by Saba Mir
Two organizers founded a community-oriented and culturally-informed organization to holistically eradicate sexual misconduct in South Indian arts spaces.
Neha Krishnamachary and Janani Ramesh are the co-founders of CAREspaces, an organization that arose from the need to end sexual misconduct in the Carnatic music community. Carnatic music is South Indian classical music, with Hindustani music as its North Indian counterpart. Janani is also part of a related community, Bharatanatyam, which is the South Indian classical form of dance situated primarily in Tamil Nadu. Both Janani and Neha grew up learning these art forms and engaging with the communities both in North America and in India. Among their many talents, Neha plays violin, and Janani dances and sings. Neha also serves as the Head of Finance for CAREspaces, and Janani is the Creative Head for the organization. Raised in New Jersey, Neha currently lives in New York City and works in media as a finance professional. Janani grew up in Dallas, Texas, where she currently lives and is considering a career in medical education. I had the pleasure to engage in a virtual conversation with Neha and Janani in May 2021. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity. The full video recording will be accessible on the Global Girlhood YouTube channel, and highlights will be included on the Global Girlhood Instagram account.
Please introduce yourselves. Who are you, and what are you most passionate about?
Neha: I am a performing artist, but more so I am a community organizer. My interest is in developing and forming communities that help sustain this art form for our current and future generations in North America.
Janani: I’m a learner, and I learn while I teach. When I think about sustaining communities and this art form in our community long-term, that is the hat I like to wear. Even with my perspectives regarding medicine and becoming a future healthcare provider, that is the approach I take.
Have there been any life events, individuals in your lives, or communities you’ve been part of that have shaped who you are or the work that you do?
Neha: It is mostly the Carnatic music community in New Jersey that has shaped me. Growing up, people have different experiences, whether it's throughout grade school or college -- different student organizations or communities that shape them. For me, the one thread that has gone through my life is the music community. While a lot of people growing up might have gone to sports practice straight after school, for me it was always music. I would come back [from school] and I would always practice. On the weekends, I would perform. Even in college, I spent quite a few weekends of mine travelling to perform or going back to New Jersey to perform. It has always been that community.
Janani: As Neha said, the arts have been the biggest thing in my life that have shaped even the way that I learn. Like I said earlier, learning is a big part of who I am. My foray into teaching and passion for education came from the arts. In addition to the Indian arts and everything, Neha said, presenting cancer research and related topics in school shaped my love for sharing knowledge with communities and the ways that can empower healing. A turning point in my life where I realized that education can be so many different things came from my experiences in research and blending that with the arts. It’s a difficult thing to express to someone who maybe doesn’t have those experiences with fine arts, but they can transcend so many different spaces and experiences. It can give you so much in any space, and provide you with many transferable skills. Those are the kinds of things that have shaped Neha and me in bringing CAREspaces together and have shaped what I do for CAREspaces as well.
Tell us more about your work. What is CAREspaces, and what are your origin stories with the organization? How did you get involved, and what are the roles you take on currently?
