Sakhi’s Stories

With Sakhi’s work, every day brings rise to a new story stories that are often disturbing, often uplifting, but always profound and moving. Below you can find a slice of the many tales within the Sakhi community.

Sakhi came into my life by pure chance…
Everybody has a dream in his or her life…
Sakhi means a good friend…
My research on marital violence among South Asians…

Sakhi came into my life by pure chance, or should I say I came to Sakhi by chance? One day in 1989, I got a call from my best friend since I was eleven, Mallika Dutt. She asked me if I wanted to go to a women’s group meeting in New Jersey. I had nothing better to do that weekend, so I met Mallika and some of her friends, including Anannya Bhattacharjee, and we made our way to a general meeting of Manavi. It was all very exciting and new and we decided we wanted to become more involved. In fact, we talked about starting a NYC chapter of Manavi. However, common sense prevailed when we realized only one of us had a car and the idea of commuting to New Jersey on a regular basis seemed daunting.

As with everything with Sakhi, there were endless discussions and meetings. Megha Bhouraskar had joined us by now. We finally held an open house on June 18th, 1989 at the International House at Columbia University. About twenty women showed up. One of them was Romita Shetty. Geeta Misra became a part of Sakhi a little later.

Very early on, we decided that we did not want to be an esoteric group spouting empty politics. We wanted to focus on real issues faced by women and politicize ourselves, and society around us, simultaneously. Domestic violence seemed a logical issue to focus on.  There was no South Asian group dealing with it in NYC. We also wanted a name that stood on its own and not an acronym. Sakhi seemed like a good choice. We liked the meaning and it denoted the same thing in several South Asian languages. Sakhi for South Asian Women was born.

Since then, sixteen years ago, Sakhi has indeed been a true friend to many in need.  Women have come and gone – volunteers, staff members, or women seeking solutions.  We have continued to grow and expand.

It was with some regret that I had to leave Sakhi physically in 1998 when I moved to another city to pursue other dreams. I can honestly say that it has been my utmost joy to see Sakhi flourish and grow and to see how far it has come in these seven years. It’s as if my baby grew up and went off to college.

The very nature of Sakhi’s work is that it consumes you and then spits you out, raw and drained. There is only so much you can give as a survivor, staff member, volunteer or supporter. But I ask all of you to join me in recommitting yourself to Sakhi and its mission. Whether it is with monetary support, services, or your time and energy, Sakhi needs you. Thank you.

Tula Goenka, Sakhi co-founder

My Journey. Everybody has a dream in his or her life. I am human, and I have a dream of my own. From childhood, I’ve dreamed of someday becoming a lawyer. Suddenly, while still a student in college, my mother wanted me married. I was shocked. My mother, the only parent I knew, my caretaker and my best friend, wanted to give all that responsibility, along with her daughter to a strange man! My father died when I was six years old, and I became very devoted to my mother. It was this devotion that made me agree to the proposal in the end.

Thus, on June 11, 1992, I married my ex-husband. My marriage was the start of a new era, and I had embarked on a new journey. Within two years, I was in the United States, a pregnant woman. I didn’t know how to talk to all the strange people around me, so I kept to myself. The only person I had was my husband, but sadly, though he could understand the words, he couldn’t understand the feeling beneath them. I, however, came to understand him as an abusive and ruthless man. Yet, I stayed with him for twenty-two years. I spent the prime years of my life with someone who never understood me for who I really was. It’s a long story, and it only gets longer.

In October of 2002, he left me with our four children. I was in bad shape. I cried and cried, unable to see my path. I prayed to Allah to help me out, to make a roof on top of our heads, to help me out of this mess. Out of the blue, one of my relatives took me to a lawyer, who suggested I go to Sakhi for help. Reluctantly, I agreed. When I first came to Sakhi, I couldn’t realize how this organization could help me. I suffered from so much angst but Sakhi helped cut through all that and heal the cut. Their help gave me a new dream, one that was for both my children and me. It made me want to spend my whole life alongside my kids. O my precious children! I want to see them with happy faces and prosperous lives. I’ve become a hard worker, doing my best for people other than myself.

From my life experience, I can tell you in a strong voice: “Don’t look back. Go forward with life, but always remember to get there on your own two feet.” Take a seat in the front row of the Society class; you’re a woman and you’re proud of it! There isn’t a thing women can’t do, without needing to be the play doll of a man to achieve it. Let society and the world know that women, united, can be more powerful than men. I hope someday, we can all march out of our long journey with this slogan: “A woman is a woman, not some burden attached to a man. Women is what we are, and what we’ll always be.”

– Survivor

Sakhi means a good friend — entirely appropriate, since that is what it has meant to me for more than 10 years. During my twenties, while working as a volunteer in a various roles, I watched myself and the organization evolve. I became involved with Sakhi mainly as a means of giving back to my community. My mother is a strong woman who always encouraged me to stay in touch with my South Asian roots but at the same time continue the cause of empowering women — Sakhi was the perfect forum for both.

My most valuable experience with Sakhi occurred a couple of years ago when I had the opportunity to work with a domestic violence survivor. She insists that I changed her life, but I know that her influence on me was far greater. The survivor and I spoke daily and I watched her grow from a distraught young person to an empowered woman who ultimately took charge of her life and turned it around. When I feel down or overwhelmed, I recall the strength and courage that this 20-year-old displayed, and tell myself if that if she can make it, everyone can.

When I finally moved to Los Angeles, I recall telling another member, “I don’t feel complete out here because I am not doing any work for Sakhi.” At that point I realized how much Sakhi has impacted my identity. Its influence has been constant and far-reaching. Unfortunately I now live 3,000 miles away, but my move has reinforced my internal bond with this extraordinary group of people, and I suspect I will continue to volunteer my energy and time for many years to come.

Falguni Lakhani, Sakhi volunteer

My research on marital violence among South Asians started in 1989 when I began teaching courses on family issues from a cross cultural perspective. I soon realized that there was considerable scholarship on domestic violence, but little research on its prevalence among ethnic minority communities. I was increasingly drawn to the study of domestic violence among South Asian immigrants in the United States. Interestingly, in the early stages of this research, I found myself being asked by some South Asian activists whether my work as a sociologist would be accessible to a larger audience than academics. This question, together with discussions with academics, friends, and activists about community identity construction, influenced me to critically reflect on my roles as a sociologist and as a South Asian immigrant woman working in the United States.

Since the early 1990s I have increasingly come to see myself as a sociologist engaged in “action research” committed to bridging the gap between scholarship and activism. Sakhi for South Asian Women, with other South Asian Women’s Organizations, played a critical role in my becoming an action researcher. I believe that doing research on violence against women involves integrating theoretical and methodological rigor within a socio-political context. Theoretically, action research entails a commitment to continuously examine the commonalties and differences that exist among women and men based on the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and nationality. Methodologically, action research recognizes that issues such as where the research takes place, the types of questions asked, data collection strategies, interpretation, dissemination, and the relationship between researcher and respondent are intrinsically socio-political in nature.

I feel very fortunate, albeit at times a bit overwhelmed, that my research, particularly my work with Sakhi, has allowed me as a sociologist to contribute to the discourse on domestic violence while simultaneously providing an important avenue to apply it more concretely in the struggle to end marital violence against South Asian women in the United States.

Margarat Abraham, Author of Speaking the Unspeakable: Marital Violence Among South Asian Immigrants in the United States

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