There is no question that sex selection and son preference are closely tied with domestic violence against women within our communities. Narika’s efforts to tackle this issue are crucial. Apart from counseling women within the community on the matter, Narika staff and volunteers work to sensitize doctors and staff at medical facilities, as well as local police officers about the cultural nuances that can lead to the practice of sex selection.

The organization recently received a grant to expand their outreach work from Generations Ahead, a California-based outfit that focuses on the social and ethical questions surrounding reproductive technologies. For the past few months, Narika staff member, Shwanika Narayan, has been conducting surveys with South Asian doctors and psychiatrists to find out exactly how prevalent sex selection practices are among the South Asian community in the Bay Area. “Almost all the doctors I met said sex selection had gone down, but it hadn’t completely stopped,” Narayan says. The doctors also said there was a 50 percent chance that the women undergoing these procedures were coerced. One of the therapists Narayan met with mentioned a client who said she has “saved” her daughter by not bringing her into this world! A sad and telling example of how deep-seated and complex this issue is.

Narika will host a workshop on Gender Preference and the continued prevelance in this day and age of sex selective treatments in Bay Area’s South Asian Community. This workshop will be held on Saturday, October 29th at the Fremont Resource Center. I hope you will support this endeavor to discuss the issue and work out strategies to fight this social evil.


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.

To learn more about the work of ASATA and Narika, please see their websites at and, respectively.

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:


Valaya MAGIC Foundation:

UN Fact sheet:

All copyrights reserved with the author.

Below is a note from a long time Narika friend and supporter Vandana; she recently got married and chose to dedicate her gifts to help survivors of domestic violence. We thank Vandana and Jaspal for their generous and meaningful support of Narika and hope this note will inspire people the think of unique opportunities to give back to your community.


When setting up our wedding registry, friends and family encouraged us to go wild with our requests, because this was our “one chance to get everything we could possibly want.” While there were, of course, a few key items we wanted for our home, my husband and I really didn’t need a lot, and the thought of filling up our registry with unnecessary items seemed ridiculous. With the economy in its current state, we knew that charitable organizations were really hurting for funds. We recalled that some friends of ours had used the I Do Foundation, a website that helps couples encourage their wedding guests to make charitable donations, either through direct donations or as a percentage of gifts purchased on a traditional gift registry. This seemed like a simple and direct way to let our guests know their options, while keeping everything organized on one site.

We chose Narika as our beneficiary for several reasons. First, as South Asian Americans, it is important to us that Narika aids our community. Second, since the Bay Area is our home, giving to a local organization was key. Finally, we wanted to bring attention to the issue of domestic violence, which is often kept quiet and whose victims are discouraged from speaking out, especially in the South Asian community.

Many of our guests shared that they were really pleased to have the option to make a charitable gift on our behalf. We were really touched by their generosity and support and encourage other couples to consider using the I Do Foundation to set up their website and registry — it’s an easy way to give back during such hard times.

