Student Leaders Strive for Social Change: Success at the Launch of Project White Rakhi
On Thursday, 25th of August 2016 Om Shanti UTS( Indian Cultural Society) in collaboration with White Ribbon Australia successfully launched Project: White Rakhi. Held in the newly constructed Building 11 (Engineering and IT Faculty), University of Technology Sydney, the event saw students, supporters and a number of dignitaries attend. The event based on the custom of Raksha Bandhan focused on promoting an end to domestic violence, gender equality, healthy relationship and refining male stereotypes towards women.
The event saw dozens of students take part in the tradition of tying a Rakhi(thread), the exchange of sweet and reaffirmation of vows between brother and sister. In addition all the men(brothers) received “white” Rakhi’s, embraced White Ribbon wrist bands with messages such as ‘not violent, not silent’, ‘ making women safety a man’s issue’ and ‘I will stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence against women’ and took the White Ribbon pledge and oath.
A number of notable individuals spoke at the event including White Ribbon Ambassador & Organiser – Mr Akshay Raj ,The Shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault and Small Business- Ms Jenny Aitchison Member for Maitland, The (NUS &UTS) International Students Officer – Mr Manmeet Singh as well as Ms Joanna Leonard from the UTS Equity and Diversity Unit. A presentation was also done by Ms Vivian Tran, Ms Sanjana Suri and Mr Moiz Rana, students from the innovation hub UTS: Hatchery talking about their activism on campus and their most recent project.
‘ Its about changing the conversation that we have in the Indian( South Asian) culture about mens and womens issues’ said Akshay Raj. ‘ It’s not uncommon that elders will often push the notion that boys and girls can never be just friends and that an assumption of intimacy is placed between two people of different sexes who aren’t known to be related. We need to push messages of mutual respect and gender eqaulity’ he furthered by saying ‘As children we are often taught to treat each other with the utmost respect, with elderly people addressing them with Nana ji and Nani ji out of respect, with people older MEDIA RELEASE 27.08.2016than us addressing them with ‘Aunty ji and Uncle ji’ and even in a between males calling each other ‘Bhai, Veere, and Ana’ however theres a disjuncture when is comes to relations between males and females of the same age. This problem goes to core of shaping respectful relationships. It about making respect for women, a mans issue as well.’
Mr Singh and Ms Patel (Om Shanti) embraced the event saying , “ Often when we come to Australia to study, we leave behind our families, our brothers and sisters. It shouldn’t mean that we leave our tradition’s and culture. This Australian concept of multiculturalism is amazing and we feel that events like this are welcoming for international students” and “ Students on campus away from their families often embrace each other as brothers and sisters. White Rakhi affirms the bonds that they share and develops respect between students, its like saying ‘I’ve got your back’ its a great feeling especially when your so far away from home”
Shadow Minister Aitchison spoke as length about her role as the spokesperson in the NSW Parliament as well as her experience before entering parliament in the Department of Immigration and her experience as a business woman herself. “ In the NSW Parliament there is a great amount of understanding and bipartisanship between all parties as to the seriousness of addressing Domestic Violence in our society. Every week one woman falls victim to a Domestic Violence related homicide ,this needs to stop and more needs to be done”. She joined Ms Leonard and echoed “ Its an honour to be a apart of a student run initiative such as Project White Rakhi, a movement that is taking a proactive approach to these issues rather than a reactive stance especially in the lead up to Equity and Diversity Week”.
A final blessing was read out on behalf of Pandit Jayneil Shandil whose message spoke in depths about the significance of Rakhi for Hindu and Vedic Traditions. Apologies where given by Hon. Tanya Pbilersek, the Nepalese Consul General as well as the UTS Vice Chancellors Office.
Project White Rakhi has only just started and organisers hope that the tradition will continue for years to come.