Stanford student conducts research on India’s 181 helpline for women

Japsimran Kaur, ’18, (fourth from right) and other Stanford team members with research assistants from Gujarat.

With co-sponsorship by the Center for South Asia and the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights & International Justice, Stanford student Japsimran Kaur, ’18, spent her summer working with a team of Stanford researchers in Gujarat, India.

Stanford Global Studies colleagues Sangeeta Mediratta, Associate Director, Center for South Asia, and Meredith Miller Vostrejs, Program Manager, WSD Handa Center for Human Rights & International Justice, sat down for a Q&A with Japsimran to reflect on her summer experience.

How would you describe your summer internship project?

I worked with Dr. Jennifer Newburry at the Stanford School of Medicine and Stanford undergraduate students Shravya Gurrapu, ’20 and Rushali Patel,’20, to evaluate the new 181 Abhayam Helpline, that was established in Gujarat a few years ago. 181 is a toll-free helpline that supports women in distress by providing over-the-phone counseling in-person counseling rescue from threatening situations, and referrals to other services. To complete this evaluation, we interviewed approximately 60 women who had used the helpline to understand why they used it, what kind of help they had been looking for, what kind of help they received, and how that help from 181 had impacted their lives. These interviews are currently being analyzed to make recommendations for Gujarat’s 181 Helpline as well as the helpline in other states in India.

The Stanford team worked with a group of six research assistants from Gujarat. The research assistants conducted all of the interviews. I worked mostly on the logistical end with the Stanford team. We trained the research assistants the ethics of research, and the protocol for of our particular study to prepare them for the interviews. The Stanford team also managed all of the logistics of traveling to interview sites and through multiple daily debriefing sessions, ensured that the interviews were conducted properly.

My particular role this summer also involved a lot of translating. Our research assistants were most comfortable speaking in Gujarati but also spoke and understood Hindi. Althoug I do not speak Guajrati, I am a native Hindi speaker. Thus, for most of the summer, I was facilitating communication between the Stanford team and the research assistants during training, debriefing, etc. Although the research assistants were not as comfortable with Hindi as they were with Gujarati, their Hindi and mine improved significantly over the summer.

What was your favorite part of the work you did there? What was challenging and how did you attempt to overcome the challenges?

My favorite part was definitely bonding with the research assistants. The research assistants came from a variety of cities, including both urban and rural communities, around Gujarat. I did not think we would end up getting this close, but we joked around with each other, and at the final dinner they sang me a song. I can’t even remember the song, but it was a Hindi song that we had listened to over the summer. I enjoyed being able to connect with them and still keep in touch with them over WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Almost everything was challenging, now that I think about it. We just had so many logistical and technological challenges, and many that we didn’t anticipate at all! I think the most challenging aspect, however, was the translating. Going into the summer, I did not expect to be translating but think that it was a very valuable experience.

India reputedly has a transformative impact on visitors. Would you agree? And if so, how were you transformed?

I think it was definitely the work that I was doing that was transformative. I felt like I was doing something really meaningful, through working on this project and being able to speak with women. The women who we were interviewing could also speak Hindi, so sometimes they would speak with me. Being able to hear from the women directly, instead of just reading a transcript, was an amazing experience. It was very inspiring to see how incredibly resilient the women were.

Do you feel like you saw a new side to India this summer, compared to the times you had been there previously?

I definitely did. When I go to India with my family and even when I lived there, I basically only speak and interact with my family. But this time, we went to five or six different districts in Gujarat. And all the districts are very different and diverse. Being welcomed into these communities was also very exciting. Everyone also welcomed us with open arms into their homes. I wasn’t expecting for that to happen.

Would you recommend this kind of international service work experience to other Stanford students? If so, why and what would be your overall advice to them?

I would completely recommend this type of service experience. My advice is to go in with a completely open mind and be adaptable, be flexible because plans always change! I think that anybody doing international work should actively think about cultural humility.

What kind of global competencies can students expect to go in with or build on these trips?

I definitely think that going into a trip, you cannot go into it comparing things to America. Thinking that way is a big issue that really hinders peoples’ ability to immerse themselves in any new place. Global competency means going in with an appreciation for the new place that you are in and an appreciation for how welcoming that new community is. You should not go in trying to say “oh this is how we do it in America” or “this is how it should be.” That is really what it means to me.

Tell us about the after-life of the work you did in India. In what ways would you want to deepen and strengthen this experience and take it in new directions?

Right now, we are working on the analysis of the interviews that we did, so we are still meeting weekly as a team here at Stanford to go through the transcripts and do an analysis. I actually went back to Gujarat in November for Thanksgiving break to collect data for my own honors thesis, which is about domestic violence in India.

Is there anything else that you want to share that you think that students should be aware of?

I think just the value of doing service, but also being critical of doing international service. So, think: is this something that is really helping the community? Is this a need that is really coming from the community, or is it just a need that I am imposing on them? I think it is really important to know the role of the receiving community in international work.

Learn more about Handa Center summer internship opportunities here, and the Center for South Asia opportunities here.