Neha: Thinking about how we came to CAREspaces informs what the organization does today. In the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement came to fruition, and we saw that about a year later, #MeToo was still hitting other parts of the world. We saw the #MeToo movement come to fruition in America and Hollywood, and then in the fall of 2018, we saw it come to India. It hit Bollywood and some of the academic circles, but it also hit the Carnatic music community. Of all the niche communities, for it to have such a big impact there, it was surprising and not surprising at the same time. It was similar to how it happened in a lot of other communities. There were a lot of stories shared through social media, a lot of e-solidarity, and it got people in our community speaking. As I said, it didn’t surprise people that this happened. The allegations that came forward -- we were all unfortunately aware of the things that were happening in our community. The biggest catalyst is that people started talking. Myself and a few of my music and dance colleagues -- friends I’ve had in this community for a long time -- came together and decided we should do something about this. With that first task force, we got the ball rolling. We had people sign petitions and demand zero-tolerance policies against sexual harassment amongst a lot of organizations. Like what you see with many movements that come and go, that’s exactly what happened, it came and went. Although all of us remained passionate, we didn’t see much change enacted. Admittedly a lot of the change that we were trying to enact was a bit top-down, and it’s always a question of how you penetrate these established, larger organizations. I always felt bad that we couldn’t do more, we couldn’t push the conversation any further. And most importantly, a lot of brave survivors who came out with their stories didn’t have a space to heal or move forward with their journeys. That takes us to February of 2020 when Janani and I happened to reconnect. We were at a panel discussion in India that was talking about sexual harassment in Carnatic music, and as we reconnected, that’s where the things I just spoke about came back to us. We thought something still needed to be done. Just because we showed initial solidarity didn’t mean that the problem was solved. We still saw this as an issue, and there were still survivors who needed to heal, who needed to share their stories, and who needed to know that there was a community in solidarity with them. Through that, Janani and I formed CAREspaces, and for me, it was always about making sure that we were impacting some change in this community. I’ve always been passionate about community organizing. I run a non-profit called Yuva Sangeetha Lahari (YSL) in New Jersey, where we try to create performance opportunities for young people. So the idea of CAREspaces came naturally to us. We never expected it to be anything big, we just were two people who were frustrated with the system and probably had a little too much time on our hands as the pandemic began. And now here we are with a team of nine people.
Janani: Neha worked primarily in the task force, but I wasn’t part of that group. I was having personal conversations with family members and close friends, as well as other people in our community. I realized that I had some ideas, but I didn’t know where to verbalize them and I didn’t know who would listen. I didn’t know if they were feasible or not. It always seems you can’t be part of the movement. Sometimes certain people are good about taking things into their own hands and running with them, and others feel like they can’t be part of that narrative. I didn’t know who to talk to. I saw that the petition was happening, so I signed the petition. But I felt like it was just one signature, and I wasn’t doing much. In the conversations that I had, there were so many layered elements I noticed as I spoke to more and more people. I am sure Neha noticed that as well when she was working in the task force. To the people that this misconduct felt wrong too, they understood that there are many intersectional identities at play, and there is a lot of history associated with Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam, as with many of the Indian arts. In our South Indian societies, we have a lot of tradition, and we hold on to a lot of things. This can be great, but it can also help us pass down some of the generational issues. Breaking free from that, first by recognizing those aspects, became important. There was conversation after conversation after that panel discussion that rehashed the same sort of things, and that’s when Neha and I met and asked, “What can we do that is longer-term or deeper in the way that it addresses layered issues and different identities, and how can we acknowledge some of those things?” That reflects how we created CAREspaces. We wanted it to be very multidimensional and very multifaceted, which mirrors the type of people that volunteered on our team. We have 9 people who are at the core of CAREspaces on our executive team, and then we have 11 people who are working on peer support, which is the first service drop that we had. These 9 people are all very multidimensional, and one thing we have in common is that we’re all part of this Indian art space. The departments that we have within CAREspaces reflect what is important to us. Education and Peer Support is one department that helps “knowledge-empowered healing,” as we like to call it. Then we have a Design team that is responsible not only for designing social media posts but also for communicating the various aspects of CAREspaces to audiences partly through social media because it is a global community. And then we have a Resources and Research department that not only helps us get grants and such but also to inform what we do and to make sure we are aligning with expert resources that we can refer people to. We’re a referral-based organization, we’re not a reporting service. Then we have a Legal department that helps us with both internal and external compliance. We hold ourselves to the same standards that we expect people to hold themselves in our community. We’re very excited that all of these multifaceted people have come together. We tried to replicate the type of change that we want to see in the layered approach through which the organization is structured. Everything is meaningful to Neha and me, we’ve brought those kinds of people together and we’re very lucky to have this team to build this community with. And people don’t realize CAREspaces is an acronym. “CARE” stands for “Conscientious Artists Rallying for Ethical” and then “spaces” - so that’s what CAREspaces stands for.
