behaviour.

In rural areas, power outage is common and roads and pathways tend to be deserted after dark.  Often the only people on the road are drunken men.  Women tend to remain indoors after dark.  For this reason, a woman scholar will find it safer to avoid going out alone after sunset.  If she is required to go out, it would be safer to request an elder in the household to permit a woman to go with her. 

Academic Settings

USIEF has some specific suggestions for dealing with the relationship between research fellows and their academic advisors at the university to which they have been affiliated by the Government of India.  It is always best for the scholar (male or female) to begin the relationship with the advisor in a formal way.  One simple rule of thumb is, on first being introduced to your academic advisor, to place your hands together at your chest using the namaskar greeting or the equivalent Muslim greeting, instead of shaking hands.  Female scholars offering a handshake to a male advisor may be perceived as being too forward or, in the worst case scenario, construed as a sexual advance.  Male scholars should also adopt an Indian form of greeting when first introducing themselves to a female academic advisor.  In a context where men and women do not generally touch each other in public, a seemingly innocent gesture can be misinterpreted in ways that might lead to unpleasant attention.

It is customary to use the proper title when addressing one’s advisor: Professor, Doctor, Sir, or Madam.  A scholar should not adopt a tone of intimacy or use a nickname or shortened form of the advisor’s name.  Similarly, when scholars give their own names, they should include their title if they have one, and give their full name.

Female scholars should not suggest or accept offers to drink liquor or smoke cigarettes with their academic advisors.  Male scholars should not suggest or accept offers to drink liquor or smoke cigarettes with their female academic advisors.  Although such behaviour might occur under certain circumstances in the United States or in urban India, there is also the chance that it could be considered a sexual overture in certain Indian circles.

Reserve on the part of the woman scholar usually results in respect.  Attention to the propriety of certain actions on the part of the male scholar usually results in appreciation.  These basic rules will not, of course, be applicable in every situation.  For example, if a woman is dealing with a male advisor whose wife is an activist in women’s issues, the scholar may find she can be more informal with both of them.  But it never hurts to begin with formal behaviour and then, if it proves to be unnecessary, become more informal later.

Same-Sex Relationships

Despite some positive developments in recent years and the presence of advocacy and “pride” groups in major urban areas, the topic of same-sex relationships and gender-non-conforming behavior remains difficult or even taboo for many Indians, especially middle-class urbanites.  Since Indians generally do not shy away from asking personal questions, grantees should be prepared to be asked questions (from acquaintances or host families) such as whether they have a “girlfriend” back home, or why they are not married.  Open lesbian identification is likely to provoke discomfort or discrimination.  It is not unusual for scholars to report that they felt compelled to “go back into the closet” during their stay in India as the path of least resistance.  Others have found it comfortable and safe to discuss sexual preferences with friends and some acquaintances.  This is a personal matter on which you will have to use your own judgment.  As always, we recommend caution in revealing non-hetero-normative sexual preference, unless you are certain that doing so will not provoke prejudice or hostility.  However, students and fellows may also find that because of the taboo nature of the topic, they can often easily divert the conversation when such a strategy is necessary.  USIEF endeavours to make its staff supportive of LGBTQ scholars and remain sensitive to their concerns. To read more about LGBTQ+ issues, please read here.  

Options for Combating Sexual Harassment

All the precautions scholars take and all the culturally sensitive behavior they adopt may not always help.  Women who are extremely careful about not sending mixed signals may still find themselves harassed.  Female scholars should not think that they have been harassed because they have not followed the above guidelines properly.  Just as thievery occurs despite the most elaborate precautions, sexual harassment may occur despite all efforts.

There are several ways in which people interviewed suggested dealing with sexual harassment.  Three of these ways are outlined below.  Each of these strategies forces the harasser to stop treating the female scholar as an object and to recognize her as a human being worthy of respect.

