Panel discussion

Life with dignity and equality for women of South Asian descent in the United States

The issue of domestic violence and abuse against women is pervasive. Yet, it goes unnoticed and is never acknowledged. Recognition and realization are the first steps to a resolution. The goals of our discussion are to raise awareness about the issue of violence and abuse against the women in the South Asian community in the United States. We also hope to understand gender relationships in the context of culture and how these affect families and in the meantime, explore how theater as a medium can be used to raise awareness of this issue.We wanted to create an opportunity for our audience to listen to some prominent social thinkers andactivists engaged in this cause and understand their perspective and consequently get our community involved in the mission of establishing empowerment of women.

Panelists

Shamita Dasgupta (professor, scholar, activist, cofounder of Manavi)

Shamita Das Dasguptais an Asian Indian scholar and activist. A social activist since early 1970s, she co-founded Manavi in 1985. It is the first organization of its kind that focuses on violence against SouthAsian women in the United States. A teacher and full-time community worker, she has written extensively inthe areas of ethnicity, gender, immigration, and violence against women. Her books include: A PatchworkShawl: Chronicles of South Asian Women in America, Body Evidence: Intimate Violence Against South AsianWomen in America, and Mothers for Sale: Women in Kolkata’s Sex Trade.After moving to the US at the age of 19, Shamita did her undergraduate and graduate studies at Ohio StateUniversity and received her PhD in developmental psychology. She moved to New Jersey and taught atRutgers University for several years. Her deep interest in issues relating to domestic violence led her to head awomen’s agency in Pennsylvania. From her association with various women’s organizations, she realized thatSouth Asian women were generally ignored by the mainstream domestic violence organizations, so shedecided to establish an organization that would focus on their unique issues. She co-founded Manavi, anorganization for South Asian women, in New Jersey with five other women.She is one of the few community workers who have established themselves as an academic through researchand teaching. She has written numerous articles on south Asian women’s issues and collaborated with herphysician daughter, SayantaniDasGupta, on mother-daughter experiences. Currently she is an adjunct facultyat the New York University School of Law. She serves on the editorial board of Violence against Womenjournal. Recipient of many awards including the Bannerman Fellowship, she is on the board of several nationalorganizations.

Joanna Sherman (director, Bond Street Theatre, NY)

Joanna Sherman is the Artistic Director of Bond Street Theatre. As director, choreographer, musician and actor, she has participated in company performances and projects globally. The company primarily works inpost-war and disadvantaged communities, collaborating with local artists, and working for the benefit ofwomen, children and others through theatre. Current focus areas: Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar, Lebanon. Ms.Sherman has directed and taught internationally, and is a frequent speaker and advocate for Theatre for SocialDevelopment. Under her directorship, the company received a MacArthur Award for its interculturalprogramming. She has been an advocate and speaker on the role of the arts in peacebuilding at the UnitedNations, National Council on Women, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, UN Conference onWomen in China, universities, and other forums, and featured on CNN, BBC, NPR, Voice of America, RadioFree Europe, and published in American Theatre magazine. She is the 2014 recipient of the Lee ReynoldsAward from the League of Professional Theatre Women. Ms. Sherman has a BFA from Cooper Union, andan MA in Theatre & International Studies from New York University. Ms. Sherman also plays saxophonewith the Shinbone Alley Stilt Band.

Bina Sharif (writer, director, NY)

Bina Sharif is an award-winning Pakistani-American playwright, director, actor, poet, visual artist andperformer. Ms. Sharif has had 24 plays produced in the U.S., Europe, and Pakistan. Since September 11th,she has written 7 plays dealing with Islam, fundamentalism, terrorism, and war, including Democracy in Islam,Muslim Glitter, Republic of Iraq, Why?, and Here Comes The Change, all produced in NYC.Ms. Sharif’s one woman play Afghan Woman, written as a response to September 11th and the war inAfghanistan, was produced in New York City at the Theater for the New City in January 2002. AfghanWoman is still being performed in various universities all over the U.S. and globe, including the University ofHawaii, Islamabad Club Pakistan, Belgium, and Manchester (UK). Her play, My Ancestor’s House, ispublished in the anthology Contemporary Plays by American Women of Color and is being taught in manyuniversities throughout the U.S.Ms. Sharif has won a number of awards for her playwriting, including the New York State Council on the Arts(NYSCA), Jerome Foundation Award and Franklin Furnace Award. She was also nominated for a JosephJefferson award for her acting by Chicago’s Goodman Theater. She has an on-going project of visual art andwriting combined called “Manhattan Days.” Ms. Sharif holds a medical degree from Pakistan and a Masters inPublic Health from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Deepa Kumar (professor Rutgers University, NJ)

Deepa Kumar is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at Rutgers University. She is affiliatedfaculty with Middle Eastern Studies and graduate faculty in the Sociology department. Her work is driven byan active engagement with the key issues that characterize our era–neoliberalism and imperialism. She has been active in various social movements for peace and justice and has written numerous articles inboth scholarly journals and alternative media.She is a much sought after public speaker and has spoken at dozens of university and community forums on arange of topics: Islamophobia, Political Islam, US foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia, the ArabSpring, women and Islam etc. She has shared her expertise in numerous media outlets such as BBC, The NewYork Times, NPR, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Hurriyat Daily News(Turkey), Al Jazeera and other national and international news media outlets.Some relevant articles by Dr Kumar that touch upon gender issues are:- “Heroes, Victims, and Veils: Women’s Liberation and the Rhetoric of Empire Post 9/11,” Forum on PublicPolicy (journal of the Oxford Roundtable), 2008.- “Unveiling Imperialism: Media, Gender, and the War on Afghanistan,” Media, Culture and Society, withCarol Stabile, Vol. 27, no. 5, September, 2005.- “War Propaganda and the (Ab)uses of Women: Media Constructions of the Jessica Lynch Story,” FeministMedia Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3, November, 2004.

Rekha Dutta (professor, Monmouth University, NJ)

Rekha Datta is professor of Political Science at the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities andSocial Sciences, Monmouth University. She was the department chair from 2000 – 2010. Professor Duttapioneered and helped establish the Global Understanding Project since 2001 and served as the FoundingDirector of the Institute for Global Understanding (IGU) until 2011. Professor Datta’s research interest focuses on issues of gender and development, security and internationalrelations and organizations, primarily the United Nations.She is the coeditor, with Judith Kornberg, of Women in Developing Countries: Assessing Strategies ofEmpowerment. In addition, she has authored ‘Why Alliances Endure: The United States – Pakistan Alliance’and many articles in journals. She is the founder and Vice President (International) of Women and Girls’ Education (WAGE) – International,a New Jersey based volunteer group to support local and global organizations and initiatives that seek toempower communities to combat violence against women byraising awareness and promoting education for girls and women, and by mentoring children; 2013:www.wageintl.org