Tales of horror and eventual survival from domestic abuse has a huge impact on attendees
Narika, a group that has made its name empowering battered women, raised $180,000 at its 26th annual gala held September 16 in Danville, California.
Anitha Chakravarthi, president of Narika, described its work in her speech, highlighting the concerns of domestic violence survivors, saying their numbers were not only growing but that they have added fewer programs to gain help from and face immigration challenges as well.
Narika aims to promote these women’s independence, economic empowerment, through advocacy, support, and education.
She said the group has already received 1,200 phone calls so far this year, adding that though South Asian women would avidly discuss SAT scores they assiduously avoided talk of domestic violence.
“The problem is real, So the first step is to acknowledge it,” she told the 201 guests.
Rovina Nimbalkar, executive director at Narika. said the funds raised will go towards our programs such as SEED (Self Empowerment and Economic Development Program), HEAL(Health, Enrichment & Access to Life Skills), a helpline for survivors, client transportation, groceries for clients, emergency rent or any other client needs to flee an unsafe environment.
Nimbalkar said most of the survivors the group deals with are recent immigrants who are not financially independent, are not proficient at the language, and very vulnerable.
“Due to the asylum visa ban for domestic violence victims, it is making it more difficult for these women to step out of violent relationships,” Nimbalkar told indica.
She said they and their children continue to stay in unsafe environments out of fear. Many are scared to go back to their home countries due to the social stigma associated with leaving their partners and the shame they may cause their families.
“The current environment is also causing fear about seeking help from law enforcement,” Nimbalkar said, adding that Narika continues to help the survivors with services during this difficult time.
Sarita Kohli, CEO of Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), said “We see a lot of challenges, particularly for immigrant women, many of whom are dependent [on others[ for their legal status. For them to get a job and become independent is very challenging.”
She said the group gets some support from some landlords who try to house some of the people.
“But we had occasions where women have to cycle through different shelters. It’s hard for them,” Kohli said.
Tejeswi Dodda, program manager for the SEED and HEAL programs, said SEED and focused on fostering economic independence and self-reliance in survivors of domestic violence. But HEAL is exclusively a community program that also works with any women interested in wellness, Bharat Natyam, yoga, meditation, theater, and Bollywood classes.
“The idea is to let south Asian women know that we are here to support them, “Dodda told indica. “A lot of women hesitate to call themselves survivors and in the process [of dealing with Narika], they feel confident to share their problems.”
During the gala, Tejas (named changed) shared her nightmare of three years that impacted her health, mind, and body until the daily abuse made her suicidal and so depressed that she did not leave a room for eight months.
“I really thank Narika for giving me the opportunity, helping me out to come out the utter sadness,” she said. “I still don’t call myself a survivor; I have discovered my freedom. The freedom that nobody will hit me whether the salt in the food is less or more.”
Tejas said that the abusers were often better positioned to hire expensive attorneys who kept the litigation going to exhaust the survivors’ defenses.
“Every notice we get is like a death sentence. Sometimes it’s very hard to understand what’s written in the papers,” she said, wiping off tears.
“We need to educate our brothers that our culture does not teach a man how to treat a woman,” Tejas said.
Narika supporter Lata Krishnan told indica her family really believes in the empowerment of women.
“I think for women to be financially independent is very important,” Krishnan said.
Krishnan, the CFO of Shah Capital Partners and co-founder of America India Foundation, a non-profit group that supports the underprivileged, supports Narika’s SEED program.
Another supporter, Inderjeet Singh, believes domestic violence is well hidden in the South Asian community. He believed that more visibility will help.
“Gatherings like this in which exposure is provided is extremely important,” Singh said.
S Suresh, freelance writer and a member of the Maitri Board of Trustees, said, “Narika’s gala managed to highlight the problem of domestic violence in a highly impactful fashion through two powerful testimonials. The stories shared in the video, as well as the speech of the domestic violence survivor, deeply touched everyone in the audience.”
He told indica, “It’s about control and power of men over women.” He added that the rising number of cases are due to people being more willing to report them now than perhaps even a decade ago.
Preeti Suri, an entrepreneur who is attending for the first time, was pleased to see men supporting the cause.
“I am absolutely amazed how many men there are here,” she said. “I feel we need more men advocates for this cause to make it more effective.”