The first option, illustrated in the example of the women’s side of the bus discussed above, is for a woman scholar to educate herself about and pay attention to the norms for respectful treatment of women.  Then, she should insist that men not depart from the norms simply because she is a foreign visitor.  As in the United States, many women in India do not expect or put up with sexual harassment.  As a USIEF scholar you need not either.  Invoke the rules by saying something to the effect of “is this proper behaviour for a trustworthy man?” or “Wouldn’t you feel upset if someone subjected your daughter to such treatment?”

A second strategy is for a woman to complain to a trustworthy and influential person or group of people who could help her embarrass the person harassing her.  For example, if a woman scholar is traveling alone on a long bus ride and someone begins to touch her, she can first openly tell him to leave her alone, and then comment that he knows that his behavior is wrong, and finally appeal to an authoritative older woman sitting nearby.  The backing of such a person will usually win public opinion to her side.  Similarly, if there is trouble in her own neighborhood, she can ask an influential and respected person to tell those who are bothering her that she is like family and therefore must be treated with respect.

A third option was suggested by a middle-aged woman with native fluency in Hindi, when she was hassled or subjected to catcalls from groups of college-age men, she would reprimand and shame them in colloquial Hindi.  One woman told an older catcaller, “Look at this man.  He’s old enough to be my father and look what he’s doing!” and told a younger one, “this man is the age of my younger brother, and look what he is doing!”  The more insulting approach might be to ask the catcaller if his mother knows what he is doing right now, thus putting him in the role of the little brother and herself in the role of the respected elder sister or aunt.

This strategy can be a risky one, so it should never be used under the following circumstances: with a large group of males; in a way that, instead of shaming the person, makes him feel that he has to prove that he is stronger by doing something even more offensive; against someone who could retaliate in one’s home neighborhood; or if one’s command of the local language is not firm.  One needs fluency in the local language to carry off this piece of “street theatre” authoritatively.

There are many people who carry forms of protection in large urban areas.  In New York City, for example, mace (self-defence spray) is popular, while in some parts of Chicago whistles are commonly used to draw attention and cause the harasser to flee.  Some Indian women carry a small amount of ground red chili pepper handy.  In rural areas, if the harasser commands authority, local people may be scared to offer help.  A mobile phone is helpful in both rural and urban areas.

We hope that this section will arm scholars with ways to combat sexual harassment and to deal with problematic situations in ways appropriate to the region of India in which they are placed, to their own research situation, and to their own principles.  It is crucial that women realize that they can have some control over circumstances, instead of letting sexual harassment overpower them and drain away the vitality and purpose of their experience in India.

Responding to Incidents of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a traumatic incident regardless of where it happens, but it can be particularly challenging if victims are in an unfamiliar culture and far from their normal support network.  Even if a victim knows she/he does not want to report to the police, a first step should be to seek medical attention.

USIEF recommends that scholars immediately report incidents of sexual assault to Ms. Priyanjana Ghosh, the Senior Program Officer (SPO), or to the USIEF Regional Officer (RO) of their placement region.  The SPO and the ROs are responsible for handling emergencies and they are trustworthy sources of information to ensure the personal health and wellbeing of all Fulbrighters.  The SPO and the ROs can help scholars access medical treatment, emotional support, legal counsel, and meet other needs.

USIEF staff are required as part of their protocol to contact a designated Department of State, Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) Program Officer, whenever such an incident is reported.

As soon as USIEF is notified by a grantee of an actual or alleged assault, we will take the following steps, as applicable:

  • Gather information to determine if the participant is in immediate danger and needs to be removed from his/her location.
  • Take measures to facilitate participant’s departure from current location.
  • Engage the U.S. Embassy or Consulate Regional Security Officer for assistance.
  • Engage the U.S. Embassy or Consulate American Citizen Services for assistance.
  • Determine if other participants in nearby locations are in danger and take necessary steps.
  • Facilitate participant’s transportation to a hospital or other medical facility.
  • Provide the participant information regarding the sexual assault examination process.
  • Provide participant with contact information for counselling options and on-duty nurse.
  • Our current resource for these services is Seven Corners, the administrator of the Accident and Sickness Program for Exchanges (ASPE). Seven Corners can be reached 24/7/365 days a year by calling 1.800.461.0430 or collect +1.317.818.2867. Participant may dial this number direct or may contact a local operator and request to make a collect call to this line.
  • Notify ECA Program Officer of incident and any immediate action taken by USIEF, to include: circumstances of the incident and any cultural context of which ECA should be aware, contact information for the participant and any friend/relative/colleague in-country that may be assisting the participant.
  • Assist participant, in coordination with RSO, who wishes to file a police report.

