Interview with Shantha Ranganathan, MAITRI Volunteer.

1. What is Maitri, what is its mission?

MAITRI is a free, confidential, referral non-profit organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area, that primarily helps families from South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka among others) facing domestic violence, emotional abuse, cultural alienation, human trafficking or family conflict.

Maitri’s mission is three-fold:

  • To help integrate clients into the mainstream of American society, so that they feel comfortable and become full participants in it. Maitri recognizes that the very social and cultural separation or isolation that its clients experience contributes largely to their problems, and is a hindrance to their solutions.
  • To focus efforts on supplementing and complementing existing services, not on duplicating them. To this end, Maitri has developed close working relationships with mainstream agencies and organizations, as well as organizations working with similar ethnic groups.
  • To work towards fostering self-reliance and self-confidence in its clients. We believe that a large number of difficulties experienced by Maitri’s clients arise out of a real or perceived situation of dependency. This philosophy is encapsulated in Maitri’s motto of “Helping Women to Help Themselves” and Maitri’s mission statement:Maitri believes that the best human relationships are characterized by mutual respect, open communication, and individual empowerment. To that end, Maitri’s activities are designed to help South Asian women make an informed choice of the lives they lead.


2. When did Maitri as an organization begin, what started it and what has changed since then?
Maitri was started in February, 1991, by a group of Indian women in response to the growing need in the South Asian community to have a place where women experiencing problems could call in for information, referrals to mainstream agencies, and informal peer counseling. It was our experience that although there were mainstream organizations that provided similar kind of help, women from our communities often did not feel comfortable approaching them.

We hoped to provide a liaison between women in need and the various organizations that could provide them with legal, medical, financial, psychological or employment related services. Since the line would be completely confidential, and all our volunteers guarantee client confidentiality in a signed contract, we felt that women might feel freer to talk to us than they would to friends, acquaintances or mainstream domestic violence resources.

Accordingly, we started a free non-profit phone line where women could either speak to a volunteer or leave a message so that someone could call them back. We trained a group of 15 volunteers and compiled a resource guide with the help of local women’s support services. We also contacted South Bay legal organizations such as Asian Law Alliance, which provides free services for women in need.

In September 1999, Maitri opened the doors to its newest and most ambitious project to date: a low-cost house for women in transition, that is, women who had resolved their main problem of abuse, and were now in the process of building a new life. The need for this type of house was prompted by the very tight and expensive rental housing market in the Bay area, the long waiting list (as much as 18 months) for existing low-cost housing, and the growing number of clients for whom Maitri was giving financial assistance toward their housing costs, as well as the clients who did not meet the mainstream qualification for emergency housing , even though they were in desperate need.

3. How do people in DV situations hear about you and how do they get in touch?

Our clients hear about us through advertisements in local newspapers, outreach events in the community and also through our volunteers and supporters in the bay area. We have also over the years continued to reach out to cities/communities in India when our volunteers visit their hometown.
4. What is a typical cycle of violence, in your experience, and how can it be mitigated early on?

The Cycle of Violence includes 3 stages:

The Tension Building Stage

The Violent Episode

The Absence of Violence Stage

Domestic violence increases in frequency and severity. It is never an isolated incident or a one-time occurrence.

Domestic violence can be mitigated early on through awareness and education for both the batterer and the battered. If the first incident is dealt with using support from community and family, future incidents can be avoided before it escalates to levels where law enforcement has to be involved.


5. How does Maitri operate, what do you do about calls you receive outside of the area/state?

We have 20-25 volunteers at any given time. Maitri’s volunteers come from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the U.S. and speak all of the region’s major languages. All volunteers undergo an intensive 40-hour training at some of our mainstream partner organizations, which certifies them in the state of California to be Domestic Violence counselors.  We have an office open during weekdays and a 24 hour hotline: 1-888-8MAITRI that is accessible to anyone who needs to reach us.