Neha: Among our team, we always have a lot going on -- like any other organization --- but at the core, we all came together because we feel we need to create more ethical and professional workspaces. Oftentimes, when you think of artists in these spaces - musicians or dancers or supporting artists - because many of them may be freelance or because the space is more creative, you don’t think about it necessarily as a workspace. Yet until we do think about it as a workspace, it’s hard to implement change, hold people accountable, and institute measures like zero-tolerance, mitigating conflicts of interest, and having transparency. Like Janani alluded to, sexual harassment is what brought us here: sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault. But none of that happens in a vacuum. We see other offenses happen before it gets even more egregious and reaches a point of sexual harassment, for example. Sometimes that includes things like financial harassment, people not respecting your boundaries, or people making you feel uncomfortable in non-sexual ways. We’re here to address all of those things and we like to think about it as instituting standards of professionalism overall.
I love how CAREspaces is community-based, and how everyone you work with is so aligned with the organization’s mission. The fact that you address structural factors to holistically approach sexual misconduct is incredibly noteworthy. I am curious to learn more about the specifics of the roles you take on with CAREspaces, as you must have many. Take us through your day and the different hats you wear.
Neha: Most of us on the team are either professionals, full-time students, or have other commitments that are not CAREspaces related. Everyone volunteers their time towards this cause. If you think about our day to day, no day looks the same. That being said, we as a team have a weekly meeting every Monday, most of which happen at all hours of the night because that’s when everyone is free. In terms of the things happening right now, as Janani mentioned, we just launched our Peer Support Service. It is for anyone in this space who is looking for peer support. When I say “this space,” I mean the Indian performing arts specifically. If you’re looking for peer support related to sexual or non-sexual misconduct, our CARE Leaders, who are our providers of peer support, are here to help. We have trained CARE Leaders who we put through a rigorous training program to make sure that they’re culturally sensitized to this space. And that’s very important to us because there are many avenues through which you can receive support, some are formal and some are informal -- the formal ones include therapy. But often what people struggle with is finding a culturally sensitive or culturally-informed therapist or provider of support, and that’s what we wanted to mitigate with our CARE Leaders. A lot of them either grew up in this space doing arts and music and dance or are ardent connoisseurs, so they have some background. You would not need to explain the nuances of a guru–shishya relationship with them, they get it. If you’re talking about some of the power dynamics, there’s no need to over-explain. On top of that, in the way that someone would be trained in standard peer support through a case-based method of learning, that’s how their training was done as well. You have the best of both worlds here. The person who co-leads our peer support training, Sachin Pendse, that’s his speciality. He’s currently getting his PhD from Georgia Tech in peer support and mental health-related to Indian communities. Our other peer support training co-lead is Sutikshna Veeravalli who is receiving a Masters in Special Education and Social Work from Boston University. We make sure that if we’re not the experts on something, we’re bringing in someone who is. We try our best to receive community-based advice and also we do our research to make sure that the services that we’re providing are apt, culturally sensitive, and help the community.