-Vandana and Jaspal

I have been a Narika helpline volunteer for about 5 years and plan to be a volunteer for many years to come. My role as a volunteer entails interacting with callers who call the Narika helpline and supporting them in any way possible. This could mean referring them to legal services, finding them shelter on short notice, planning for their safety if they are faced with a violent situation, or simply listening to their stories.
People constantly ask me whether my volunteer role makes me sad. Sometimes it does, but the fulfillment I feel and the triumphs experienced by myself, Narika and, most importantly, the women we work with always surpasses any sadness. Working with domestic violence survivors is the most rewarding job I have ever had. I am constantly in awe of the resourcefulness, strength and intelligence of the women we work with at Narika. They are optimistic and resilient rather than beaten down by their circumstances. They are often staunch advocates for their children, quick to learn and eager to get back on their feet. I learn from each and every one of them.
I am also both thankful and thoroughly impressed with my “colleagues” at Narika. From the women advocates to the newest volunteer, each woman working for Narika’s cause is indispensible and exceptional in her own way. Our people speak a myriad of languages, have varied educational backgrounds, are immigrant and non-immigrant South Asians and have successfully aided women in some of the most difficult abusive situations you can fathom. I know I can pick of the phone and call any of them if I have a question or am faced with a novel issue—none of us are alone in helping our clients with their problems.
However, I would be lying if I told you I only volunteer for the personal fulfillment it brings me. Make no mistake–the urgency and need is real and one of the key factors that compelled me to become a volunteer and stay a volunteer. Long before I came to Narika, one of my first experiences as a domestic violence advocate involved working with an abused woman whose husband broke both her arms in a violent episode. She came to our shelter with an infant and a six-year-old child. It broke my heart when I saw her instructing her six-year-old to help change the baby’s diaper (someone at the shelter intervened and helped her). When people tell me that they do not have the time or the resilience to dedicate their skills to a worthy cause like ours, I am resolute in telling them that we cannot afford to not help.
Despite our clients’ exceptional inventiveness and clear capabilities, they have great faith in their community and turn to it for support, guidance and resources. Narika exists to fulfill this need. They rely on our language skills and our experience with law enforcement, public programs benefiting the survivors of violence, and a host of other skills possessed by the diverse team of individuals who comprise Narika. Unfortunately, resources are scare and my “wish list” for what would make my job easier is long.
First on my list is the need for financial resources. It is no secret that everything costs money. In the realm of domestic violence advocacy, money can obtain/retain valuable staff and space for organizations like Narika as well as emergency aid for our clients (for shelter, food, necessities, etc.) and the prospect of educational programs geared specifically to the unique problems faced by our South Asian sisters who may be recent immigrants, lacking in marketable job skills, etc.
Very high on my list is competent, compassionate legal counsel to represent my clients. The vast majority of the questions I receive on my helpline shift deal with the law. We at Narika are blessed to have the assistance of several exceptional attorneys in the fields of family and immigration law. Unfortunately, our need far exceeds the amount of works these attorneys can or should shoulder. Many lawyers aspire to do pro bono work, but simply cannot carve time into their busy schedules. My plea to any lawyer reading this is to work with your firm or respective organization to ensure that you have the time and support to pursue such endeavors. Free and affordable legal aid is a must for our clients and you are sure to receive both valuable experience and happiness from your contribution.
Although I know not everyone has the luxury to dedicate their time or financial assistance to our organization, I do know that everyone has time to play a part in ending violence against women. Every little bit counts. Every time you teach a child that violence is intolerable, you are making a world of difference. If you take it upon yourself to support legislation that benefits domestic violence survivors, you are making an impact. If you take a stand against media that condones violence against women, you have made a contribution. The list of ways to help is endless and the opportunities to perpetuate change are abundant. I hope to work with as many of you as possible in our quest to end violence against women.

My support for Narika goes back to the weekend afternoon in 1992 up in the Berkeley hills when Narika was founded by a group of dynamic and committed South Asian women. Then, fifteen years along, I got to attend the Narika Anniversary Gala and chair the fund-raising segment of the program. And during these fifteen years, not only did Narika help hundreds of women victims of domestic violence in the South Asian community in the Bay Area, it benefited me too.

Narika made me realize that domestic violence was a real problem in the South Asian community, that it transcended economic classes, and that it was made worse by the victim’s lack of family, communal, and institutional support. More important, Narika made me realize that something could be done about it. With dedicated and tireless volunteers, legal protections, and courageous victims, shattered and devastated lives could be re-built, new skills could be acquired, and new horizons could be opened.

Just as the problem of domestic violence is not going away anytime soon, neither is Narika. Many wonderful organizations do not outlast their founders. Narika is on its fourth generation of leadership with the same level of dedication and commitment as when Narika first started. That is an impressive achievement reflective of both the appeal of the mission and the strength of its organization.

However, all this would not have been possible without our support. The least I thought I could do was provide monetary support. That is the easy part. The volunteers do the hard part, the clients do the hardest part. The annual check for $250 to Narika looks difficult to write but then you realize you spend many times that on just your cable TV service. Not to mention cell phones, internet, movies, restaurants, and Starbucks! Your donation is money well spent, wisely spent, and without turning your brain to mush or adding to your waistline! From a pure economic value, I wish some smart graduate student could estimate the real value of a dollar contribution to Narika from the lives restored and the workforce contributions. But even without the numbers you just know the value is a lot. If you were at the Narika Gala in 2007 you remember the moving testimony from a Narika client; if not, go to the HerStories section of the Narika website. You will need no further convincing.

