Tag Archives: Dalai Lama

MacArthur Genius, sujatha baliga, and Restorative Justice

 In September, 2019 sujatha baliga won the MacArthur “Genius Award” for her work in Restorative Justice. The MacArthur fellowship is awarded to individuals who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” 

It’s an honor that sujatha, a survivor of sexual abuse, could not have imagined as a child growing up in rural Pennsylvania.

Today sujatha dedicates her time to implementing restorative justice alternatives,  across communities, working with crime survivors and those who have harmed others.  

Her mission – what she describes as her “heart’s interest” – is to heal conflict and harm without the courts and without reliance on the criminal legal system. sujatha’s unique take on alternative restorative justice has its roots in indigenous cultures. It’s a system that works better she says, “because there are no sides and it increases the dignity and humanity of everyone involved in conflict.”

Developing her perspective on conflict resolution took a long while, given sujatha’s own struggles with her history as a victim of sexual abuse.  

She talks about the anger she felt towards her father, her abuser, the shame she hid, and her fear of telling anyone the truth through high school and college.

“We were the only Indian family around. I couldn’t tell white people, because I didn’t want to be separated from my family and my father to go to jail.” 

Eventually, sujatha confessed her terrible secret to her older sister who immediately believed her. It saved her, says sujatha. Speaking out publicly made her effectively ‘unmarriageable’ in the Indian marriage market; in her experience, Indian men and their families did not want to deal with a sullied woman. “I felt like damaged goods,” she remembers.

Predictably, the Indian community treated the disclosure harshly, as it tends to when taboo subjects like sexual abuse are raised.

“It is imperative that we reduce the amount of gossip and competitiveness and using other people’s sorrows and horrors in a way of feeling better than others, is really something that we need to let go as a community.  I have definitely been on the receiving end of people.”  

She says poignantly, “I didn’t need layers of shame to help me end up being the the person who got a MacArthur. It impeded my brilliance.”

After college she became a victim advocate while applying to law school and spent time working in shelters in Mumbai, but the experience triggered her own unresolved issues with sexual abuse. Then, during a backpacking trip around India, a chance audience with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala changed her trajectory in life and set her on a path towards forgiving her father and starting to heal.

The search for healing and forgiveness in her own life eventually led to sujatha’s trailblazing work in Restorative Justice today. 

How Restorative Justice works

 “Restorative justice puts the needs of the victim at the center of the process,” says sujatha, now an attorney and  Director of the Restorative Justice Project at Impact /Justice, a national research center in Oakland advancing new ideas and solutions for justice reform.

“Instead of asking what law was broken, who broke it and how should they be punished – we ask who is harmed, what do they need and whose obligation is it to meet those needs? It invites us to a paradigm shift about these three questions.”

sujatha spent years in therapy, grappling with complex questions in her own struggle for answers. Anger towards her father had motivated her to want to study law, become a prosecutor and lock other criminals in cages. 

“But,” she says, “I knew in my gut that wasn’t the solution, because it was not the solution I had sought when I was a child. I did not want my father in a cage. Why then would I go down a road that I did not believe was the solution for myself? It was patronizing to decide for other people something I would have never decided for myself.” 

Before embracing restorative justice, sujatha worked as a Public Defender for many years, but she contends that “In all my years in court, I never saw anything as healing or as productive as restorative justice processes.” 

Why restorative justice works, says sujatha, is because it gives new voices to victims, to offenders, and to community representatives, and as a facilitator,  she counts on the wisdom of family and community to solve the harm themselves. 

“Our process starts with who has been harmed, but then it is about family and community wrapping around the person who has caused the harm in order for them to be directly accountable to their crime survivor’s self-identified needs.” 

“I am not interested in rights; I am not interested in diagnosis.  We aren’t fixing anyone,” explains sujatha.

The restorative justice facilitator creates the container of the process for people to come to their own solutions, through face-to-face dialog and consensus-based participatory decision making.   

What Forgiveness Means

Despite her own journey to find forgiveness, sujatha is emphatic that restorative justice neither requires forgiveness for participation nor has it as an expected outcome. 

“I have worked on cases where people just want answers to questions and would like their stuff back or to know what their child’s last words were.” 

But forgiveness has played a big role in sujatha’s own life.  She recognizes that her father was a complex man – he had an incredible sense of humor but was depressed and “deeply dissatisfied with his life – why we left India, he missed his family, we were super isolated.”

She reflects that “…when I think about my father, I am because he was – both the things that have been challenging about me and the positive things.” 

sujatha suspects her father himself was probably abused. “The vast majority of people I have met who have caused sexual harm, have also experienced sexual harm or some other horrific abuse in their past. That is not an excuse, but its data, it is information that can help us figure out how to end this global pandemic of sexual abuse.” 