Janani: Some of the CARE Leaders or peer support providers have crisis response training from past experiences as well, and some are just learning this for the first time. And that's something that’s important to us. If someone wants to be part of this movement, we want to make sure they have a space to do that. And everyone has that intention when they apply to be CARE Leaders. There is an interview process for the position, and CAREspaces members came up with all the training that we did. There hasn’t been much that addresses sexual misconduct in the Indian arts or helps people understand the cultural relevance of the Indian arts, and the cultural history. This is sort of the first safe space that we’re creating with CAREspaces. We had to come up with the training, and that’s where it comes from. In addition to the peer support service, we currently have this event series called “I’m a Professional Too.” Earlier, Neha alluded to the fact that we’re working on helping people understand that this is a workspace, just like any other workspace, and that professional conduct is a must. What does that look like in such a collaborative space, where you’re working on creative projects with friends or family? What does professional conduct look like? We have five specifically curated sessions with an arts management consultancy in India to help deliver this message. We have different facets of professional conduct that we’re highlighting. One is understanding the workspace, the second is how you respect and protect your own and others’ creative property. Next is how you value your work through financial means, but also other aspects of valuing your art. The fourth is how to draw boundaries and what it means to draw boundaries. And the fifth session is knowing your rights, in terms of legal resources. For example, If there is a violation of professional conduct, what some negotiation points are and who can you approach to help you through that. A lot of people who speak at these panel discussions and events are professionals in the space and experts who specialize in these particular topics. It is a five-part event series, and we’re about to go into our fourth session, which has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic in India right now. More about the day to day -- I am part of the creative direction for CAREspaces, so I help the social media team, but I straddle several teams. Neha does as well. We both have a bird’s eye view of the organization and jump in wherever. I specifically try to work on the delivery of the message of CAREspaces, currently through social media, but in other ways as well.
CAREspaces has been visionary in its creation, its development as an organization, and its implementation of inventive programs. Are there any other distinctive qualities to CAREspaces that you want to highlight?
Neha: This organization is very unique in this space. Our community is really special, means so much to me, and has shaped so much of who I am, but it isn’t highlighted in many ways. We under-sell ourselves, and we’re underserved overall. It’s hard to put together resources for this community, and that has always bothered me. Members of this community -- not just the artists, but the students, the teachers, and the parents -- are also important. We face real problems in this community. It might not be as big as a more mainstream music industry or dance industry, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have real people here. That’s something that is very important to CAREspaces, and there isn’t another organization that’s doing what we’re doing. We’re open to having very frank conversations. With “I’m a Professional Too,” we did a session about finances and valuing oneself as an artist, and some of the feedback we got was that it was one of the most candid conversations people had ever heard done in this space. We had performing artists talk about some of their frustrations. A lot of times, when people talk about highlighting a community, they don’t want to talk about the bad, they only want to talk about the good. But there are problems in every community. You have to first address what’s going wrong before you can move forward. That’s what I see CAREspaces doing. It’s not about shedding negative light, but about highlighting the cracks in the system. Let’s talk about it, let’s figure out how to fix it, and then let’s fix it and move forward to create better spaces for our generation and the generations to come.
Janani: I think the most unique thing for us has been the peer support service because it’s free and one-on-one. Sometimes there are peer support services that are group sessions, but this is tailored to every individual. It centers and prioritizes the individual’s needs, which is huge. We always think about justice as something that the law could bring to a survivor, but it could also just mean that their story is heard and that it’s heard in a more personal setting. Some resources are then matched to them and tailored to them. That’s the second aspect that I think is very unique. The referral resource directory that we have is something that every CARE Leader will have on hand, and if any of the people needing help want to move on to counselling services or therapists, we can help match them. We can help build that bridge between where they are in their healing process and where they want to go. People always think, “I’m not really a survivor, this is not really for me.” But what I’ve realized is that we all have so many little micro-misconduct events that have happened to us that we don’t even realize because it’s been normalized. In some way or another, we’re all survivors of some sort of misconduct that we haven’t even recognized yet. Now we have the organization to facilitate the conversations where people can realize that’s something they want to talk about or need help with. CAREspaces is a place that’s going to talk about the things that people don’t want to talk about. There are plenty of arts organizations that provide performance spaces to enjoy this art form, but there isn’t an organization to say, “Hold on. There are a few issues here, let’s discuss them.” That’s what CAREspaces is, and we do it in a safe space format where we acknowledge all identities and make space for everyone’s stories.
Neha: To reiterate, there isn’t another organization that provides peer support for the Indian performing arts community. That is what makes us stand out. Some organizations serve broader identities and communities, which is fantastic, but the reason some members of our community hesitate to use those services is that they don’t feel seen or heard or they don’t feel they can have a safe space unless it’s addressed their specific concerns. That’s why we’re here. I think a lot of times when people try to find solutions, they try to apply them to as many people as possible, but that formula doesn’t always work.
