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FREMONT, California — Fremont Mayor Lily Mei proclaimed October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month at a candlelight vigil Oct. 19 at Fremont City Hall. 

It was a sea of purple salwar kameez, hijabs, shirts and scarves as survivors, advocates and community members joined together, wearing the color associated with domestic violence.
“I would treasure and welcome the day we don’t need these institutions,” said Mei. “Everyone has the right to a safe relationship.”

Fremont Police Chief Sean Washington, who just completed his first year in that role, told the crowd that he had been a domestic violence detective for many years and that his family had also experienced it. “It warms my heart to know we are working together as a community,” he said. “We will be here with you today. We will be here with you in the future.”

Fremont Police Chief Sean Washington speaks at Fremont’s Domestic Violence Awareness Candlelight Vigil on Oct 19, 2022 at Fremont City Hall. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

United We Stand Against Violence

Four organizations, NISA (North American Islamic Shelter for the Abused), Narika, SAVE (Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments) and Maitri, hosted the event together. Tables were set-up for women to read through informative pamphlets, talk with advocates, grab some swag, drink chai and eat savory snacks. 

“When a call is received it’s already too late,” said Prabha Vishwanathan of Narika. Faiza Ghafoor, Executive Director of NISA spoke of how ignorance is a huge part of intergenerational trauma. “How can we break the cycle?” she asked.

Emily Anderson of SAVE said she was struck by the unity of the organizations coming together and the large crowd of supporters. 

-Fremont Mayor Lily Mei (second from right) proclaimed October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month at a candlight vigil Oct. 19 at Fremont City Hall. A proclamation was accepted by Faiza Ghafoor of NISA, Emily Anderson of SAVE, Prabha Vishwanathan of Narika, and Zakia Afrin of Maitri. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/Catchlight Local.

Limited Language Access

NISA was founded in 2002 by a group of volunteers, with support from Maitri and Narika. NISA co-founder Reshma Inamdar recalled the first call the organization received from a victim. “We had four advocates. We all went down to see her because we all wanted to help her.” 

Tejashwi Dodda of Maitri, previously with Narika, has been an advocate for six years. These organizations fill in the gaps, she said. When South Asian women call 911 or need help from standard channels, language access is very limited, noted Dodda.

Creating Awareness

Cookies with purple frosting had the tag #ndvam, standing for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. A henna artist was also on hand, creating designs with sprinkling of purple glitter on top.

Kalpana Peddibhotla, an immigration attorney who has worked with domestic violence victims for more than two decades, stated: “Domestic violence is a crime. Whether the violence takes place in the street, in the workplace, in the home, or on a date, it is against the law. As it should be.”

Anahita Dadnam, who attended in support of her best friend Anjali Raj, a domestic violence survivor, wore the purple ribbon as earrings. “Survivors leave one abusive relationship to be abused by the community and courts. We must try to change the court system.”

The Aftermath Of Divorce

Anjali Raj left her abuser last March. She had originally met him on Shaadi.com, a popular site for finding partners. He was a Brahmin boy from a ‘good family,’ she said.

But, despite the abuse, Raj has regrets about the choice she made. “There are days I wish I never left because of what I’m dealing with now,” she said, speaking to the challenges of divorce and its aftermath.

Domestic violence survivor Anjali Raj holds a votive candle after she finishes speaking at Fremont’s Domestic Violence Awareness Candlelight Vigil on Oct 19, 2022 at Fremont City Hall. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Her abuser denied their marriage and said he didn’t sign the certificate. Anjali said she has spent all her savings, upwards of $200K.  She struggled with tears as she spoke at the pdium, despite encouraging shouts from the audience and her best friend. 

“I have to go to court tomorrow at 9 am for custody,” said Raj, about her children. “Every day for me is survival mode.”

This story was produced in partnership with CatchLight as part of the CatchLight Local Visual Storytelling Initiative. To learn more about this collaborative model for local visual journalism, sign up for CatchLight’s newsletter.

Sree Sripathy

Sree Sripathy is a writer, photographer and disability advocate based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a 2022 CatchLight Local Fellow and part of the California Local Visual Desk program. Sree also...