Rousing reception for ASHA’s gala benefit for victims of domestic abuse

Writer Miranda Kennedy, activist Sheela Nayak honored.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: The local ASHA for Women chapter celebrated its 24th anniversary with a gala event held at the George Mason University’s Johnson Center, in northern Virginia, on Saturday.

Honoree Miranda Kennedy.
Honoree Miranda Kennedy.

The organization, since its inception in 1989, has dedicated itself to empowering female victims of domestic violence who hail from South Asia and reside in the Washington, DC metro area. The event included a silent auction, in which 24 prize packages of various kinds were bid on by the attendees.

“Domestic violence is a community issue, not an individual family issue” said Priya Kulkarni, the president of ASHA for Women, in her opening address.

Present at the event was Sheela Murthy, president and founder of the Murthy Law Firm, who introduced a short film, entitled “Women off the Map,” by her husband Vasant Nayak; the film is about women in the Indian village of Neemrana and their struggles with overcoming the adversities put on them by a heavily patriarchal society.

Murthy also served as the auctioneer for the night’s silent auction. Ninety-four cents of every dollar earned at the auction went to the women and children ASHA for Women represents; the biggest item, a trip to a Himalayan mountain resort, fetched $1,300.

Sheela Murthy introduces her husband's short film.
Sheela Murthy introduces her husband’s short film.

Also present at the event were the two ASHA for Women honorees: Miranda Kennedy and Sheela Nayak. Kennedy, an editor for National Public Radio, lived in New Delhi for five year when she was NPR’s South Asia correspondent. Her experiences there, particularly in regards to the lifestyle and treatment of women, became the subject of her 2011 book Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India.

Sheela Nayak, who was accompanied to the event by her son, is a crusader for women’s equality in India. She started a nursing school in Bangalore for underprivileged girls; she has saved over 160 abused girls from an orphanage in the state of Karnataka, and has started initiatives to bring donated clothes and goods from the US to financially deprived women in Indian jails and orphanages. One of ASHA for Women’s biggest supporters throughout the years, Nayak was honored as much for her work as for her trailblazing spirit.

The event also featured a client of ASHA for Women – the client chose to go unnamed and whose speech was shrouded in darkness by the stage lights being dimmed – who read a first-hand account of her experiences with domestic violence of all kinds: physical, mental, and emotional. The story of how she finally stood up to her husband and in-laws, was able to get simple things for herself like a driver’s license, and finally see her parents after several years with dignity, brought the entire hall to its feet with thunderous applause.

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