Janani: In the Indian arts, we find ourselves in unique situations. It’s very normal for us to have a music lesson in a teacher’s home, living room, or bedroom. When people from other communities hear that, they might not understand the cultural significance. That’s just one example where talking to a therapist without that cultural understanding can be frustrating, and that’s not something you want to waste your money or time on when you’re not feeling great. Hopefully, that’s what CAREspaces can relieve for our community.
Can you elaborate on how sharing one’s story can serve as justice?
Janani: It’s personal fulfilment. You know the feeling when you haven’t received closure, you haven’t had a space to vent, or you don’t have someone to listen to you? Often, these are not stories that people can openly share with their parents. That doesn’t mean parents are unloving or they don’t care about their children, but they might not know how to respond. Many times, parents are the ones who initiate their children into this space by taking them to a teacher to help them learn. You can’t go to your parents, especially because it’s supposed to be an extracurricular activity; or that’s how it always starts. It starts as a passion or something that you’re doing on the side. The first thing to happen is the parents might say to quit music or dance lessons. That’s not a solution because what if you love this art form? What if you want to stay in this space but don’t feel safe? It’s a very complex situation to be in. Just on a personal level, I know justice means a lot of things to people, but I’m taking it out of its traditional definition, and thinking about what feeling I get when I’ve gotten justice -- a feeling of closure. When we think about different ways we can reach closure, an approach is one-on-one healing. Being able to speak freely and not having to worry about what the other person is thinking of you, not having to worry about describing every detail of the community, and not having to worry about explaining all of the terminology used in this space. You don’t have to do that with CAREspaces or with our peer support program. You can speak freely and from your heart. You know that the other person won’t judge you, you know that they don’t know the same people that you know in the space, and you know it won’t backfire. A big thing people worry about is that there will be a backlash when they’re approaching closure. I am not a survivor, so I can only try to put myself in their shoes, but people may have wanted to stay anonymous due to the fear of, “We’re in this tight-knit community, what is the other person going to think of me?” Or, “‘X’ person knows the person who hurt me, is that going to lessen my opportunities?” And this is even scarier if one is trying to make this a profession. This can affect their life, their livelihood, and their ability to make ends meet. It’s complex, and I think it’s important that closure comes about in a multi-faceted way. Easy access to resources is one way that you can get closure. Honest, one-on-one conversations and judgement-free are what a peer support service can provide, which can be a form of closure. Another form is having mood discussions or seeing people on screen in an event speak about some things that happened that aren’t sitting well with you. That’s a form of representation where you can feel that someone is speaking about something that you’ve gone through. In these ways, we can begin to give people closure before the justice system or the law comes into play because that is something that people can’t always afford, it takes a long time for that process to come together, and it feels like it’s not a viable option at times. We try to make the law seem a bit more accessible to people and match them with lawyers who are willing to talk through things with them. I’m not saying that the law is out of the question, but I don’t think we can just look to one avenue to provide us with that feeling of justice and closure. It’s possible that even if all of that goes through, the person who caused harm is still out there and doing their thing. We see that all the time in other communities, and that’s why we’ve taken this more holistic approach to what justice could mean for someone. A survivor could speak to that better, but this is just one way that we’ve tried to interpret what they would need.
