Survivor’s Story and a Passionate Appeal Resonate at AADA

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AADA President Rashmi Sharma (second from left) with a few of her Board members at the AADA Gala luncheon on Wednesday, October 7.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON:  Her voice cracked as she recalled the misery she had been through and she stopped to collect herself. She had plucked up her courage to get onstage to the podium to face a banquet room full of people who had come to show their support for victims, like her, of domestic violence. And they reacted with a quiet attentiveness, giving her a silent space to recompose herself, then clapping when she stammered “I’m sorry” and continued.

Her tale began after she came from India three years ago to continue her studies in Pennsylvania but descended into a cruel deceived marriage. She fell in love and got married, but husband started verbal abuse a few days later, escalating it to physical, sexual and mental. She discovered that he was a loner, had few mental outlets and was unemployed. He would push her out of the house for over ten hours on many days, which she would suffer sitting in the courtyard or laundry room of the apartment complex.

One night, when he tried to kill her, she decided to leave “but I was alone and then learnt about AADA”. After her husband didn’t show up of her Green Card interview, she decided to fight and explained her situation to a sympathetic Immigration official. Soon after, she moved to Houston where Asians Against Domestic Violence helped her get an attorney to file for her immigration status through the Violence Against Women Act route (established by Congress in 1994) and getting it approved in a record two months. In February this year she received her Green Card “and now I have started working”, she ended, with a bright smile.

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Guests with one of the vendors (right) at the AADA Gala
Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

It was the sort of success story that AADA volunteers and supporters have grown to expect from the 14 year-old non-profit that was started by four Indian American women in Houston who saw the need to help Asian women who suffered abuse. It has grown over the years to draw together many women, and some men, from across the Asian diaspora in the Bayou City to fight against abuse of all types and many of them were present at the fundraising Gala luncheon at the Junior League on Wednesday, October 7. Among them were many local elected officials and Mayoral candidate hopeful Adrian Garcia. On one side of the banquet hall were ten booths from vendors exhibiting and selling their products and services.

Ron Trevino, news anchor of the local CBS affiliate, KHOU TV, emceed the event, keeping his remarks brief and the program flowing. AADA President Rashmi Sharma delivered welcoming remarks which were peppered with disturbing statistics on abuse in the US. “AADA makes a difference, one life at a time,” she said, alluding to the group’s logo of a butterfly whose wings are the silhouette of women’s faces. Sharma acknowledged two of the four founding members in the audience – Shantha Raghuthaman and Salma Siddiqi – and introduced her Board and the keynote speaker, Thecia Jenkins, a motivational speaker and consultant.

Jenkins was loud, animated and passionate about the topic, acknowledging that the event was held during the Domestic Abuse Awareness Month of October, a theme that tied into the event’s moniker “Color Me Purple”, the color associated with the awareness campaign. She stared with a sad statistic: 123 women lost their lives in 2014 in Texas to abusive relationships, and built on a “Being Bold” strategy to end it. “To stop domestic violence, you must be interactive and bold to wake up every day, not knowing what to confront,” she said. She expanded on a strategy that involved having a level of self-awareness; to own your actions and to develop relationships that can nurture and help.

Sunil Sharma, Rashmi’s husband and former District Governor of the Rotary Club closed off with a few thought provoking words. “Are all men bad? Let’s go out and change that!” he implored. The sit-down luncheon was concluded with a live auction conducted by Jeff Council, the Fort Bend County Treasurer and a big supporter of AADA.