'I think I am young enough to see change': Tarang Chawla is positive despite Steve Price comments on Q&A

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Steve Price shocks Q&A audience

Van Badham slams Steve Price's comments on Q&A after a questioner described the murder of his sister at the hands of her partner. Vision courtesy ABC.

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These are the last words the judge says to the court. 

"What can be said about this murder as an extreme example of family violence that has not already been said in so many other cases?

Tarang Chawla with his sister Nikita before her she was murdered in January last year.

Tarang Chawla with his sister Nikita before her she was murdered in January last year. Photo: Supplied

"You murdered someone you professed to love. You murdered someone who had no capacity to defend herself from the attack you launched against her. Despite feeling betrayed, you murdered someone who was completely entitled to end her marriage to you and form a relationship with someone else if she wished to.

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"As the victim impact statements I have heard and read show, you murdered someone who was loved by her family. You also murdered someone with the majority of her life still ahead of her. You did that in circumstances where there is very little, if anything, that mitigates your behaviour. Your culpability is very high indeed."

The murdered woman, Nikita Chawla, was 23 when she was killed on January 9 last year. She left behind a devastated family.

Her brother, Tarang Chawla, is working hard to make a difference.  On Monday night, he sat in the audience of Q&A waiting for his turn. The mic comes down from the ceiling but he has dealt with much worse than this. He is not nervous.

Chawla, 29, is about to ask Monday night's panel a question and in doing so, reveal on national television the horror of what happened to his darling baby sister in January last year.

He says: "Sam Newman has courted controversy yet again for defending Eddie McGuire, who joked about drowning Caroline Wilson. I work as an ambassador for Our Watch, White Ribbon and the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre. Male violence is a leading cause of death and disability for women under 45 in Australia.

"My sister Nikita was stabbed to death by her partner in January last year with a meat cleaver. She was 23. How will politicians and the media play a better role in bringing about long overdue culture shift so tragedies like what happened to my family are not normalised?"

Tony Jones asks radio presenter Steve Price to respond. Instead of immediately acknowledging the death of Nikita, he instead launches into a defence of "a bunch of blokes laughing about things that they shouldn't have laughed about".

Chawla tells me that before the murder of his sister he'd never really been involved in politics before this – never been in the public eye. But in January last year all that changed.

"I was always politically interested and motivated and aware generally of what was going on, but I had never experienced the sorts of things that women experience daily.

"It wasn't in my lived experience. I was aware of it from the outside having gone through law school, gender studies, seeing what was going on within my social circles and within the broader community."

But after Niki's death, one thing led to another. "I distinctly remember watching Q&A on February 23 last year [a few weeks after his sister was killed]. They had a special about family violence and a perpetrator [of domestic violence] described his experience as 'I was involved in a domestic violence incident with my then-partner'."

Tarang felt that even the language made it sound as if the perpetrator was refusing to take responsibility for his own actions.

"It sounded like he was distant from what he had done."

He had an immediate – visceral – response to the perpetrator and his response was to write: "The first step for a man who has committed a violent act is to acknowledge and accept that he is not simply 'involved' in a case of violence, he is responsible for it."

Through that writing he became an advocate, an Our Watch ambassador, and tireless speaker on the epidemic of violence against women. So how did he feel about Steve Price's response on Monday night?

Tarang's answer is measured. He says that he really felt listened to by the other panellists and that deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek approached him after the program to offer her support and condolences.

"I got the impression [Price] was not going to or not wanting to address issues of gender or gender equality and it was more, more that he or his friends had been maligned for something that was in his opinion, banter is the word he used.

"I'm pretty resilient... I didn't have the expectation that he owes me anything. But [among] all the other panellists, his response stood out."

It was what happened next, when Price responded to respected Guardian columnist Van Badham, that really shocked him. Badham described Tarang's experience as heartbreaking and then went on to talk about the kind of cultural attitudes which encourage violence against women.

And Price said: "Just because you're a woman, though, you are not the only one who can get upset about this."

Tarang gasped, the entire audience with him. "His response seemed so far fetched to my experience and my thinking, I can't believe he thought that, let alone what he said.

"And I took issue with the fact that he was insulting the journalist next to him. He was trying to say the threat of the drowning of Caroline Wilson was a joke.

"I perceived a failure to see a causal link between sexist attitudes and more serious forms of violence against women and that's sometimes synonymous with male culture and male entitlement."

Does he predict any change in his lifetime?

"The positive aspect of this advocacy is the very tangible understanding that it does make a difference and it changes the conversation. Comments like Eddie's would not have registered in the public consciousness in the same way ten years ago.

"So much more needs to be done. I think I am young enough in my lifetime to see significant shifts."

He's a brave man and you just know he's suffered but he says that he and his parents are managing.

"We are pretty resilient people. We said this in court when mum gave her victim impact statement in court. 

"We came to Australia with three suitcases mostly full of books, our education and positive spirits."

And it is the positive spirit and his loving memories of his little sister that guide him.

But he also works hard to ensure that Niki's memory is kept alive.

"She was quite a little legend. She was a choreographer and performing artist and due to graduate from Monash with a bachelor of performing arts. She ran her own dance studio. She had a very infectious smile and a very kind hearted and generous spirit and I think of those things and they give me hope."

"I don't think about her death, I think about her life."

Facebook.com/jennapricejournalist@jennaprice