Neha: It’s so hard to talk about justice in our community because in a more well-established or well-known community, you have all these structures set up already that help you as a survivor, or someone trying to help survivors, in navigating that path. But there’s no infrastructure set up here. Although it is such a rich art form, the Indian performing arts is such an informal space. It's very rare to establish organizations with a code of conduct, let alone one that is implemented or enforced. Let’s say you have a survivor of sexual misconduct who is part of a college or university. That person might first go speak with their friends about it, or they might talk to someone at the university, like an RA. They might have other established paths of coming forward, like seeking out a counsellor. They can go through the university system. I am not saying this is perfect, as we’ve seen many cases where it’s not perfect at all. But I’m saying that the fact that there are even these established systems or access points is already a step ahead of what we have in our community. Part of what we’re doing is trying to establish and create that because the Carnatic music space is a really niche space. You don’t know who you can talk to and trust. A friend or colleague might be friends or colleagues with someone who is an alleged perpetrator, or your alleged perpetrator. As we know, going to your parents or talking to your family members is not always an option. On top of that, it’s hard to talk to a therapist because you might not even have access to one or that therapist might not be culturally sensitive. Who do you go to? You don’t have a reporting organization that’s established for this space, it might serve a larger community instead. All these things go through a survivor’s mind and we’re trying to help them navigate with CAREspaces. That’s why justice might look different for them. The fact that they can even tell their story and be validated by someone is a big deal. With many of these survivors, egregious offenses have happened to them but they haven’t been told it was not okay that it even happened in the first place, or that they can feel some sort of emotion towards what happened. Because they haven’t had the space, the person, or the resources to talk about it. That’s why we chose peer support because it’s an informal way to go about healing. It’s not as formal as therapy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as effective. And like Janani always says, sometimes you just need a friend to lean on, someone’s shoulder to cry on, or someone to vent to, and that’s what peer support is. Because at the end of the day, that friend hopefully validates you.
Janani: The power of venting is huge. We all know it, we do it with our friends. Receiving that validation from someone is comforting. That’s hopefully what we’re able to provide for people.
Your approach is so comprehensive, holistic, and necessary. Could you expand on what the importance of representation is to you, and how it informs your work with CAREspaces?
Neha: Representation is such a big thing. We now live in a world with some better South Asian representation, so I’m just starting to think smaller and smaller towards the community I belong to. You have Indian representation, you have South Indian representation, you even have Tamil representation, and you have some general representation of Indian performing arts. You can familiarize people enough with a college dance team or some form of Indian dance, or they know about Bollywood. Maybe they know about Indian music because they recognize what a sitar looks like. But it’s still so hard for me to explain to people what Carnatic music is. It’s so hard for them to understand. Even my friends who aren’t Indian that I grew up with would say, “I don’t get why you have to put so much effort into this, why are you always practicing? Why do you have to travel for music? I don’t even get what your performance looks like.” I would love for people to be more informed about things like that. I’m not saying you have to read up on it in your free time, but I would love to showcase this community and the good things about it as well. That’s what representation means to me. Not feeling embarrassed or like there’s some barrier to explaining who you are or where you come from. At the end of the day, with the Indian classical arts -- like with any classical art form -- there’s this higher barrier to entry, and because of the way the art form has evolved, it’s created that barrier for itself which needs to be bridged better. I would love for our community to be represented better, and a lot of that goes towards legitimizing it. I know some people might be offended by that because they might think, “are you saying I am not a legitimate professional or performing artist?” Of course, members of our community are legitimate, but we still need to be showcased in global spaces to demonstrate that we are important people who have the problems that we need to solve. We need to establish our pathways and our organizations a bit better and receive a bit more spotlight. A lot of times in the Carnatic music community, we don’t do a lot to put our names out there. It’s only when we collaborate with other genres that our names get out there. I would love to change that and bring more attention to the art form in its more holistic form that’s not a crossover or fusion style. Showcasing our community that way -- that’s what I hope to do with CAREspaces.
Janani: Representation should feel like you’re looking in the mirror. Whether that be skin color, whether that’s your passion, or whether that’s your intention. It might be your thought process, the difficulties you’re having, or the successes you’re having. It should feel like looking in a mirror. A lot of times that’s missing in the media and conversations. Like Neha said, with a lot of people that we interact with on a day-to-day basis, their only introduction to the Indian art space is that we learn the Indian arts. I’m even talking about people who live in the same communities, their family might even be from Chennai just like my family is but they don’t have that connection to the Indian arts or even respect for it. Sometimes there’s a lack of respect too, and I don’t know where that comes from. I always attribute that to a lack of knowledge. Through CAREspaces, we’re trying to give people that mirror, and hopefully, they can see themselves, their intentions, their struggles, and their successes through this organization. That’s part of why we’re trying to make CAREspaces as holistic as possible in our approach.
