Maitri gala in San Francisco Bay Area raises $600k for domestic abuse victims

Dr Geetha Krisnamurthy (right) with Rama Dharmarajan of Maitri at the Maitri Gala 2024

Ritu Jha–

Maitri, a San Francisco Bay Area-based non-profit for victims of domestic violence, raised $600,000 at its 2024 Gala held on March 2 in Palo Alto, California. More than 400 people attended the 33rd anniversary event to support the cause.

Das, a multi-award winning film personality, screened her latest short film ‘Listen to Her’, an whereas Dr. Geetha Krishnamurthy, President of Maitri addressed the rising concern of rising numbers, the work they offer and the proceeds would enable survivors of domestic violence to choose a nonviolent future and get back on their feet.

In the past 33 years, Maitri said it has responded to over 60,000 calls on its helpline, served almost 8,000 survivors, dispersed over a million dollars in empowerment grants and loans, run a 9-bedroom fully occupied Transitional House for over 25 years, developed full legal, outreach, and economic empowerment programs, and advocated for policy change for survivors of familial violence.

indica spoke with Dr Krishnamurthy about the rising incidents of domestic violence. “It signifies improving awareness,” she said. “Numbers rising is a good thing, it means there is awareness. If everyone is quiet, you really don’t know what is happening, which was the case in the past.”

She said the outreach and and awareness generation Maitri did, especially since the pandemic, has “enabled us to reach far and wide.”

Dr Krishnamurthy joined Maitri as a volunteer 16 years ago, and was trained to provide advocacy to survivors of domestic violence. In 2012, she joined the Maitri board, served as the treasurer, then vice president, and is currently its president. “When people realize this happens to other people as well, and that there is help available, they call you. The South Asian population in Silicon Valley has risen tremendously. With more of us here, our cultural problems are going to surface sometime or the other. That’s the reason I don’t believe that domestic violence itself has increased; it’s that more women are coming forward for help.”

Maitri Gala attendees let their hair down in Palo Alto, CA

Rama Dharmarajan, executive director of Maitri since 2013, echoed Krishnamurthy. She joined the organization in 2007, when awareness in the community was far less. “There were much fewer people willing to be publicly associated with the cause,” she said. “Of course, Good Samaritans always called on behalf of clients. We worked with a lot of people in the transitional house when everything seemed hopeless. Today, even among those in the worst possible situation, there is conversation about becoming empowered, raising their voice, and seeking help,” Dharmarajan told indica.

Dharmarajan said Maitri’s transitional home houses nine families and it collaborates with other agencies in the area for more housing facilities for domestic violence survivors. “We figure out what their housing needs are. Sometimes they may not want to come to the transitional house and live in an independent space to continue their lives there. We collaborate with other agencies to make sure that if there are opportunities for other kinds of housing,” Krishnamurthy added.

“We see so much pain, so many challenges, one wonders when it will end,” Dharmarajan said. “However, there are a lot more opportunities now,” she said. “The community is coming together to talk about prevention. It’s not enough to only help people going through this problem. We’re having conversations, we’re educating people. The ideas we may have about gender roles cannot continue, ideas that perpetuate domestic violence and, in many ways, normalize it.”

She added, “Social media is important. It has its bad, but it has become easier for us to reach the community, not just during physical events, but even to broadcast a message. For survivors, too, access has become easier than before.”

Maitri’s executives say that domestic violence cuts across age groups and social strata, and even a marriage that has survived may suddenly start turning sour.

Actor and filmmaker Nandita Das at Maitri Gala 2024

They admit that domestic violence cases went up during Covid. There were more opportunities for the abuser to turn violent. “The fear at the time for victims was the simple act of going out and seeking help,” Krishnamurthy said. “It was scary. After Covid, we had to figure out how to service our folks remotely. We had to figure out how to counsel someone who wasn’t sitting across the table. We ourselves needed training. We had to figure out the drop in our ability to work during the pandemic, and the lack of safety in housing because of the pandemic.”

Jeet Kaul, a Maitri board member and its fundraising committee co-chair believes that more men should join the cause to curb domestic violence. “If you want to eradicate domestic violence, we need men to participate actively. What we also need to do is prevention, and that can happen by awareness. Just last year, in 2023, in the South Asian community alone, 40% of people talked about being in some kind of an abusive relationship — be it physical or emotional. That is unacceptable.”

The Maitri gala also drew survivors of domestic violence like Kristen Baker. “I was invited by a friend who knows that this message, this meeting, this topic is very important to me. I am a survivor of domestic violence, and so coming to events like this means a great deal to me. I’ve had some support, but it was very difficult. So, when I am able to now, I pay it forward to other women who are in this situation and need to remove themselves to find their best selves and rise to their fullest potential, I want to be here to support them.”

Baker said domestic violence affects all cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, and socioeconomic classes. “Everyone says that we want to talk about it, but it’s difficult for people to listen to you when you are a victim of domestic violence. We need to start listening to victims and figure out how to help them versus, because of our own discomfort with the topic, shutting them down,” Baker said.

Dr. Baldev Singh from San Jose was at the gala to support the cause. He told indica, “Domestic violence is not well recognized or talked about. It is amazing that all of us, both men and women, get together to understand this problem and try to prevent it. We should help the survivors deal with this problem so that we can get rid of this evil from our society. All human beings should be treated equally, especially women who are the foundation of any society. I think it’s frustration, lack of understanding and not understanding yourself that leads to taking it out on others and women being there to take the frustration off for some men, and probably sometimes vice versa as well. If you are not mindful of your needs, you develop a rage inside you and take it out on others. When men take it out on women, that is domestic violence.”

Singh believes that mindfulness can be an effective tool to curb domestic violence. “Try to understand yourself first, whether it’s a man or a woman. If you are not mindful of what’s happening inside you, then it’s going to come out sometimes as a negative emotion on people around you, who care about you, and who love you. One solution would be to kind of try to understand yourself first and be mindful.”

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