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Univ scholars reflect on violence against women

By Gilda Di Carli

Section: Featured, News

January 18, 2013

After the brutal rape of a 23-year-old medical student in New Delhi, the issue of violence against women has moved to the forefront of not only international conversation, but also the academic world. At the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center, resident scholar Rajashree Ghosh epitomizes the discussion: “I have a conflicting pain: I am proud of where I come from but then I know that women are not safe,” she said.

Ghosh’s work at the WSRC includes research of women’s roles in marginalized populations, especially the slums of New Delhi and exploring ways to enhance these roles by helping them become partners in social development, rather than simply as a beneficiaries.

In a recent article by Ghosh, published in India New England, she reacts and reflects on what she feels needs to be done after the assault and death of the New Delhi medical student. Since then, Indian citizens of both genders have begun to protest the government’s failure to respond to the events.

Professor Harleen Singh (SAS) insists this a time to recognize that, “this is not just a question of violence against women but is also a question of violence against humanity. It’s not something new or particular to just India.” There has to be a “global commitment to stopping violence against women,” she said.

Singh recently came back from a trip to India. She landed in Delhi, where the capital is practically shut down due to ongoing protests. “I’m just hoping that this will shake people out of their apathy,” she said.

Trapped by the notion of not being in New Delhi, but needing to participate in the protests, she organized a petition condemning violence against women in India addressed to Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of Delhi. “As U.S. residents of Indian origin,” Ghosh said, “What is our responsibility given the circumstances? Are we not all affected?”

The petition calls for “increase[d] funding for forensic investigations, upgrading training of police to deal with sexual crimes and making expert post-trauma support available to victims.” According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a woman somewhere in India is raped every 25 minutes.

Vidya Sri, a survivor of forced marriage, was sexually assaulted on a trip to India. She subsequently founded Gangashakti.org, a website dedicated to combating forced marriage, and brought massive traffic to the petition by posting a link to the top of her site. There are now more than 760 signatures on the petition.

Ghosh has also sent her input to a panel that has been set up under Justice Usha Mehra, which will review the public’s opinions and suggestions on the role of the police and what kind of reform can be put in place in reaction to the rape.

Rajashree has not only been active in her own research at the WSRC. She has also had a tangible impact at several levels of the Brandeis and Waltham community.

She is an avid participant in the World Cultures Study Group, which she launched and meets every month, hosting conversations on gender issues as well as organizing public events on the Brandeis campus. Most recently, Vidya Sri came and spoke about her experience with forced marriage, educating the Brandeis community of this practice taking place in the United States in a talk in December of last year.

Kelley Ready (HS), a senior lecturer at the Heller School, teaches courses on gender and reproductive rights. She also attests to Ghosh’s avid participation and support of students.

Alyssa Grinberg (GRAD), studying Sustainable International Development at the Heller School, considered possible options for completing the practicum, or applied research portion of the degree. Ghosh was “incredibly generous with her time,” said Grinberg, and connected her with several colleagues in India, following up with her periodically to check on her progress, she said. In fact, it was professor Laura Goldin (ENVS) that introduced Grinberg to Ghosh.

Goldin has invited Rajashree to speak to her students in her Environmental Health and Justice JBS, Housing for Good practicum involving the Brandeis/WATCH Housing Advocacy Clinic as they explore initiatives that help disadvantaged communities with poor access to “healthy food, clean water and safe housing,” she said. “Rajashree’s own work with the slum women of India offers great lessons to the students of the meaning and value of empowering women in new ways. I’m deeply grateful for what she has been able to offer to the students in terms of her experience and insight, and for her generosity in offering her time and expertise,” said Goldin of Ghosh.

Ghosh is also on the Waltham Committee, where she is deeply involved in many projects in the local community. One such project for which she has triggered support is on the lines of empowerment. The bookstore located on Moody Street, “More than Words,” is part of a “non-profit social enterprise that empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless or out of school” by giving them the space to manage retail at the used bookstore and café.

Before embarking on a project, Ghosh notes that the “need has to be from them, [so the Committee] is not imposing on the group.”

Elizabeth Markson, Chair of the Waltham Committee, explained that Ghosh is “instrumental in making contacts” and is “deeply committed to meeting people in the Waltham community” and “following through” on projects. Ghosh has also taken on a blog for the WSRC Waltham Committee wherein she provides information about ongoing projects and upcoming events.

Ghosh is also a host in the “open doors host” program that is initiated by the International Students Office. She has been assigned two international students this year, in which she maintains contact with and offers advice on cultural acclamation.

Whether local or at an international level, the key issue is that of social injustice. “Violence against women: its the one issue that really links women across all lines, culture lines, class lines, etc. It’s very important and cross-cutting,” said Ready.

Although it was planned months prior to the incident, Inderpal Grewal, Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at Yale will be coming to speak on “Bureaucracy and Masculinity in India after Independence” as part of the Soli Sorabjee Lectures hosted by the South Asian Studies Program in late February.

The topic is now more critical than ever: “The conversation on gender has not just started, but talking about masculinity in light of recent events has sparked a kind of urgency,” said Singh.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly connected the World Cultures Study Group to the Heller School. It is organized by Ghosh.

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