In Conversation with Ritu Kaur

Nirmala Garimella 

Ritu Kaur  is committed to and has worked on Gender Based/Human rights issues since the 1990’s. She has a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences and a Post Graduate Diploma in Development Policy from the University of Antwerp. She was the Executive Director for Kiran Inc for about 2 years and now does consultancy work. Ritu started her career in the US with InterAct (mainstream Domestic Violence Advocacy agency) in 2002 and was in a leadership role. She left InterAct in 2013 to focus on bringing more visibility to Kiran, Inc. She has lived, studied and worked in India, Australia and Belgium. She is now the program manager at DAWN worldwide.

I sat down with Ritu to talk about some of the issues concerning GV and how we can address this crisis.

What are some of the issues concerning gender violence that we need to address as a society?

The causes of sexual violence in India are complex, systemic, structural and interconnected. There are no easy answers or explanations. Institutional apathy towards gender equality, Victorian-era sexual repression, rapid globalization, urbanization and the inability of policy makers to address the root of the problem are some of the reasons but perhaps not all.

India is described as having a vicious patriarchal system. Sons are regarded as assets, whereas daughters treated as liabilities. This differences in gender views create inequalities, where males become empowered to the disadvantage of females. Social expectations define what is deemed appropriate behavior ; for men to be aggressive and tough is acceptable and for women to be…?. India’s culture results in women being seen as objects, to be worshipped or violated and to be regarded as ‘property’ to be owned by a father, husband or son. Dowry, female infanticide and women’s education are persistent issues despite decades of successive governments’ efforts to address them. Other forms of violence are, rapes, domestic violence, honor killings, witch lynching’s, female infanticide etc. Sexual assault of vulnerable sections, such as sexual minorities (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, intersex people) sex workers.

 How  are organizations tackling this issue?

Feminist in India have been fighting for reforms for a long time with a few successes. As part of the judicial and legal reforms with the 2013 Justice Verma committee report, the definition of rape has been expanded and stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks have been criminalized.  Legal reforms and quicker trails enabled by more judges and sensitization trainings for police officers effect change.

 The Expanding existing training for trial and appellate court judges and public prosecutors on the rights of survivors in cases of sexual violence is recommended well as adopting and implementing the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Guidelines and Protocols for Medico-Legal Care for Survivors/Victims of Sexual Violence. Trainings for doctors, paramedics, nurses, and other health professionals on these guidelines should be mandatory. This new legislation reforms show a willingness to bring about the much needed overhaul of a slow, corrupt and archaic legal system.

Center for Disease Control , CDC recommends strategies to promote social norms that protect against violence, teach skills to prevent violence, provide opportunities to empower and support girls and women and create protective environments.

What more can be done?

We believe that change will happen and gender-based violence will end. To start with attitudes and values must change to challenge the patriarchy. We need to evolve as a society to be egalitarian. Women, must be treated equal to males. “I’m inclined to say there’s much more openness and reporting in certain sectors, and perhaps less stigma, but what hasn’t changed is the social consequences, the violence which is burdened on women not the men,”  says Priya Nanda, the New Delhi-based director of Social and Economic Development at the International Center for Research on Women.

Talking about sex and sexuality should be part of the country’s education system, according to Sunita Menon, director of curriculum and leadership building at Breakthrough Trust, which has campaigned extensively to raise awareness and prevent violence against women. School curricula for children to prevent sexual abuse, by helping children participate in their own protection through age-appropriate information, skills, and self-esteem is recommended by experts

In case of crime, the focus needs to be on the crime of the rapist and the perpetrator and not on the shame the victim faces. The honor and shame of the family silences the victims and encourages the rapists to keep committing the crimes.

Tell us more about your work?

In my work for social justice, I am associated with DAWN Worldwide, which supports organizations to end gender- based violence. Through DAWN’s approach we support and partner with organizations that are pioneers in the movement to actively engage men and boys to break the cycle of violence. We believe in the resilience and dignity of survivors. Through collaborative workshops with local organizations, we support survivors of violence by providing training, resources and facilitating the sharing of strategies between counselors and healthcare professionals from different areas of expertise and communities.

Ultimately the much-needed shift in culture is up to all of us. To make the world a more egalitarian society for our boys and girls is up to us.

(My conversation with Ritu Kaur was originally published here.)