The god-fearing and landlocked district of Ladakh has emerged as a safe haven for women with negligible crime reported against them. Till date, Ladakh police stations have not registered any eve-teasing or bride-burning cases.
"Women are safe in Leh. No complaints of eve-teasing are ever registered in any of our police stations. Domestic violence is very rare. Crime against women is negligible here," said Leh deputy superintendent of police Sonam Dutchin.
Leh has never registered a bride-burning case, unlike other districts of the state. There is no custom of dowry prevalent here. Only two rape cases have been registered in the past 15 months and locals blame labourers' influx behind the unheard of crime in Leh.
The sense of freedom and security among women here are visible. Most shops in Leh are run by women and 30% traffic is regulated by women police, according to the local police.
"We do not have gender prejudice in Leh. Both genders, traditionally, are being treated equally. A girl can stay out even after the dark. There is no suppression of women and they can mix with men easily without eyebrows being raised," said Tenzin Joldan, a retired principal of a government women's college.
Joldan added that she has never heard of grave domestic violence or abuse of women in her lifetime.
Women comprise almost 50% of Ladakh district's population, which is below three lakh.
For women empowerment, Ladakh has taken a step forward by launching the country's first all-women travel agency, Women's Travel Company. "Our idea of trekking is unique. We make tourists stay at homes on the trekking route. Women serve food to the trekkers and all our guides are women," said Thinlas Chorol (31), a woman guide.
The safety aspect has attracted female tourists from all over the world. Among 17,765 foreign tourists, who visited the Ladakh region this year, more than 50% were women.
The freedom of women is not limited to a particular community. Muslim women are equally empowered. "Freedom of women is in Ladakh's culture. Traditionally, women were looked up to with respect. Muslim women are independent to decide on what kind of purdah they want. There is no dress code and they can move around freely after the dark," said Fatima Bano, president of the Ladakh Women Centre.
The women of Leh have only one grudge. "Political and religious spheres continue to be dominated by men," said Joldan. "We need to work in that area," she added.
Of the 30 councillors of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, only two women --- Tsering Angmo and Tashi Angmoare --- figure in the powerful and influential council.