More power to the battered

$650,000 raised to fund Maitri, a group helping domestic violence victims in the San Francisco Bay Area

Ritu Jha
Maitri staff and volunteers

Maitri, a group addressing domestic violence in the South Asian community, raised $650,000 at its 27th annual gala, held March 3 in Palo Alto, California.

Last year, it raised $550,000.

Attendees at the event which has the optimistic theme, “And Then Comes the Dawn “ were the better-known members of the South Asian tech community, many of who are longtime supporters.

These included Ram Reddy, president, TiE Silicon Valley; Thomas Kailath and Arogyaswami Paulraj, professors at Stanford University; Vinita Gupta, member, Maitri Board of Trustees; Venky Ganesan, partner, Menlo Ventures; and Vishal Sikka, former MD and CEO of Infosys.

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Romesh Wadhwani (left) with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.

Romesh Wadhwani, founder, chairman, and CEO of Symphony Technology Group, who has supported Maitri for 10 years now, told indica that when it comes to domestic violence, “awareness begins at home.”

According to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, the robust presence of well-known South Asians at an event to address the issue shows the community is rallying around the cause and that everyone is emotional to help women who are abused and are trying to get their life back together.

He told indica that while both he and his wife Reni back the cause, Reni is also on the board of Maitri.

Former Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka (left) with Ram Reddy, president of TiE, Silicon Valley

Narayen described domestic violence as a societal problem.

“It’s our job to bring attention to it and address it. Even bringing attention to it actually helps makes more people aware of why it has no place in our society,” he said, adding, “More needs to be done. Every individual deserves a voice. America is all about opportunity and liberty and people are not getting that. I think it’s our duty to do something about it.”

Another longtime supporter and former president of Maitri, Mukta Sharangpani, who joined the organization in 1996, says people think violence doesn’t happen among educated people.

“But it does happen, and you feel deeply sad. In spite of so much advocacy there are still so many people out there that need assistance,” Sharangpani said. She said the number of reported domestic violence cases have been rising each year and added that one good thing was that people now knew of a place where they go to for help.

The funds raised will be used for strengthening Maitri’s comprehensive suite of services and programs ranging from a helpline, a transitional house, outreach and prevention, a non-profit boutique, legal advocacy, mental health, and economic empowerment program.

“We don’t tell what to do. We hear them out, give them the information and the ability to make their own decision – because with domestic violence you are so isolated and so controlled. We don’t tell them what they should do but empower them to make their own decision,” Sharangpani said.

Former Maitri president Mukta Sharangapani

Asked about the biggest concerns for Maitri after 27 years, Sharangpani said it was that the growing organization was not yet sustainable.

Zakia Afrin, manager, Client Advocacy Programs, told indica that the number of people calling on Maitri keeps increasing, with most being between 24 and 50 years of a“it’s pretty consistent and most of our calls and clients are [originally] from India. Since it’s a South Asian agency we have calls from people from other countries also,” Afrin said. Her own work involves helping people from everything ranging from restraining orders for abusers to help with immigration.

Asked about the stress involved in the job, Afrin conceded, “It’s challenging, because the issues are personal, and you work with someone’s emotional nightmare… Above that, if you are working with immigrant survivors there are many other hurdles.” She said that besides language and cultural issues, family members from both parties, some of them in India, tried to play a role in the matter.

Help from the Indian government comes primarily in the form of resources and references. She said that while it used to help with legal issues, new rules mean that only attorney’s fees and that in a more limited number of cases, are provided. The main aid is in the form of moral support.

Zakia Afrin, manager, Client Advocate Programs at Maitri

But resources are important.

Afrin said, “When we talk to the government agencies both in California and in the [Indian] embassy and the [San Francisco] consulate the main thing we try to tell them is that people should know what resources are out there.”

“So, if someone is traveling out of the country [from India] and to the United States if they know their rights, if they get into trouble that actually can help them quite a bit. They should know where they can go for help when in trouble,” Afrin said.

During the event, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez was commended by Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) for the agency’s transformative work in empowering survivors of domestic violence and abuse.

Sonya Pelia, current president of Maitri, in her speech, said, “We find that our unique cultural competency and strong leadership has established Maitri in the forefront of mainstream domestic violence agencies in the Bay Area.”

Noreen Raza, a member of the Maitri Board of Trustees and the gala co-chair, expressed her pleasure at how well the fund-raising had gone.

“It’s not easy raising funds,” she said “Culturally we are told never to ask for money and it’s awkward but the cause is bigger than me and the embarrassment [endured]. It’s not about me and I am here as somebody’s voice.”

Venky Ganesan (right), partner, Menlo Ventures, with Vinita Gupta (center), member, Maitri Board of Trustees.

Reshma Dordi , who joined the board more than a year ago, told indica, “It’s all about spreading the word around and making the world aware and helping. Domestic violence is a worldwide problem and awareness anywhere is a good thing; it doesn’t have to be in one region.”

Dordi said, “The incident rate is very high and unfortunately not enough is talked about because people don’t want to admit it even if they see domestic abuse or violence in their homes. They feel, ‘What will the community say?’ And so, we are trying to educate people that [domestic violence] happens in different strata of society and should be talked about.”

Established in 1991, by a group of women, Maitri has until today has received over 44,250 helpline calls. According to a report the organization published, in the financial year 2016-17, its helpline responded to 299 first-time callers, which makes for approximately 24 new callers every month.

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