Leaders For Change: Interview with Rupande Mehta, Founder of SAR Foundation
Arguendo is absolutely delighted to interview Rupande Mehta, Founder of The SAR Foundation. Sar Foundation aimed at eradicating violence against women and girls through providing services, education, and awareness. For more details check out SAR’s Twitter handle: @sarf_world or on Facebook @TheSARFWorld. Rupande is also working on a memoir, titled Liberating Realizations.
Sourya (S): Please tell us about your childhood years as is best informative of what you do currently.
Rupande (R): I was born in India to very traditional parents who believed in the value of education for women but not in freedom. Our relationship was very tenuous and over the years became violent. I was physically, emotionally and psychologically abused which led me to bad relationships which were also severely abusive. At 5 I was abused by an older man; old enough to be my grandfather which also set the tone for where my life was headed for the next several years. After suffering years of abuse (from age 5-21), I finally left India to come to the US for my studies. Over the years due to many life events I have tried to best heal myself and the trauma that I carried because of the abuse. When I did, I realized my true dream was to help those less fortunate than me. I have worked with helping women and children affected by DV but always thought the system was reactive instead of proactive. That’s when I decided to run for office and in 2017 launched an unsuccessful bid for Town Council in Denville. NJ. I did not get a chance this time but I will continue to fight to ensure women and children are safe and abusers are held accountable for their crimes.
(S): Tell us more about the SAR Foundation.
(R): SAR started when I realized the system needed to be more proactive and offer solutions that are more intersectional. While I worked with many great advocates, there are quite a few who do not understand intersectionality or its importance to the work we do with abused women and their families. SAR started as a way to help those with intersectional needs to better navigate the system and build solutions that are specific to their needs.
(S): You have previously volunteered with the South Asian Domestic Violence agency, how had that influenced/affected you as a person
(R): Well, any volunteering is a humble experience. It always shows you what you the basic things you take for granted and what you ought to be grateful for. Volunteering with a SA agency was a kind of similar experience. It also helped me understand how rampant the problem of DV really is. At the time though I worked more with outreach and the attitudes I encountered were very interesting. We would walk at the annual India Day Parade and many of them would refuse to take any information from us – they did not want to acknowledge our presence in any way; we were simply ignored. Now I know the culture of India and how the problems “within the family” are viewed but to experience it was a completely different experience.
(S): What inspired you to run for the Town Council in Denville?
(R): In July 2017, I became a US citizen and immediately registered to vote but it left this huge void inside of me that somehow I wasn’t doing enough to encounter the hatred, bigotry and divisiveness present in the US today. The election of Donald Trump has been an awakening for many of us and to see the effects of his administration is having on common people is astounding. I ran for office because I wanted to do my part in lending to the movement against hate. Another reason I ran is for my daughter, Sophie. I wanted her to see that no matter what hardships we face, we cannot cower down but are stronger when we rise. I wanted her to understand that the color of our skin, how our hair is, our gender or origin are not indicative of whether we are Americans. The only thing that matters is our vision for a world where everyone is loved, respected and included.
(S): Had you ever fancied or dreamt of a political career when you were younger?
(R): Yes, I did. I was fascinated by politics and always dreamed of being the Foreign Minister. That position has held a special allure for me because it means you’re your country’s representative on the world stage and get to help those who are less fortunate than you are.
(S): How important do you feel was your candidature and political stand in light of the current US Government’s views on climate change and immigration?
(R): Extremely important. The current political climate is the reason for me standing for election. Every action this administration takes whether it be climate change, immigration, taxation, etc. is not on par with our progress for the 21st century, sets us back in terms of leadership in the world and hurts us in multiple ways. Dr. King said our lives cease to exist when we stop speaking about things that matter. For me, this personal, not only because of Sophie but also become this is the country that gave me a home when I was alone and lonely, battered and bruised both physically and mentally from those who were supposed to take care of me and protect me. Here is where I found my freedom, my family and my voice and anything I can do to make sure we withstand the negatives of this administration will be an honor.
(S): What are your views on the ongoing #TakeAKnee movement in US of A?
(R): For Trump, Take a Knee is a distraction. It helps him with his base, most of whom are racists and do not want immigrants to enter this country. As regards the players, non-violent civil disobedience is the perfect form of disobedience. That’s what Dr. King preached, that is what Gandhi taught us. What the players are doing is drawing attention to the injustice that is being inflicted on unarmed black men and women. They are drawing attention to the negatives in our society that need to change and for us to be more inclusive. I once heard Senator Cory Booker said, I don’t aspire to a tolerant but an accepting society. Every person in the world should be working towards an accepting world. Racism and divisiveness only make us weaker. We are stronger together.
(S): How was your experience running for the Town Council elections in Denville?
(R): I had the time of my life. I am a very quiet person and like to keep to myself. Running for political office meant, I had to shed those characteristics and learn to become social; something I wasn’t sure I would be able to do. Another fear I had was being able to raise money but as it turned out I enjoyed every aspect of the campaign. Even when the going got tough and I was targeted, my signs were destroyed, I was harassed after the election, it was an absolute joy to run. I loved talking about the issues that affect people, how I could help and where we could make a difference together. The support I received was overwhelming; so many people were excited about my candidacy and that I was willing to take on the Republicans in a very red town.
(S): What did your political campaign make you realize about the society you live in? How do you think we can create a better, more peaceful society?
(R): Regardless of who we are and what we look like in the end, we all want similar things: Family, food, a roof over our heads, some money for retirement, education for our kids. Running for office made me realize we have more in common than we think. We all want a world that is safe for our kids and a future that can create opportunities for them. The way there is together through dialogue and mutual respect. Our culture and background make us outwardly seem similar but if we take the time to speak to each other and discuss what makes us who we are, I am sure the barriers will break in no time.