So I hope as Father’s Day approaches you will join me in supporting Narika and the work they do by making an individual contribution.

You can further support Narika in other ways too. Maybe your company makes matching charitable contributions. Maybe you can hold a fund-raiser at your next dinner party for Narika – just pass a hat around. You will be surprised how easy it is. Maybe you are connected with other non-profits that provide complementary services, like early childhood education programs or workskills development. Let them know about Narika.

The important thing is to get involved – it will make you feel better and it will make this Bay Area corner of the South Asian community better. Trust me. I have felt this way for seventeen years now from that historic Narika founding in 1992 and my commitment shows no sign of waning simply (as us South Asians are wont to say!) because of the important, necessary, and effective work that Narika does. Please join me.

-Christopher Flores, Narika Advisory Board Member

Getting Involved

June 5, 2009

As we approach Father’s Day, I’d like to take a look back at a poll, conducted on behalf of The Family Violence Prevention Fund, that was taken two years ago for Father’s Day.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to assail you with a slew of numbers 😉 Just some of the more interesting findings. This survey polled one thousand American men and found that two thirds think that domestic violence and sexual assault is common in the U.S. Two thirds! I was surprised to learn that many men are enlightened enough to realize this problem.

And almost as many men (56%) think it is likely that at some point in their lives a woman they know will be a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. Over in 1 in 2 felt that way! Let’s think about that for a minute. If we roughly equated that to 1 in 2 women being victims, then we’re talking about a mother or a daughter. Not somebody else’s mom or daugter, but just possibly yours. These aren’t numbers projected by some government agency or a women’s group, but what men like you and I know and feel in their hearts.

Another finding of this poll is that men feel that many major institutions aren’t doing nearly enough to prevent domestic violence. Most men say that the entertainment industry, government leaders, the sports industry, schools, and the news media need to be doing a lot more. But wait a minute. We’re talking about our mothers and daughters. Are we really going to hope someone else or some government agency is going to fix the problem?

I’ve been starting to learn a lot about domestic violence over the last couple of years. It’s a very complex problem that requires a lot of little changes in our society. But I’m absolutely convinced it can be solved or at the very least greatly ameliorated. These are changes we all need to make, not just the women in our lives. More than half the men polled felt they personally could make a difference in preventing domestic violence or sexual assault. They were willing to talk to children about healthy, violence-free relationships, contact elected official to strengthen laws against domestic violence, or participate in work place programs to raise awareness. Believe it or not, the biggest obstacle for most men was not having time to do these things.

I’m not asking you to do any of those things. Although, that would be fantastic 🙂 What I’m asking you to do takes almost no effort and you can do it this instant. I’m just asking for your signature. On a check or donation form. To Narika.

Even in this tough economic environment, where state and federal funding are hard to come by, we at Narika haven’t reduced any of the services we provide. Every dollar raised from this campaign goes directly to our helpline; helping women and children in the most fundamental of ways by helping Narika buy food, pay for rent and purchase clothing as needed for our clients. In addition, we are starting new programs, like the Men’s Outreach program, because we know we can solve this problem together. And because we know you will come through for us when government funding is lacking.

There’s a famous quote that goes something like this – “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Lets show the world that we are all good men and that we will stand with our sisters and our mothers, our daughters and our wives and support Narika. 

You can donate by sending a check to Narika, PO Box 14014, Berkely, CA 94712 or donate securely online by visiting

-Rom Srinivasan, Narika Board Member

His Volunteer Stories

June 1, 2009

I was at a place in life where I was looking to meaningfully contribute my time and effort to a good cause. I had a few cause’s in my mind that I could pursue however the cause Narika champions was no where in the radar. Furthermore, as I started getting familiar with Narika and its work to address the problem of domestic violence in South Asian community in the bay area, I was very skeptical about it. I had this notion that domestic violence in the south asian community did not exist. I had this perception that all immigrants coming into this county and especially into the bay area were educated and responsible people and domestic violence was a problem of the uneducated lot. You may call me naïve to hold an opinion such as this but that is exactly what I felt. Given this background, I felt that there are more important causes in the bay area that I could espouse and domestic violence was not on a scale that needed a big organization wide effort. I was dead wrong.

