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Kasturi Rajadhyaksha in Ohio Women's Hall of Fame

November 20, 2008 21:39 IST
"People accused me of breaking up marriages when I asked women to stand up for themselves," said Dr Kasturi Rajadhyaksha, who was inducted in the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame in September.

For over 63 years, she has worked for women's emancipation. Rajadhyaksha completed her MBBS degree in 1945 in gynaecology from Mumbai. Her profession exposed her to the miseries of pregnant women--who flocked to her hospital for treatment --and finally led her to community service. Since the age of 25, she has been working with and for women, setting up organizations in India and abroad.

Among other Ohio Women's Hall of Fame inductees are Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nobel Laureate writer Toni Morrison and Muriel Siebert, the first woman to get a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

After Rajadhyaksha arrived in the United States in 1969 -- after her son decided to settle down there--she realized that the problem of domestic violence is not just endemic to India.

"Abuse and violence is prevalent among learned folks with PhDs as well," she said. In 1990, in an attempt to increase understanding and interaction among Indians, Caucasian and African-American women workers, she established the Women of Indian Support Group.

"The biggest problem that women faced is lack of self-esteem," said  Rajadhyaksha, who also started the Women of South Asian Origin, an organization that gives women an opportunity to share their grievances.

"Men think they are superior and women for generations have accepted this myth. It is not that they are not intelligent. It is just that they have no faith in themselves."

Rajadhyaksha explained that women are largely responsible for not taking initiatives in where their money is going. "They need to put an end to the violence right at the beginning," she added.

The problem of social stigma attached to speaking up is another impediment. The elite are often in denial that prejudices exist and that violence is rampant. They want to believe that such abominable activities only happen among the not so wealthy, she said.

The process of changing the old beliefs has been a long one for her. Along the way, she  has faced societal disapproval and accusations of breaking families, of encouraging divorce and increasing hostility in "sound" marriages.

"People refused to acknowledge the problem existed. They viewed it as a normal instance that has been happening over generations. Changing that mentality took years," she said.

The bigger challenges were often not with women, but men. The problem of domestic abuse is much bigger than wife-beating. Men too are often victims of domestic violence but, because they find it a social stigma to admit it, cannot bring themselves to speak up. Once people saw others sharing their problems, they came ahead as well.

Issues that women face are much more than violence. Husbands often talk down to their wives. They also keep them away from their parents, and often are dictatorial.

Often, children take the initiative when they see violence at home. Asha-Ray of Hope, another institution that Rajadhyaksha founded in 2003 with nine others in Columbus, Ohio, often receives calls from children registering complaints on behalf of their mothers.

Rajadhyaksha has received several awards, including the Outstanding Asian Women Leader Award from the Asian American Community Service, the Federation of Indian Association in Ohio's Outstanding Community Service Award and the YWCA Women of Achievement Award.

Rajadhyaksha has been encouraging others to help victims of domestic violence. One such inspired person is Debarati Bardhan. A project coordinator at architecture firm DLZ, Bardhan spends her time volunteering for Asha.

"It makes me happy that people are coming forward to seek help, but on the other hand it makes me really sad that such problems still exist," said Bardhan, who is now on the Asha board.

Ayoti Mittra