Ms. Divakaruni is an amazing woman. She has overcome her own oppresion to become a successful writer in the United States. Her most recent book The Mistress of Spices has been one of the top best sellers for the past 19 weeks.
Here is a paper that Ms. Divakaruni wrote to bring attention to the Help Group for South Asian Women:I would like to say that I have always been interested in women's issues and conditions, and desirous of making changes--but that isn't true. When I lived in India, I was totally immersed in the culture, and thus totally accepting of it. I never thought of women's rights, or their problems. If things were hard for us I reasoned that was just the way of the world. Wasn't it the same everywhere?
This is not to say that their aren't feminists in India. There is a strong movement, with dedicated women working to improve laws and conditions for their sisters. But I had grown up in a very traditional household, and had been kept carefully insulated from those events.
Coming to the US gave me the distance that I needed to look back on my culture with objectivity, to pick out what I valued and realize what I didn't agree with One of the latter was the double standards in effect for many women, and I strove to remove these from my life.
This was also the time I started obseving carefully the lives of other Indian women around me. I noticed that many of them were still caught in the old value system that gives a man precedence and power over them and excuses all their wrongs, and that, away from the traditional family that keeps an eye on things, such women were even more vulnerable. In 1989 and 1990 I came across several women who were victims of abuse, doubly victimized that they were unfamiliar with the workings of American society and had no one to turn to. They were also uncomfortable with the idea of taking family problems to strangers--to white people, especially. That was considered a great shame and betrayal to the Indian community. Several didn't speak much English. They had no idea of American laws and rights. They believed that when their husbunds threatened them that they would be deported if they contacted the authorities. It was when one of these women, desperate and believing that there was no help anywhere for her, attempted suicide, that I decided that I had to do something.
MAITRI, which I founded with a small group of friends in 1991, is a helpline-- the first South Asian service of it's kind on the West Coast. Women in situations of distress call in and talk to trained South Aisan volunteers, all women, and discuss their problems. Our volunteers speak many languages, and this, together with our understanding of the cultural context, helps put the caller at ease.
The word MAITRI means friendship-- and that is the attitude, ultimately, we hope to convey. Our aim is preventative; we try, through ads, to get women to call us before it is too late. We also provide educational workshops in the community to teach women legal and financial independence skills, also we offer awarness workshops open to all to alert the community to the problem of abuse.
My work with MAITRI has been at once valuable and harrowing. I have seen things that I would have never believed could happen. I have heard of acts of cruelty beyond imagining . The lives of many of the women I have met through this organization have touched me deeply. It is their hidden story that I try to tell in many tales in my short story collection, Arranged Marriage. It is their courage and humanity that I celebrate and honor.