Her mother, says sujatha, was “enraged” when she learned about the abuse. “She has a different forgiveness journey. Forgiving someone for something they did to their child is a much more difficult thing.”

But sujatha is relieved her secret came out in the open. “…a big part of what allows child sexual abuse to continue is the nature of the secrecy and shame and silence. If we can’t talk about what is happening, it can’t be seen, it can’t be known, it can’t be stopped.”

She implores communities to create safe spaces where we can tell each other what is really happening in our lives. People must support organizations that help victims of intimate partner violence and sexual violence –  “donate your time and money and educate yourself.” 

sujatha is grateful that she is building a career based on Ubuntu; a Nguni Bantu term often translated as “I am because we are” or “ A person is a person through other people”.  It’s a concept about the interconnectedness of the universe that is basic to Vedic and Buddhist philosophies and exemplified in the story of Indra’s Net. 

“We fall prey to individualism in the US, but  South Asian culture has always prioritized the interdependent way of humanity.”

At its heart, restorative justice uses this concept to bring the community together.

sujatha baliga does not capitalize her name, both for aesthetics as well for the notion of equality or interdependence of all life. “We as humans consider ourselves to have dominion over animals or think we are the most important species on the planet. If we understand all things as equal, we would be more likely to not mistreat the environment.”

Changemakers: Individuals making a difference in all walks of life

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

The article was edited by contributing editor Meera Kymal.


The Wind In My Face: Raj Shahani

What happens when you take a businessman with a keen interest in photography and put him in an artist’s studio? Raj Shahani’s career and creative force is proof that when you live life with a passion, creativity unfurls and takes you soaring upon its wings.

The New York based businessman with a successful career in the finance industry had always nurtured a creative side. Born in Mumbai, to Sindhi parents who held education and stability in high esteem, Raj was raised with a firm belief that a career must be a means to financial security. His early attempts at art were considered a distraction from his studies. He does not remember being exposed to much art, except for one instance when he saw the famed sculptor Auguste Rodin’s work on display. This was a moment he took with him as his life coursed through various career paths onwards to New York. 

Having made a decision to retire upon turning 50, he decided to pursue all the things that inspired him creatively. Photography had remained with him throughout his career mostly as a keen hobby. Now free to explore other avenues, he took a sculpting workshop at the Art Students League in New York. And that was the beginning of a new love affair. This new found passion culminated in his first solo exhibit at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai in November 2019, featuring dancers captured in graceful motion through the medium of clay, bronze and fiberglass. He has also recently unveiled a site-specific, contemporary installation titled ‘Jayanti’ in Mcleodgunj, a small village outside Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh – home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama

India Currents caught up with Raj Shahani in Mumbai as he worked on several private commissions. 

IC:    We live in a world where specialization in a particular field of study carries weight – status – respect – identity.  This begs the question – why & how did you choose to leave behind your successful career and change lanes so to speak? 

R.S:   My parents migrated from Pakistan and went through a lot as they made their life in India. So fiscal responsibility and being able to support your family with what you earned means everything to them. As a boy I loved to paint and draw. But since Art was not considered a viable option, my parents and my school discouraged me from my attempts to pursue it. I am a parent now, and I understand where they were coming from!

I ended up majoring in Chemistry and then went on to other things. More and more I was left with a feeling that I wanted to retire at the age of 50. But after that what? All I knew was that I wanted to do something which was not dictated by others. I had never envisioned making art, and only pursued photography as a hobby. Until I stumbled upon sculpting. It became an obsession!

IC:   Did you see yourself working towards a goal while you were exploring sculpting?

R.S:  There was no plan. I just lost myself in the studios sculpting for hours every day! The human form came easily to me, maybe because I have taken so many pictures of people. The form is ingrained in my head and I could translate it into clay. But the results were only for me. I did not intend to show it publicly. Friends urged me to show my work and I remember thinking “what a crazy idea”

IC:   I ask this question of all artists. How difficult was the idea of monetizing your work?

R.S:   I haven’t accepted it as yet! While curating my work at the Jehangir Art Gallery, I wanted to keep all of it – could not let go! Even though I understand money and finance, it is very different when it comes to putting a dollar value to what I create. I cannot believe the response to my work!  This is still something I am learning to deal with.