What are your hopes for CAREspaces going forward, what are the ways that the Global Girlhood community can support your work?
Neha: We’re approaching a year of our core team working together, which is a big milestone for us. Janani and I need to do some reflecting about where we want to be, because we didn’t think we’d get this far in a year, especially through a pandemic. I am so grateful for our team and everyone who supported us. In our next year, what we will want to do is collaborate more with other organizations in this space to get the word out and make this a grassroots movement as Janani always says. The only way to do that is to approach other communities or sub-communities within our own, explain what we’re doing, garner more support for our initiatives, and figure out how we can synergize and help them out as well. That is something that I’m looking forward to doing.
Janani: It’s nice of the Global Girlhood community to reach out to us, it means a lot. I think a lot of the tenets and pillars of your community align with ours. Education and leadership don’t just mean being on an executive board of an organization. It’s leading by example, and there are a lot of silent leaders in our community. Highlighting those stories through storytelling is what you guys do. You’re featuring our story, which is great. And it would be great for more people to understand what the value of our work is and how it overlaps with theirs. There are a lot of safe spaces and people out there working on sexual assault and misconduct. Even though it may not be specific to the Indian arts, there are a lot of ways we can help each other out. I hope that through a platform like Global Girlhood, people could learn more about others who are doing similar work and figure out how we can share resources and collaborate. Sharing knowledge and sharing the ways that we can come together is important. It’s going to help a lot more communities than just the Indian arts. Long-term, I hope people can share their approaches and help each other out. Maybe even a theater organization in a college can adopt a few things from CAREspaces, and maybe we can learn a few things from the Global Girlhood community or other safe spaces. It’s all about sharing and caring. Hopefully, we can do more of that through other platforms that we come across as well.
Neha: You can always donate to help us and our initiatives. We all do this on a volunteer basis, so we rely on community support to keep us going and to ensure that we can provide services and carry out events. Hopefully, sometime soon we will also run in-person seminars and panels, and donations help us organize those to the best of our ability.
You mentioned how CAREspaces has been running for almost a year, which is an outstanding accomplishment. Are there any other accomplishments that you want to spotlight?
Neha: I am so proud of our team. Often people think about big events, milestones, or things that are more public and tangible, but there’s so much that goes on in the background that isn’t highlighted, and our team does that every single day. We couldn’t do this with eight people or six people or two people. Each one of our nine members is so integral to our daily operations. We all ensure this organization runs smoothly, that everyone is holding each other accountable, and that we push each other to be creative and think outside of the box. That’s what I am the proudest of because it is really hard to find your group of people that care about a cause and are going to help better your community.
Janani: The amount of time they’ve given to this purpose and the fact that we’re all so aligned is really rare. Sometimes I just stop and realize that our team has never actually met in person. We all came together online during the pandemic. We haven’t met in person but we’re so aligned that it doesn’t even feel like that is the case. We’ve bonded so much through our shared purpose. There are so many things that we can’t publicly disclose just yet, but we’ve accomplished so much in this very short amount of time. As Neha said, it’s more about the day-to-day and less about just showing things out to the public. That’s not how we measure success. The fact that people have been so receptive to CAREspaces, it's been validating for us. When we came together and decided to do this, it was supposed to be small. I told Neha that it would be a one-page website or a blog, and it ended up being huge because people found purpose in this. So far we haven’t gotten any backlash, we’ve gotten critical feedback, which is great, but we haven’t received anything outright. That’s amazing because there’s been a lot of backlash during the entire #MeToo movement, so for us to take that energy and create something new with it that is more approachable to people is a big win. CAREspaces as a whole has been a defining thing in my life. It is something that both of us are very proud of and it’s been wonderful to put this together with our entire team and particularly with Neha as well.
