As four other students and I walked into the large, stone women’s police station in Dharamshala, we immediately remarked on the smell of fresh paint. The building was clearly old, and resembled what I imagine a medieval dungeon looked like. From the inside and out, nothing indicated the building’s purpose.
We walked down a dark, featureless hallway and entered a room with two women; one in a khaki uniform behind a desk, the other wearing a typical kurta and tights. The woman in the kurta had come to this dim room to fight for her job and for justice; to contest a case of workplace harassment. She had recently been fired after confronting the boss who attempted to sexually assault her.
I listened intently to the precedings alongside my fellow students, our teacher and an activist from Jagori—the feminist organization that was hosting us for the week. During a break in the conversation, someone piped up and asked when the police station opened.
Confused, we grasped for more details. “Of… September? August? This year?”
After a moment of translation, we received our answer: October. The police station had opened four days earlier. The smell of fresh paint indicated a fresh effort toward gender equity in the state. We were sitting in on one of the first cases at the station. Shocked and excited, we used the lulls in the formal proceedings to asked questions of our teacher, or the woman herself, about the case.
The station is the first of its kind in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. It is intended to address cases involving sensitive gender issues, such as sexual assault or domestic violence. When these cases are reported to the regular police stations, the officers there send the case to this station. The police officers, all of whom are women, were transferred here randomly, although the police force hopes to persuade more to move there. Jagori is in the process of training the policewomen on how to appropriately and sensitively handle cases.
The policewoman talked rapidly, much faster than my minimal Hindi skills could understand. It was hard to tell who was on whose side, or if there were sides at all. The light in the room grayed into a smoggy, foggy mountain twilight as the policewoman eventually filled out a form, slowly enunciating the words as she wrote. From what I could gather, it was the other woman’s official statement on the course of events thus far. The meeting wrapped up, to be continued at a later date.
Outside, the five American girls posed with four policewomen, one sexual harassment victim and one gender activist. Goldenrod carnation garlands decorated the newly anointed police station and barely brightened the stone structure.
The woman wheeled out her red motor scooter and thanked us for coming. She was incredibly open to a group of random American students, and utterly fearless in her quest against misogyny. In turn, we thanked her and wished her luck on what would hopefully be the first of many successful cases at the police station. She sped off—off to fight crimes and injustices around the foothills of the Himalayas, I imagined.