December 8, 2009
By Megha Sahgal and Leena Kamat
On Friday, November 20, 2009, a gathering of approximately twenty individuals from several organizations including Narika, Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA) and South Asian Sisters, convened amidst rainy weather in front of Berkeley’s Pasand restaurant in remembrance of Chanti Pratipatti, who passed away at the age of 17 in 1999. Chanti had been brought to Berkeley from a village in Andhra Pradesh, India, by Berkeley landlord and Pasand restaurant owner Lakireddy Bali Reddy, who exploited her and several other young girls for labor and sex.
In November of 1999, Reddy and some of his associates were seen carrying a suspicious bag which held the corpse of a pregnant Chanti Pratipatti, who had expired from carbon monoxide poisoning in the Berkeley apartment that she shared with her younger sister, Seetha, and another girl by the name of Lalitha. Berkeley resident Marcia Poole alerted police of suspicious activity, which slowly led to an unraveling of the facts surrounding the unlawful trafficking, as well as labor and sexual exploitation of of the girls. In June of 2001, Reddy was sentenced to eight years of prison for his unlawful acts, and released early in April of 2008.
During the vigil, community members held up signs in front of Pasand protesting exploitation and demanding more compassionate and fair immigration and labor laws; Berkeley residents stopped to listen to community members speak about human trafficking in the Bay Area, allowing for the creation of positive and progressive dialogue. Throughout this peaceful demonstration, only two individuals were seen patronizing the restaurant. Later on, roses were distributed and placed along the perimeter of the Pasand premises, in honor of Chanti’s short life. Many community members expressed concern over how to ensure most productively and holistically that people in positions of power are held accountable by the community and not allowed to abuse their power. “Holding one another accountable while remaining in community with each other is challenging. Yet, we have to face that challenge personally and with the people we call family, friends, neighbors, workers, employers… with all of our people,” said ramesh kathanadhi, Narika volunteer.
A statement issued by ASATA, which had been formed in response to the Reddy case, asserts, “International and domestic labor and sex trafficking are fueled by social, economic, and gender inequality, xenophobic immigration laws, environmental degradation, civil unrest, militarization and poverty. … We stand with all of those who are threatened with placing their immigration status in jeopardy if they speak out against their abusers.” Narika, a domestic violence helpline and women’s advocacy organization based in the Bay Area, has also been involved with the Reddy case over the last ten years. “Remembering Chanti and honoring her young life is not just about the issue of exploitation, but also to remember the ongoing struggles and systems of oppression that continue to be at play in our global community,” said Atashi Chakravarty, Executive Director of Narika.
December 4, 2009
Recently, well-known Indian fashion designer, J J Valaya’s MAGIC Foundation donated Narika – a CA-based non profit – a part of the proceeds from their fashion show. My thoughts highlighting Narika’s work that nite are below.
– Manju Seal, President, Board of Directors for Narika, Nov 15, 2009
“It gives me great pleasure to be here tonight amidst such a distinguished audience including the Consul-General Sushmita Thomas, JJ Valaya, Maninder Kaur and many others. I would like to congratulate the Valaya MAGIC Foundation & esp. Sheetal Ohri for putting together this awesome event that brings together fashion, fun and yes, our sense of social responsibility.
I am particularly honored and delighted to see that Narika is one of the beneficiaries of this fundraiser. On behalf of Narika’s clients, staff, volunteers, supporters and the Board of Directors, I deeply thank the Valaya MAGIC Foundation for partnering and helping us in our fundraising efforts especially, when 2009 has been a tough year! A cross-border partner from India, like you, is much-needed and appreciated by Narika.
For those of you who have not heard of Narika – or its amazing work – let me share a few things. Narika is a Bay area non-profit that helps only South Asian women who have experienced domestic violence or trafficking. 17 years ago, in 1992, a few South Asian women got together and founded Narika. Since then, it has remained committed in serving many many South Asian women in their tough, and lonely journeys from being victims of abuse to empowered female role-models. Narika receives over fifteen-hundred phone calls from all over annually. Some of these are from outside the Bay area, and even from outside USA.
Clients come to Narika from all walks of life. She can be a small business owner, a blue-collar worker, a stay-at home mom, or a business woman earning 6-figure salary. She can be unemployed or waiting for a work permit; pregnant or with small children; a new immigrant or an established US citizen; old or young; a newly wed wife or married for many decades.