Too often people measure accomplishments solely in terms of large events and tangible results, which CAREspaces has had so much success with, but I appreciate how your focus is always on people, community, and connection. That demonstrates how genuine and focused the mission of CAREspaces is. To switch gears, empowerment has been a strong theme of this discussion. How do you empower yourselves, your communities, and/or the people around you?
Neha: I motivate myself and look for inspiration from the women in my daily life. Especially in this community, everyone is so multi-disciplinary. You’re not only a working professional like a doctor or a lawyer, but you’re also a musician and dancer. On top of that, you’re also a mom and you volunteer. Everyone somehow manages everything and makes it appear seamless. Any time I am not feeling as motivated, I always remind myself that there are so many other people that I can go to and speak to because they manage so much at the same time.
Janani: Referring to what I said at the start about how I identify as a learner, for me, it’s through all my teachers. Teachers are not just people but also experiences, and it’s not just someone who you call a teacher but we learn from each other in our day-to-day lives. I’ve learned a lot from this entire team and everyone that I’ve worked within the past in other experiences. Research in undergraduate school, friends I’ve had in college, and the kids I teach. In some ways, we’re always learning from one another, and for me, that is how I stay motivated and feel empowered. And people have been so generous with their compliments and their support for us, even in the small ways. Even if it means just attending an event or just liking a post. All of those things empower us and help us keep going. It’s also important to our team that if we’re not feeling great or need some time off, we’re very vocal about that. We try to create that safe space as much as possible inside the team as well so that we can help each other out when we’re not feeling up to the mark.
Earlier, we addressed how the Global Girlhood community can support your work, are there any other ways to help that you would like to underscore?
Neha: If you want to get involved with CAREspaces, you can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our members all bring something unique and have skill sets that we’re looking for, which are not limited to anything. Like Janani mentioned, we have so many different departments, so if anyone is looking to get involved, you can email us. We have a short form for you to fill out to figure out how you want to help and where you’d be situated. We’re always happy to bring people on if they’re true to this cause. If you want to be a CARE Leader or a provider of peer support, we recruit for that in cycles. The current cycle is closed as we have our first batch of CARE Leaders, but you can always email us or follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see when we’ll be recruiting our next batch. In terms of involvement, that’s what you can do. We’re always looking for feedback, so please don’t hesitate to provide us feedback, we’re really big on that as a group. If there are any suggestions you have or any other initiatives you think we should get involved in, message us, email us, or DM us.
Janani: If other organizations can help us get the word out, let us know. We are just starting, and I think it’s important that people know that they have access to something like this. Growing up, both of us didn’t have access to this. We’re not able to service minors through our peer support, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be part of our community, come to our events, comment on things, or tell us how they feel. I think if people can help us connect to a larger audience, that would be great. Even if you’re not working in the Indian art space or you don’t have that context if you’re an organization doing something related to sexual assault, sexual misconduct, domestic violence, or any related work like a helpline, and you feel like you can share your resource with us, we can put it on our resource directory, and we can collaborate to make our safe space even more enriching to our community. Those are ways that people who are in the Global Girlhood community can stay in touch with us and connect.
Is there anything else you would like to share? Do you have any advice for younger folks reading this or watching the video?
Neha: If you don’t have role models in your life who are doing something you want to do, don’t fret. Like Janani and I said, no one has done anything like this in our space before. You don’t need to find someone who is an exact role model or someone who has done what you want to do. Create your path, talk to people. More often than not, there are people interested in what you’re doing and who are looking to support you.
Janani: If Neha and I hadn’t shared our ideas with one another, we wouldn’t be co-founding this organization. We wouldn’t have realized that so many people are interested in the same things that we’re interested in. It’s really important to vocalize your ideas. Mentorship is so important, it’s been key in helping me stay afloat and find things I’m passionate about. I’ve never done anything for a resume, and it pays off in the long run because you stay true to who you are.