Celebrating 5 Years!

It’s been five years since SAALT opened its first staffed office. We wanted to take this opportunity to reflect back on the past five years and look forward to many more. I’ll be putting up entries from SAALT staff and Board as well as past interns and staff.

From Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of SAALT:

“Has it been five years already? When we opened our first office in New York City, just a few blocks from Penn Station, in a rented space at Citizens NYC, I was hopeful but unsure about what the first five years would hold.  Thanks to the hard work and dedication of a number of people, including staff (current and former), Board members, interns, volunteers, and donors, we have been able to build a strong foundation for a national organization.  When I started at SAALT five years ago, I was very sensitive to the model that we would create – how could we develop a national organization that would be informed by the experiences of people who were facing inequity on a daily basis? It took years of trust-building, conversations, a bit of struggle, flexibility, and faith for the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations to emerge, and for SAALT to have a meaningful presence at policy tables.

In many ways, I think of another anniversary that is coming up – the ten year anniversary of September 11th. I remember in the days and months after 9/11, wondering how our community would be able to weather the unprecedented backlash, immigration enforcement tactics, and profiling that we faced.  At that point in time, there was no formal network, no real ties that organizations had to one another. As we approach the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, the community feels stronger, more connected, a bit more cohesive. If SAALT has had a part in that, I think we have achieved quite a lot! Here’s to the next five years!”

SAALT E.D., Deepa Iyer, profiled in Takoma Voice

Check out this profile of SAALT’s own Executive Director (and proud Takoma Park resident) Deepa Iyer published in the Takoma Voice. The article was written by Pareesha Narag, a student at the University of Maryland and a past student of Deepa’s.

Check out the full article here: http://www.silverspringvoice.com/archives/pdfs/2008/1208pdfs/023_mn_dec08.pdf

A Loss of Life, A Community’s Responsibility

Please read this op-ed written by members of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (Raksha, Narika, Manavi, Maitri) on the recent murder of Reshma James in New Jersey

A Loss of Life, A Community’s Responsibility

As representatives of South Asian community-based organizations working to end violence against women, we are saddened by the recent murder of Reshma James, a 24-year old South Asian woman, just days before Thanksgiving.  The tragic shooting death of Reshma James at the St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox Knanaya Church in Clifton by her estranged husband has stunned the entire South Asian community. In addition to Ms. James, two other individuals were injured, one of whom also died.

This act of violence – the last in a history of abuse perpetrated by Ms. James’ estranged husband – has affected individuals and the justice systems of three states: California (where the abuse occurred); New Jersey (where the murder occurred); and Georgia (where the murderer was apprehended).    

As community members deal with the trauma and grief of this incident, it is important to broaden our lens to understand the epidemic of domestic violence that affects families around the country from all backgrounds.   

The murder of Reshma James is one incident among many that affect South Asians and other women in the United States.  In fact, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), intimate partner violence claims the lives of three women each day in the U.S., and guns are the weapon of choice.    

Through our direct service and advocacy work with South Asian survivors of violence, we know all too well that domestic violence can affect all families regardless of religion, race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, age, or immigration status.  Maitri, Manavi, Narika and Raksha are organizations that address domestic violence in the San Francisco Bay Area, New Jersey and Atlanta.  Collectively our agencies receive over 4,000 calls annually from women seeking legal and health assistance, social services, basic information about their rights, and referrals.  

Yet, the messages that we often hear from within the South Asian community are the same: that domestic violence does not happen in our community; that it does not happen within educated families; and that it is not an important issue for an entire community to address.   From non-South Asians, we often hear that domestic violence must somehow be unique to South Asian communities, given our customs, beliefs, and familial relationships, or that it does not occur based on false stereotypes they have about South Asians.

Women are battered in every culture, and the common factor is the social sanction of violence against women, across cultures. Our collective work as a society then is to build safe communities where everyone can live free of fear.   We must bear the collective responsibility of keeping everyone safe.  And that work cannot be done in isolation, by a few community based organizations such as ours. It has to be done by all of us, working together.   

We ask you to support the work of ending violence against women and children in our communities.   We ask that you listen to and empower survivors in your community.  We ask that you look at legislation that compromises survivor safety and speak out against it and to advocate for laws and policies that protect survivors and provide them with linguistic and cultural access to the justice system, law enforcement, and shelters.

 The entire community must be prepared to speak out against violence and address it in our homes, places of worship, cultural centers, and social service organizations.  We ask you to reach out to someone who needs your support.  Only as a community can we prevent the murders of women like Reshma James. 

Maitri, Manavi, Narika, Raksha – community-based organizations working to end violence against South Asian women – are all members of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations.  

Aparna Bhattacharyya, Raksha (Atlanta)       1.866.725.7423          www.raksha.org

Atashi Chakravarty, Narika (Bay Area)         1.800.215.7308           www.narika.org

Maneesha Kelkar, Manavi    (New Jersey)     732. 435.1414             www.manavi.org

Sarah Khan, Maitri               (Bay Area)         1.800.799.SAFE         www.maitri.org

Have you seen “Raising Our Voices”?

In January 2001, SAALT began work on a 26-minute documentary entitled “Raising Our Voices: South Asian Americans Address Hate.” Produced by Omusha Communications and guided by SAALT Board members and volunteers, the documentary set out to raise awareness about the increasing hate crimes and bias incidents affecting South Asian communities, especially in the late 1990s. In fact, in 1997 and 1998, South Asians were reporting the highest incidences of bias-motivated crimes in the broader Asian American community.

The documentary features South Asian survivors of hate crimes and their families in Queens, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, as well as organizers, lawyers and community advocates who mobilized the South Asian community and demanded justice.  When the film was completed two weeks before September 11th, 2001, little did we know how the landscape of the South Asian community in the United States would change.  With the alarming increase of hate crimes, bias incidents, and profiling that South Asians, especially those who are Sikh and Muslim, endured in the days and months after 9/11, SAALT re-envisioned the documentary and shot additional footage.

The documentary has been out since 2002, but you may not have seen it in its entirety yet. It has been used in classrooms and townhalls around the country and we encourage you to engage with it, comment on it, and if possible, to share it with friends, family, coworkers and community members.

You can view it here:

Part 1

Part 2 Please email us at saalt@saalt.org with your feedback, reactions, and comments. Feel free to use this documentary in your community, university, or your personal network of colleagues and friends.