IC:   Your show at Jehangir Art Gallery titled ‘Caesura/Continuum’ is a celebratory series of the human form captured in the course of executing ballet movements. The work is crisp, highly detailed, and has a wonderful, lyrical tension in some of the pieces. Tell us about your journey with this series.R.S:   I don’t see my sculptures ‘ballet dancers’ – I know that the dance form is ballet, but I have tried to go beyond it. Forms and people are very important. It is more about the emotion, the story behind that moment. The captured moment is just part of that overall story. In my head, the shapes have feelings. The movement, the tension, the emotion on their faces tell a lot more than the dance form itself. Ballet is the medium used to tell that story! It is a very spiritual experience although not in a godly sense. It is meant to transport you into that story – into that world, as a viewer.

IC:   How much of your work is colored by that exhibition of Rodin’s work you attended as a boy?

R.S:   As a kid growing up in Mumbai, we didn’t have much exposure to art or sculpture. At that time I remember going to an exhibition featuring Rodin’s work. I had never seen work on that scale in my life! So it made a definite impact. Having never had formal art training, that first exposure stayed with me. 

IC:   Tell us about your recent work, ‘Jayanti’, the 17 foot site-specific permanent installation situated Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh. Both the sculpture and the location – a place famed for its Buddhist spirituality – are intriguing.

R.S:  I was at the Hyatt Regency Resort in Dharamshala talking to the architects because they were interested in showcasing a series of photographs I had taken of Buddhist monks. The beauty of the locale inspired me to visualize ‘Jayanti’ – which is not a creation, but an energy. It has always existed in that place. I just let my inspiration reflect that energy, giving back and enhancing what was already present. It is like holding a mirror to what exists.

IC:   Your use of the word ‘mirror’ pretty much says it all! ‘Jayanti’ is highly reflective in the choice of materials you have used. It seems almost otherworldly, somehow placed in that area amidst the lushness of nature. How do you go from sculpting the human body in its lyrical and exquisite complexity to creating something like ‘Jayanti’? 

R.S:  Like I said before, ‘Jayanti’ has always existed as Energy in that place. She is the monolithic, Mother Goddess of Dharamshala who has been worshipped for all time. Jayanti is in the trees, the flowers, the beauty of the place itself. The sculpture is made of mirror-polished steel. It is multi-faceted, like a precious gem. You are meant to drive or walk around the installation. The form reflects different things as you drive around it, including the viewers themselves. So for me, it is more of a feeling, an experience. And a conceptual homage to Dharamshala, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. 

It also carries a Sanskrit shloka inscribed on its reflective facets – a tribute to the Goddess Jayanti. 

IC:  What next? Which aspect of life & creativity do you intend to explore?

R.S:  I am currently working on commissions and enjoying that process. Inspiration comes from everyday things that make me happy. I don’t have the constraints of being dictated to by the world around me, which is a blessing! So, for now, I just want to create. There is a hunger within me which lets me vent out my creativity in new and exciting ways. 

It is a little like jumping off a bridge and feeling the wind in my face… while knowing that I will hit the water eventually! In the meantime, it is all about the present moment! All about the NOW! And about experiencing the wind in my face! 

The installation ‘Jayanti’ is part of Hyatt Regency, Mcleodgunj’s permanent collection, paying tribute and homage to the ethos that is part of its fame.

India Currents wishes Raj Shahani many more travels along uncharted paths, drinking from the well of creativity.

Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.

7 Conferences at World Hindu Congress

Chicago will welcome some of the most influential global voices for the 2nd World Hindu Congress (WHC) – a three day conference from Sept. 7-9, to connect, confer and deliberate how Hindus around the world can raise their profile, find their voice and create a consequential positive impact on the world stage.

The globally focused event will draw 250 thought leaders and 2200 delegates from over 50 countries. A brainchild of IITian Swami Vigyananand, the landmark event is considered the “largest gathering of Hindu leaders to date.” Registrations were closed two months ago due to the phenomenal response.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama will give a message in the inaugural session. The three day event will feature Plenary and Valedictory sessions and seven parallel conferences on Economy, Education, Media, Women participation, Hindu organizations, Youth and Politics. The end goal is to understand the challenges facing Hindus globally and collaborate on possible solutions.  

Economic Conference: C- Suite business leaders, economists, successful entrepreneurs, and innovators will come together to inspire and encourage greater wealth creation and wealth surplus – the only way, as Program Coordinator Mukesh Aghi puts it, to empower people and overcome problems such as poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy. 

Eminent speakers like CEO Emerson Electric Ed Monser, CMO FedEx Raj Subramaniam, VP Walmart Dan Bryant and Columbia University Professor Arvind Panagariya, will hold forth on India’s economic trajectory, business potential in India and entrepreneurship.

