When the results of a report into sexual assault on Australian university campuses was released this year, Raj Kumar was appalled.
The Glenfield resident and White Ribbon ambassador identified a lack of knowledge and respect surrounding consent and gender equality and wanted to do something to address that.
So he created Project: White Rakhi.
The idea comes from an old Indian tradition – Raksha Bandhan – where a rakhi (a small, simple cloth wristband) symbolises a man’s commitment to protecting a woman and a woman giving the man her blessing.
When you’re wearing the rakhi it’s not just fabric, you’re wearing someone’s story and troubles.Raj Kumar, White Rakhi founder
“It’s about using old traditions and values to address modern issues of consent, gender equality and domestic violence,” he said. “When you’re wearing the rakhi it’s not just fabric, you’re wearing someone’s story and troubles, someone’s hope for a better life.”
Mr Kumar launched the project, which saw groups of people take the oath to ‘be a bro not a bystander’ and play an active role in making women safe, at three Sydney universities in the last month: the University of Technology Sydney, the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales.
Each rakhi was handmade by members of a women’s refuge in Mumbai – many of whom escaped domestic violence or were saved from infanticide.
Statistics show one in five women will be subject to sexual assault or harassment while attending university.
Mr Kumar said it was important to address this problem at the source.
“We need this to be a student-led campaign,” he said. “A lot students, especially international students, come from cultures which promote misogynistic behaviour, which is not helpful. There can be an attitude of cat-calling and inappropriate comments toward women.
“University is where young individuals take the first steps into the adult world, so we need to educate people about consent and equality – we need to make this a topic that isn’t taboo.”
Mr Kumar said the launch of Project: White Rakhi had been successful and there was plenty of room to grow.
The campaign has branched out to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and will be launched at Western Sydney University once student elections have passed. Mr Kumar hopes the project will also find a foothold in India, which he said was a hard nut to crack.