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The Bay Area chapter of Association of India Development (AID) raised total of $159,000 at its annual fundraiser and donor appreciation event Milan 2022, on Saturday, October 29.

The event at the Adult Community Center in San Carlos marked the non-profit’s 25th anniversary of its first Bay Area chapter.

Aravinda Pillalamarri, AID Development Coordinator, described AID’s key initiatives such as the rights of female farmers, and the right to universal health care. AID supports these programs across various Indian states via collaborations with partner organizations, to convert government policies into action. 

AID programs are rooted in three principles – Sangharsh (rights based work), Seva (service), and Nirman (constructive work), that focus on sustainable social development and social justice.

Aravinda Pillalamarri, AID Development Coordinator (image courtesy: Shalini Kathuria Narang)

T.M. Krishna, the celebrated Indian Carnatic vocalist, activist, writer and Ramon Magsaysay awardee, and Nityanand Jayaraman, a Chennai-based researcher, writer and activist on environmental and social justice issues, delivered inspirational keynote speeches to a rapt audience. They emphasized how art and culture can become inclusive instruments of peace to bring people of diverse backgrounds together, a discussion based on the evening’s theme – when culture is threatened, art becomes a weapon.

A video of a song (Poramboke) about communal spaces – a T.M. Krishna and Jayaraman collaboration – led to discussion about elitism. Poromboke is an old Tamil word that refers to shared community resources like water bodies, seashore, and grazing lands, that are not assessed for tax purposes. Today, it’s used to describe people or places that are worthless in terms of monetary value but priceless from environment and community perspectives. 

“The thing about any form of elitism is that it holds on to forms of homogeneousness such as dialects, habits, social practices and sounds that are framed in a specific pattern to suit a presumption of sophistication,” said T.M. Krishna. But taking music out of an elite ghetto and presenting it elsewhere, allows different audiences to reshape the music.

T.M. Krishna talking to the audience (image courtesy: Shalini Kathuria Narang)

The first step is to provide spaces for people of diverse social classes and communities to come together and converge on issues impacting their lives and livelihoods, said Nityanand Jayaraman. He urged for example, the importance of viewing climate change from the lens of land rights.

“Land is a contested issue in India and land ownership is first and foremost about caste. Land has multiple meanings,” he said.

Nityanand Jayaraman, a Chennai-based researcher, writer and activist (image courtesy: Shalini Kathuria Narang)

As a social justice activist, Jayaraman says the environment forms one part of it. “It is especially important in today’s world when we think that the only problem worth solving is climate change. I find this hugely problematic because if we look at it as a singular narrative, we forget that it’s a much bigger problem of discrimination and social injustice and without addressing that, any attempts to address anything else, makes no sense.”

Jayaraman emphasized the role of art in bridging social classes and in mobilizing for social causes.

He illustrated the power of activism with an anecdote about how a song on the mercury poisoning of several hundred workers at Unilever factory in Kodaikanal, forced  the corporation to realize its social responsibility which they had avoided for 15 years.

“The importance of activism is to make visible, the invisible, and to make the unheard, heard,” said Jayaraman.

Shalini Kathuria Narang

Shalini Kathuria Narang is a Silicon Valley based software professional and freelance journalist. She has written and published extensively for several national and international newspapers, magazines...