Sessions will also showcase top tier corporate leaders and encourage interaction with them to ignite ideas, innovation and knowledge growth. Delegates can discuss policy and trade issues and how these can be resolved by the business community.

Youth Conference: Strengthening Hindu identity, encouraging young Hindu entrepreneurship, addressing professions where Hindus are underrepresented, changing media narratives about Hindu Dharma and Hindu Human Rights and Political Representation are the five core issues that will form the crux of the Youth conference.

Coordinators Parth Parihar and Amruta Houde believe this conference has tremendous opportunities for global engagement between young Hindus and the opportunity to reflect on the perspectives of renowned Hindus around the world, perspectives that people “would not normally have access to.”  Prominent speakers include Trinidad Archery champion Prashaanta Singh, Member of Parliament of Norway Himanshu Gulati, founder and CEO of 3one4Capital Siddarth Pai and founder and CEO of Biomenta Research Nisha Holla.

Womens’ Conference: “Increasing the Role of Women in Hindu Resurgence and Renaissance” is the stated goal of this conference. Inspiring case studies, the Role of Women in Shaping Society, Entrepreneurship and Micro Savings, Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Value based Education and Policy Making, Redefining the Role of Hindu Women, Socio Cultural issues and Contemporary Challenges are some of the topics that will take center stage.

Accelerating the conversation are prominent women speakers like Chandrika Tandon, Dr. Anuradha Gokhale, Dr. Meena Chandavarkar, Dr. Vindya Vasini, Prof. Madhu Kishwar, Ms. Alaka Inamdhar, Dr. Uma Vaidya, and Padmshri Shital Mahajan.

Coordinators Manju Tiwari and Rama Rathna anticipate that the conference will broaden the network of Hindu women across the globe and help start a dialogue about the way forward. 

Political Conference: The Political Conference will provide a connecting platform for the global Hindu diaspora that is politically active and allow political aspirants among the younger generation to interface with seniors leaders and in the process find mentors. Panelists will spearhead discussions on: Reasserting a strong Hindu Political Voice, Expanding and Cultivating Political Leadership, Collective Strategies to Address Adverse and Complex Political Environments, Strategy for Protecting Hindu Human Rights and Empowering the Next Generation of Political Leaders. Notable panelists include Vice President of Suriname Ashwin Adhin, National Federation Party of Fiji member Biman Prasad and Member National Assembly SA Santosh Kalyan.

Media Conference: The power of the pen will be discussed by journalists, bloggers, authors, media executives and faculty. Various aspects of the media landscape from print to social media’s unprecedented reach, accurate presentation about Hindus, media analysis, its responsibilities and technology will also be highlighted. According to Coordinators Vikas Deshpande and Sushil Pandit, this is vital as the “Hindu community gets branded because of how we are portrayed in the media either intentionally or unintentionally.”  Key speakers include noted actor Anupam Kher, Editor, Columnist, Anchor Rohit Sardana, Founder of Shaktitva Project Neha Srivastava and writer and columnist Sunanda Vashisht.

Educational conference: Organized by the Hindu Education Board and Coordinator Nachiketa Tiwari, the fundamental goal is to bring together educationists, academicians, publishers, students and policy makers to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the field of education including access to quality, innovative, affordable education, the academic study of Hindu Dharma, society and dharmic values based education. Speakers include USCD Neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran, Chancellor VIT University G. Viswanathan, Swami Mitrananda from Chinmaya University and Ram Subramanian from IIT Mumbai.  

Hindu Organizational Conference: Conducted by the Hindu Organizations, Temples and Associations (HOTA) Forum, the goal, according to Coordinators Guna Magesan, Ami Patel and Sanjay Tripathi, is to bring together a vast array of Hindu organizations, temples, associations, and institutions serving Hindu societies to share best practices, experiences, and forge a strong, united and organized Hindu society for the benefit of humanity in general, and Hindu society in particular.

Prominent speakers include Bharat Seva Ashram Sangh President Swami Purnatmananda, Art of Living Foundation Head Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Chinmaya Mission Worldwide Head Swami Swaroopananda and All World Gayatri Pariwar Head Dr. Pranav Pandya.

Poster Presentations: A new element is the Hindu GPS (Global Poster Session) which will display over 55 Poster Presentations during the conference. The posters, Coordinators Dr. Jai Bansal and Dr. Chandra Reddy explain,  will feature inspirational stories, Hindu organizations, ancient connections between India and other Asian societies and social service opportunities in India and in the communities we live in. These can be viewed by the delegates between sessions along with an opportunity to interact on a one on one level with the presenters for additional information.

To learn more about the 2018 World Hindu Congress, visit http://whc.2018worldhinducongress.org