Responding to Incidents of Sexual Harassment

USIEF is committed to providing work/study conditions that ensure a safe environment for its students, fellows, and staff in its offices and for scholars while they engage in fieldwork, research or teaching.  Accordingly, it has formulated policies and procedures to address and adjudicate acts of sexual harassment.  USIEF will handle all complaints of sexual harassment and assault with sensitivity and impartiality.  The treatment of complaints relating to sexual harassment will be time-bound.  The USIEF Executive Director will consult with the complainant before providing information about the incident to other parties.  An alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment shall be presumed to be innocent until the contrary is established following an inquiry.

The USIEF Executive Director and other appropriate staff members will receive training in how to address the psychological, legal and medical needs of victims of sexual harassment and assault.  The USIEF Executive Director will direct staff and scholars to external resources including legal advice, medical care and psychological counselling.  We have appended some helpful information at the end of this manual.

Should scholars experience sexual harassment by another scholar, or by a USIEF staff member, landlord, translator, research assistant or anyone else, they should bring this to the attention of the USIEF Executive Director.  In the event the conduct amounts to an offense under Indian law, USIEF shall file complaints with appropriate authorities in accordance with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

Useful Contacts

USIEF Senior Program Officer: Ms. Priyanjana Ghosh

The American Embassy: +91.11.2419.8000 (24/7 service)

In India, but outside Delhi, first dial 011, ask for American Citizens Services

Emergency Contact Information for U.S. Citizens

Indian Police (Police Control Room) 100 (24/7 helpline )
Centralized ambulance services 102 (24/7 service)
Women Helpline (Delhi Police) 1091
Women in Distress Helpline 181 (24/7 service)
Delhi Rape Crisis Cell +91.11.2337.0557 and 2307.4344 (24/7 service)
Mobile Helpline 1.800.11.9292
Human Rights Law Network +91.11.2437.4501 and 2437.9855 (9:30 am -6 pm)
Lawyers Collective Women’s  
Rights Initiative +91.11.4680.5555
JAGORI (NGO) +91.11.2669.2700 and +91.88009.96640
National Commission for Women +91.11.2323.4918/2323.7166
Lawyers Collective +91.11.2437.7101

Useful Resources

US Citizen Services, U.S. Embassy, New Delhi

Regional Security Office (RSO) Guide, U.S. Embassy:



Fulbright Commission (Head office) Switchboard: +91.11.4209.0909

In the case of a personal emergency, you should always contact USIEF staff.

Adam J. Grotsky Executive Director _ +91.11.4209.0910 adam@usief.org.in
Megha Sunger Deputy Director _ +91.11.4209.0922 meghasunger@usief.org.in
Priyanjana Ghosh Senior Program Officer +91.98109.05495 +91.11.4209.0933 priyanjana@usief.org.in
Neeraj Goswami Senior Program Manager +91.98100.70509 +91.11.4209.0932 neeraj@usief.org.in
Maya Sundararajan Regional Officer
+91.98402.67202 +91.44.2857.4410 maya@usief.org.in
Sumanta Basu Regional Officer
+91.90070.39555 +91.33.68276310 sumanta@usief.org.in
Ryan Pereira Regional Officer
+91.98677.61669 +91.22.2262.4603 ryan@usief.org.in
Sujana Mayreddy Regional Officer
+91.81436.67740 +91.40.4033.8300 sujana@usief.org.in

Contact us

12 Hailey Road New Delhi 110 001

Tel.: +91-11-4209-0909/2332-8944