I got familiar with Narika through a friend who was actively volunteering with them. I learnt from him the various projects that Narika was undertaking as well as the kind of support system they had built for women and children who were in abusive situations. I was shocked to learn that the helpline at Narika gets a large number of distress calls (>2000) every year from South Asian women who need help to tackle an abusive situation. This fact really opened up my eyes and challenged my misplaced notions that there was no domestic violence against women especially in the south asian community. I also came to realize that women reach a breaking point before they start reporting a case and that there are even more cases that go unreported. It has taken years of advocacy and support to encourage women to report domestic violence and more still needs to be done. I had found a cause that I wanted to do right by.

I started to participate in some upcoming Narika projects. Narika hosted a very successful women’s conference in mid March and one of the projects I was involved in was to create awareness about the conference in the general south asian community. I was tasked with distributing the conference posters in and around some local grocery stores frequented by south asian population. It was a fun experience to observe a range of reactions from people who were mildly interested in the cause to people who were completely indifferent. I was able to relate to their reactions as I went through the same exact reaction before I got more educated about the cause. I was able to play a small part in changing some reactions as a part of the poster distribution project. This is just a small example of projects where one can make a difference at Narika.

Mahatma Gandhi has rightly said that “If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with women”. I was particularly ashamed of the fact that men are large perpetrators of violence in domestic violence situations. If I can, by associating myself with Narika change the perception that men are the aggressors and throw a different light on them then I would consider that a significant contribution in by itself.

I am a male and I volunteer with Narika. Why don’t you?.
-Rajesh Bhatia, Narika volunteer since 2008

March 2007

March 8, 2007

At one time, I too was like you. I was secure in the typical Indian family environment.  My first marriage ended in divorce, and it took me ten years to have the courage back to get into another relationship. It took only four short months for my life to be destroyed all over again thanks to my marriage to a U.S. citizen. 

 I met my second husband on  Although he looked open and honest in the photograph, I ignored all the red flags. I waited for nearly five months for his divorce, from his previous marriage, to finalize. I tried to be “understanding” when he didn’t want to reveal his personal information. Meanwhile, I spent all the money I saved for my 13-year old daughter’s future, on the lavish engagement ceremony I hosted when he came here. I built a trousseau (as per his mothers demands), and bought expensive clothes for him and his family. I also spent money on the Visa and gold –all the things I thought I should, to set a proper foundation for my marriage.  I still remember the U.S. embassy official showing concern when my fiancé requested to keep his personal information private…

What happened next is a different story altogether. My in-laws and my husband nudged me into the role of a maidservant. All my freedom was curbed. I was not allowed to go out of the house, make or receive phone calls and for sometime they monitored my e-mails too. I was introduced as a guest to the few people I came across in those four months. Marriage changed nothing. I was shocked when my husband refused to consummate our marriage.  

My husband made no attempts to get me a Social Security Number or teach me how to drive. I did not have a lot of money, but what little I had was also taken away. In effect, I was penniless, without any outside contact and totally at their mercy – just the way they wanted it. Economically, socially, emotionally and mentally, we were their slaves. The emotional and mental torture meted out by all the three of them, made me want to scream out loud. I spent several nights crying. Several times, I begged my father in-law to allow me to talk to someone outside. He refused.  In addition to all this, I could not but help notice my husband acting strangely. He was extremely paranoid. He would suspect bugs in the living room, in the microwave, and even in the rice cooker! He even suspected I was a spy to his ex-wife who came to destroy his family! Finally, unable to tolerate it anymore, I called 911 and we escaped. By a strange link of well meaning people, we found shelter with a doctor and his family. We are currently waiting to hear back from the INS.