Girls Gotta Know – The Indian Experience
31 January 2017 at 8:05 am
Talish Ray is a Delhi-based lawyer who has developed a Tasmanian-designed online resource for women seeking legal assistance in India, with information on everything from renting to dealing with harassment. She spoke to Lina Caneva about the journey to take the Australian concept to her Indian homeland.
Talish Ray is returning to Australia in February as part of her work with the Australia India Youth Dialogue – just two short years since her first visit when she had a light bulb moment to take an Australian concept and launch Girls Gotta Know in her homeland.
Girls Gotta Know India (GGKI) went live in December and Ray said the process had been a fast paced progression from idea to fruition.
While in Australia in January 2015 Ray was inspired when she saw anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty being named Australian of the Year.
As Batty told her story of domestic violence and the death of her son, Luke, at a sporting ground at the hands of her ex husband, Ray said she was struck by her own emotional reaction.
“First it was the mention of a child and I have little people in our home… and there is the feeling of love and second it was the cricket bat. India is fanatical about cricket so even in a household like ours where we don’t have cricket, a cricket bat can be found,” Ray said.
“It is an average everyday object… the violence of it and the way she spoke about what we can do… I was mesmerised by it.”
Ray said Batty’s association with Tasmania’s Domestic Violence Action Plan led her to a self-study course under the Tasmania Law Reform Institute.
During this study she met the CEO of Women’s Legal Services Susan Fahey who told her about their Australian project called Girls Gotta Know.
“So over a coffee Fahey told me about GGK and I had a moment where I thought I could take this back to India. And I thought it was going to be one of the easiest things in the world to do… but if I had know how hard it would be I would have given it a bit more time and spaced it out better,” she said.
“GGKI is an early stage intervention program which aims to correct gender inequality by providing comprehensive legally valid information to young women.
“It is provided in a manner in which we have ensured that that there is no bias that is often present in a lot of information that is presented to women these days.
“As a woman I know for a fact that information resources come with bias which favour structural inequality and those shape our opinions for a long time to come.
“We cover a broad range of things. We cover relationships… jobs and employment and how to navigate that, a focus on housing and legal issues and even around how to file a freedom of information request.”
Transferring the Australian concept into the Indian environment had it’s challenges.
“In some cases it was a natural progression but in other senses we had to take into account other things that are very specific to the cultural context.”
Ray said one of the biggest challenges was making the website simple to navigate but to include all the necessary and complex information at the same time. The site is also available in Hindi.
She said she had been very fortunate when it came to funding the project for India.
The Australian government through the Australia India Council of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provided initial funding of $20,000 to Women’s Legal Services Tasmania as did the University of Tasmania. The Tasmania Law Reform Institute also provided in-kind support and Ray’s legal firm injected funds.
“It is being run by my law office in India as a part of our pro bono practise. We are not an incorporated not for profit and are running the program and outreach in our spare time and with our money,” Ray said.
“We see it as a solution oriented program with a focus on providing information on skills needed to navigate through day to day living in urban India.”
Ray said her initial fears about the website being a failure were not realised. Since the site launched on 1 December 2016 it has taken off.
“It quite literally went off with the viewership and readership.
“It has grown organically with more than 100,000 views so far and with an average viewing time of more than five minutes.
“It has taken off to a different level altogether.
“We didn’t set up as a not-for-profit organisation so it is part of our pro bono legal work and all the work and we are cross subsidising. We didn’t set it up with a structure of it’s own which we should have thought about.
“I honestly didn’t think there would be this reaction to it.”
Ray laughs when she recall all the work done to achieve the outcome especially with the help of the University of Tasmania and her first meeting with Fahey and how the process was based on mutual trust.
“[Fahey] and the university are the critical reasons that the site has been launched because at no time was there any fear about that I might not give them credit and even at this stage we don’t have an MOU. It is all based on trust.”
Ray said her time in Australia had also provided some reverse cultural impressions.
“We have in India what you call Indian standard time and I have learned how to turn up on time for Australia.”