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Local Stars Shine at Charity Gala

October 2005
Local Stars Shine at Charity Gala

Community Change Award initiated.

Ek Shaam, the annual signature event of Raksha continues to generate the enthusiasm that it did when it first started seven years back. On Saturday, September 24 at Atlanta's Earthlink Live auditorium, the event lived up to its reputation as an evening of music and fun, with some of the best local talent as the stars. This year, there was the added dimension of the first Ramesh and Vijaya Bakshi Community Change Award.

The Bakshis, staunch supporters of Raksha, instituted the award, which will be presented each year to a community member who displays "extraordinary leadership" in social work. Deepali Gokhale (see "Standing up for the voiceless") took the honors of being the first recipient of this award.

The nominees were first chosen through an endorsement by a peer or a nomination by someone. The winner was subsequently elected by a special Raksha committee. The deciding factor was one or all of the following qualities: Helping bring awareness of social issues to the South Asian community; volunteering time and energy in creating a movement for social change; involvement in creating programs that help strengthen the community.

Aparna Bhattacharya, executive director of Raksha, was full of praise and gratitude for those involved in the success of the event, including sponsors, donors, media and volunteers.

The line-up for the evening included musical performance by the Melody Music Group and dance performances by Nritya Natya Kala Bharti and Silent Killers. After the event came to a close at Earthlink, the music and dance continued at the Vinyl Lounge, with DJ Sketch and DJ Bally taking over the proceedings.

While the artists took care of the entertainment of the evening, Bhojanic, Caf� Istanbul and Annapoorna Restaurant kept the hunger pangs of the audience at bay. The stage at Earthlink was a busy place with a constant stream of singers and musicians, many of them with Bollywood credentials. They included Atlanta's Niraj Sharma (tabla), Ganesh Jagtap (dhol, dholak and congos), Ramesh Maraj (saxophone and flute), Ajit Pachegaokar (acoustic guitar), Shehzad Ghaziani (drums), Montu (octopads) and Sandeep Savla (lead keyboard). The vocalists included Tanweer Mian, Mahesh Patel, Mukul Agarwal, Dr. Brij Singh, Anjali Malhotra, Mahua Banerjee and Chandrika Narayan. The program hosts were Parijat Chandra and Dr. Brij Singh. While the primary aim of the evening was to raise funds for Raksha, the program also paid tribute to Bollywood singers such as Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Shailendra Singh, Sonu Nigam, Adnan Sami, Shankar Mahadevan, Udit Narayan, Sunidhi Chauhan and Alka Yagnik.

While the songs may have been from yesteryears, the music itself was tweaked to suit the tastes of the younger set of listeners. The evening began with Mukul's rendition of song Roop Tera Mastana (Aradhna), followed by Mein Shayar to Nahi (Bobby). Tanweer came up next with couple of old Rafi favorites: Gulabi Aankhen (The Train) and Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyaar Ke Charche(Brahmachaari). Chandrika opted for a newer set of songs, particularly those by Himesh Reshamiya (including the title song of Tere Naam), who has been making waves with the latest musical hit, Aashiq Banaya Aapne.

Dance and music alternated as Kumudini Savla's students gave a Kathak performance, which was again followed by a song set performed by Mahesh, Anjali and Mahua. Next it was a foot-tapping dance presentation by Silent K. This number got the entire auditorium clapping and vibrating to the pulsating rhythm. Raksha's solemn message found space in between performances. It was also now time for dance and music performances to come together with Dr. Singh, Mahua (vocals) and dancer Samta Savla giving a song and dance rendition of Albela Sajjan Aayo Ri (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam), a light classical composition by Ismail Darbar and originally sung by Ustad Sultan Khan. After several songs, the last performance was once again a collaboration of local song and dance talents. Kumudini's students and the Silent K gang performed to the reprise of Kajrare Kajrare (Bunty aur Babli), sung earlier in the evening by Tanweer.

Raksha began in 1995 as a family-crisis helpdesk (a voicemail hotline) function from the apartment home of Sunita Iyer for Southeast Asians ? women and children in particular ? in distress, has now grown into a full fledged 5013-C non-profit organization. Co-founded by a group of young women, it was often questioned why and how were they going to manage such a serious responsibility? Looking at Raksha's $335,000 annual operating budget this year, a staff of five full-time and four part-time employees, a fully functional office, and an audited list of 390 people served in 2004, it is indeed no small achievement for the organization. However, Raksha still needs help in raising its fiscal budget to $450,000 for the year 2006, which it anticipates keeping in mind the growth of the community across the U.S. As part of its sustained effort, Raksha is planning a fundraiser in April next year.

- Viren Mayani

Standing up for the voiceless


Deepali Gokhale, recipient of the first Ramesh and Vijaya Bakshi Community Change Award

Community Change Award winner Deepali Gokhale, a member of the South Asian lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender social and support network, Trikone Atlanta, is also a volunteer for Raksha since its inception in 1995. A community activist, in 1995 she also became a member of Trikone Atlanta, which facilitates connection with the South Asian community, coming out and addresses issues of homophobia and other oppressions experienced by the South Asian gay community. Gokhale helped form Trikone's steering committee and served as coordinator until June this year. She is now the outreach committee coordinator for the organization.

From 2000 to 2004, she and three other Trikone and Raksha volunteers hosted "Masala Chai Houses," a series of discussions about the myth of the model minority and how it affects race relations between South Asian Americans and other American communities, as well as our relationship within the community.

At Raksha, she has also been responsible for creating the organization's first database, which will enable Raksha to facilitate its grant-writing work, keep track of its activities, and report its progress.

In 2004, Gokhale became the steering committee co-chair and campaign staff member of Georgians Against Discrimination, a coalition of progressive organizations formed to defeat a state constitutional amendment defining marriage. She received the 2004 Human Rights Guardian Award from the National Center for Human Rights Education as a result of her work with Georgians Against Discrimination.

In October 2004, Deepali founded the Queer Progressive Agenda, an ongoing queer-led conversation dedicated to addressing the intersections of oppressions and building a progressive grassroots power base in the service of attaining liberation for all forms of life.

Gokhale, who emigrated from India in 1973 with her family and attended

schools and college in Virginia, has spoken out for the rights of the marginalized and those with limited power and voice in our communities. She won the Ramesh and Vijaya Bakshi Award for being one of the first to step forward, take the risk, and challenge injustice of any kind.

Gokhale has taken up issues of justice and defended them, even when it meant being misunderstood or demonized. Her work with Queer Progressive Agenda helped bring together people from all walks of life by addressing issues of poverty, inadequate health-care, anti-immigrant conditions and religious fundamentalism.

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