An Evening with Valarie Kaur

Valarie Kaur

Saturday, April 26, 2014 - The Sneha fundraiser day started as a rainy and dull April day, and we worried about the turnout and preparing the venue in the rain. However, the evening turned out just great. The clouds parted for our audience to arrive on time. The evening began with a great start. Srimathy Raghavan was the moderator.

After all the introductions were done, Valerie Kaur started her talk. She helps communities tell their stories and organize for social change. So, she told us the story about her grandfather. In 1913, her grandfather Kehar Singh sailed by steamship from Punjab to California as a farmer. Her grandfather faced laws that did not permit him to become a citizen or own land, but that did not keep him from living out his faith. When he saw his Japanese American neighbors rounded up and put in internment camps during World War II, he looked after their farms and hitched his horse and buggy to visit them in the desert when no one else would. He walked the path of love as a Sikh; and in so doing; he captured the best of the American spirit.

She spoke of her grandfather, and the heartbreak and troubles he faced during the partition between India and Pakistan. This inspired her to take up a career in law, and to work in the field of Human Rights and Inter-faith. She talked of her days as a law student at Yale, and her work with the local communities in Connecticut. She worked in the case of complaints of discrimination against the East Haven Police Department, and also with prisoner-rights. She emphasized on the power of shared experience. There is a collective empowerment when people talk publicly about their experiences. She demonstrated this by asking the audience to answer 5 simple questions regarding any significant personal experience where they had to stand up against the injustice or intolerance. The audience then shared their answers amongst each other, and some were invited on the stage to talk about theirs. It was an emotional and moving exchange. This also generated interesting conversations amongst people who did not know each other very well before the program. Many realized that their experience was not uncommon, and in fact, there were others who dealt with similar problems.

Ms. Kaur showed parts of a new documentary that she produced and directed “Divided We Fall”, which showcased the attack on the Gurudwara in Wisconsin. The film showed the tragedy that the people at the gurudwara suffered, and the courage, grace and the generosity of spirit they showed in the aftermath. She talked about Harpreet Saini, the 18-year old young man who came to Capitol Hill forty five days after his mother’s murder to become the first Sikh in US history to testify before Congress. He called for an end to hate, not just against Sikhs but also against all people. He said he wants to become a police officer like Lt. Brian Murphy, who took seventeen bullets to protect his community that tragic morning. Lt. Murphy is an American hero and a hero to the Sikh community, because his service was fearless.

The program then continued with a screening of a film (made with the help of Mr. Sharad Madkekar) with some of the people who have helped Sneha, and a person who has received help from Sneha. The film brought to life the realities of a victim’s trauma, the helplessness, and when Sneha volunteers step in, the relief and gratitude that the victim feels.

Shyamala Raman talked about why she felt the need for an organization like Sneha, which she founded with Vijaya Bapat in the 1980s; and how Sneha differs from other women-support groups in the US. Judge Wahla talked about the need for a group like Sneha and his experience with helping the women who call upon Sneha. The film continued with the testimony of a young woman who benefited from Sneha’s help and support.

Ms. Kaur was very gracious, posed for photographs, answered questions and discussed with many people. The silent auction was also a success, and a good time was had by all with the audience enjoying the delicious Indian food.

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