She may not know how to drive or speak English or even be aware of her legal rights on the US soil. She may be deeply concerned about the consequences of her actions if she takes a stand against her violent partner or in-laws; the fear of perhaps lose her parent’s family honor in her home-country.
Perhaps she may not be supported in her decision to leave her abusive partner by her own parents or siblings or may be they remain blissfully unaware; she may be deeply depressed, or have no self-esteem, she may fear isolation or social taboos from her community and not know where to turn to. That’s where Narika fills that critical void of supporting South Asian women in a culturally-sensitive model.
The nature of domestic violence is complex and can stew in our homes for days, months, years silently, behind closed doors. The abuse can take many forms: physical, emotional, psychological and financial. The final outcome of such a relationship can result in the victim’s death or severe injury – a story we may read with morning coffee and then feel terrible for days and wonder what we could have done to prevent it in the first place.
Narika typically uses a three-pronged approach: a helpline and direct client services, community outreach and education, and finally empowering women via classes/training after they have weathered the storm. No two cases are ever-alike. Narika customizes solutions, with utmost confidentiality, for their female clients (and their children) when they make that phone call, keeping their personal safety, legal rights, arranging basic necessities like food and shelter, working with law enforcement officials, finding shelters or counselors if necessary and the list goes on.
I often meet folks at dinner parties or social gatherings who will ask me incredulously – Does domestic violence occur even today outside India or here in the Bay area?
Yes, domestic violence primarily affects women in every country around the world with about 5-7% men also being victims. This brutal, negative reality is present in every community around the world and so Bay area is no different.
UN has spent considerable time researching violence against women around the world. We know that violence against women is a violation of human rights. The roots of violence against women lie in historically unequal power relations between men and women and pervasive discrimination against women in both public and private spheres.
Here are some facts UN found:
· 71 countries around the world showed a significant portion of women suffer physical, sexual or psychological abuse.
· Several global surveys suggest that half of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners. In Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, 40%-70% of female murder victims were killed by their partners, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
UN will tell you that worldwide, discriminatory traditions, customs, stereotypes persist to keep women in subordinate positions, and places them at risk of violence. In many communities, domestic violence is a private matter that is acceptable or normal.
The costs of violence against women are extremely high. The cost of intimate partner violence in the US alone exceeds $5.8 Billion per year. A 1995 study In Canada showed that estimated costs of violence against women runs up to 1 Billion Canadian Dollars annually. In UK, this cost is 23 Billion pounds a year.
At Narika, we firmly believe that prevention and solutions for domestic violence have to come as a joint collaboration between men and women. So we love and welcome when men partner with us in the areas of outreach and fundraising. We have our first male board member leading our first pilot Men’s Outreach Group which has done an amazing job of recruiting South Asian men in the Bay area.
In fact, UN’s secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has finally announced the formation of a Network of Men Leaders who will work to inspire men everywhere through their commitment to eliminating violence against women and girls. The Network will be launched on 24 November – 9 days from now – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Looks like Narika is already ahead here.
Necessary political commitment, visibility and resources are lacking in most countries to this cause. In July this year, Governor Schwarzenegger cut the Department of Public Health’s Domestic Violence Program, which provided $20.4 million for 94 domestic violence shelters and centers. As you can imagine, this has affected Narika very negatively. Not to mention contributions have dried up from many directions in the toughest financial crisis of US history.
As you go back to your home tonight (hopefully a peaceful one), consider how you can become an ambassador, a donor, a fund-raiser, or a volunteer for Narika. How you can facilitate an open dialogue about domestic violence – a very difficult topic of conversation I have found – especially in our South Asian setting. I should add that we need to become comfortable discussing this unglamorous topic.
So I have two points of action for each of you tonight. Please make a contribution to Narika today and help us achieve our goal to raise two-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars in the coming year. 96 cents of every dollar you donate, will go towards direct client services.
Second point of action would be to facilitate a dialogue in your immediate community/family about preventing domestic violence. And here I am especially counting on the men here in this room tonight. Together with your dollars, time and commitment, lets build a violence-free South Asian community in the Bay area together.
I once again thank Valaya MAGIC foundation, JJ and MK for providing this forum to discuss a very unglamorous topic – “domestic violence” – openly at a glamorous gathering.”
To learn more:
Local Community Press coverage: http://www.indiawest.com/readmore.aspx?id=1619&sid=6
Valaya MAGIC Foundation: http://www.thevalayamagicfoundationsf.org/
UN Fact sheet: http://www.un.org/en/women/endviolence/
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