When we receive calls from out of our area, if the client needs help outside of just talking to someone,  we will refer them to local agencies in their location – South Asian or mainstream so they can get the right support. We continue to help clients out of state if they don’t have any agency like MAITRI nearby or they only need peer counseling help.

Maitri provides the following free & confidential services:

Peer Support & Counseling with the following problems:

  • Physical and/or emotional abuse by spouse and/or in-laws
  • Spousal abandonment in U. S.
  • Spousal abandonment in home country
  • Divorce settlements
  • Child custody disputes
  • Forced separation from children
  • Immigration complications (as part of abuse)
  • Depression due to cultural alienation

Individual Counseling Services:

  • Culturally appropriate counseling

Support Group Services:

  • Share your feelings and help others in a friendly and confidential environment

Transition house:

  • Subsidized housing for women out of crisis situations
  • Case management
  • ESL (English as a Second Language) training

Translation & Interpretation from English to South Asian languages

Referrals to:

  • Emergency shelters
  • Family counselors & Therapists
  • Attorneys
  • Support groups for survivors of Domestic Violence

Community education workshops on:

  • Legal issues
  • Financial questions
  • Job search
  • Career development

Talks/workshops on Domestic Violence in the South Asian context

Emergency loans
Short-term grants and loans for legal, medical, educational and housing needs
6. Where can a victim of violence go once s/he has ensured her/his initial safety?

Every state/county in the USA has emergency shelters for women in DV situations. A victim can go to law enforcement who will then direct them to these emergency shelters where their security is guaranteed and they can get confidential help for whatever they would like to do next.
7. What are the areas of weakness that an abuser strikes out at and how does one ensure a minimum level of strength/power in a relationship? (E.g. keep passport with you, financial dependence, visa status, a network of friends/neighbors)

Domestic violence is about power and control.  Since we predominantly deal with South Asian clients – immigration status and financial independence are definitely an area which is abused in a relationship.  The main issue is awareness – many clients who come into the country are not aware of the immigration situation, their visa status or how to become independent as the abuser usually does not share these kinds of details. Also they feel isolated either due to language restrictions or because of the lack of family and friends near the place where they live.
8. In your experience, how frequently are men victims of DV and what is the reaction to their situation–are they taken seriously and helped, just like women are?

The statistics on % of male victims varies but typically it might range from 10 – 15%. The dynamics are the same and there are many agencies including MAITRI who will speak to the men who call us when they are victims to provide the right support and referral.
9. What can bystanders/neighbors/friends do if they witness DV? Does the Good Samaritan Law protect them?

Anyone who witnesses a DV incident should immediately call 911 making sure they are safe. They can request not to be identified if they are not comfortable about getting involved with the court system but alerting law enforcement would help. And if anyone they know share any kind of DV issues with them, they can provide names/numbers of DV agencies like MAITRI so the victim can call when they are ready to reach out and get help. I don’t know about the extent of the Good Samaritan Law’s protection as it has been modified over the years based on a couple of landmark decisions.

Contact Maitri: 

Website: http://www.maitri.org/

 Address: 234 East Gish Road, Suite #200, San Jose, CA 95112

Toll Free Hotline:  1-888-8MAITRI  ( 1-888-862-4874)
Local Hotline:        1-408-436-8398      
Live Hotline Hours: 9am – 1pm (PST)

About the interviewee: Shantha Ranganathan is an active volunteer with MAITRI since 2005.  Shantha’s education is in Engineering and Computer Science and she currently works as a Business Manager in a multinational company in Silicon Valley. She speaks two Indian languages and has worked with multiple clients over the year providing peer counseling and helping client move out of violent situations to a bright future. She wants to identify areas of outreach in India which can help educate families about the various rules and regulations in the United States so the women who enter this country are well informed about their opportunities and rights.

About the interviewer: Dilnavaz Bamboat is an early educator and inclusion specialist at a non-profit organization in Silicon Valley, California. She is a core member of India Helps, a global network of volunteers, and airs her views on feminism at Ultra Violet, a colla-blog for contemporary Indian feminists, among other online and offline platforms.

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