Safia Sayed- Welcome to Dehradun

Well, it’s been a crazy week! Between the day-long flights here, starting a new internship, and being on the other side of the globe away from home, it’s safe to say that I’ve been feeling more than a little bit overwhelmed. What’s gotten me through the week, however, has been the incredible hospitality I’ve encountered at every juncture of my journey, from family members who hosted me during a brief stopover in Mumbai, to the family who has opened up their home to me for the remainder of the month, to everyone at Samadhan, the NGO I’m working with.

Now that I’ve been working with Samadhan for a week, I have a much better sense of the work they do. While Samadhan offers a range of legal services targeted at women in domestic violence situations, their main function is in running a 24/7 helpline that victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child marriage may call. The building housing the NGO functions as a rape crisis center, and the women who live here have not only been rescued from the most horrific situations, but are also currently helping to run the NGO and studying to be lawyers, so they can someday bring justice to the communities they once escaped.

Working at Samadhan has taught me many aspects of the Indian legal system, particularly pertaining to women’s rights. So far, I’ve conducted research on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women as it applies to India, and the State Police Complaint Authority. I’ve particularly enjoyed being able to talk to my fellow interns about my findings and compare them to what I know of the American legal system. For example, I had no idea that Indian policing also suffers from over-targeting of minority populations, in this case of Muslims and Dalits.

I’ve also had the chance to learn about what’s really going on in India with regard to women’s rights. I have been able to listen in on calls to the helpline—calls that originate not just from the state of Uttarakhand of which Dehradun is the capital, but from all over the country. I’ve also gotten to hear about the past cases Samadhan has dealt with—of which my boss and the NGO’s founding president is a walking encyclopedia—and to even watch video footage of rescue operations. I’ve always known that India faces a pretty significant sexual violence problem, but I never fully understood the reality of the situation until now. The sheer number of cases my boss has to relate is astounding, and pretty emotionally draining as well.

The biggest learning experience so far at Samadhan, however, was in living at the NGO for a week alongside the residents of the rape crisis center. Most of them don’t speak much English, and yet they’ve done so much to make me feel welcome and cared for, from making sure I’m eating enough at mealtimes to passing along a wordless smile at every opportunity. Given what they’ve been through, it amazes and inspires me that they’re able to constantly radiate so much warmth and kindness, and on top of that to pursue legal studies in becoming fierce advocates for gender equality.

As much as I loved spending time with them and communicating as best I could—picked up a smidge more Hindi!—I’m also excited to continue my work with Samadhan during the daytime while living with a local family in Dehradun. I’m enjoying getting to know them so far, especially the kids who are my age and younger, and who graciously let me win at Ludo earlier in the day. It’s also nice to have local perspectives and guides as I start to explore the sights of the city. Stay tuned as the explorations unfold!