As a survivor of childhood abuse, I have decided to devote my life to ending violence to women and children, specifically domestic violence.
In 2012, I started Indrani’s Light Foundation, dedicated to caregivers in the sexual and domestic violence space. I was the first founding member of a women’s collective dedicated to a variety of issues affecting women globally. I was fortunate enough to speak and teach all over India, Trinidad and Tobago, Quito and Guatemala City and in many states in the US.
Throughout my journey, I have had many incredible experiences connecting with thousands of women while meeting people you may only read about or see on the news. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would get the chance to converse with a US president, but it actually happened and I will never forget it.
There I was, seated across the table from the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. Yes, his smile is even brighter when you are face to face with him.
The day I had been invited to meet with him there were no more than 25 of us in the room. We were told the President may take questions from some of us and to be brief. I knew I had to ask a question, but what would I dare ask?
“Mr President I was an abused child and want other kids to not be abused!”
“Mr President, why do we still have so many children suffering in the United States?”
“Mr President, give me a job on your staff to end violence!”
None of those things made sense. I could imagine the President looking at me as if I had two heads and moving on to the next question. I could imagine myself squandering this incredible opportunity and kicking myself for the rest of my life.
So what would I say?
What did I want to happen? What could I control? What energy would I bring to those few moments with Barack Obama?
I decided I would ask Barack Obama how to be of service to him.
I decided I would tell him that I have a daughter and wanted to try to make the world a safer place for our daughters.
As luck would have it, I was seated directly across from him and we made direct eye contact.
In that moment, I knew that I wanted him to remember me. When it was time to start asking questions, I raised my hand high in the air and he looked at me and nodded. It was time to go for it. I said “Mr President, I am 60 years old and I want to end violence for my daughter and your daughters, how can I help you to do this?”
President Obama replied, “60? No way, what are you eating?”
I answered, with a big smile. “The same thing Michelle gives you to eat.”
He went on to agree that gender violence is a big problem. He then started listening to a few more people who shared what they hoped the president could do for them. None of them asked however what they could do for him. At one point he surveyed the room and said, “Like Indrani here, we must be aspirational when we are looking at big issues.” I was so happy he remembered my name and referenced it with ending violence. More importantly, focusing on the topic of how I could help him solve this worldwide issue affecting women, struck a chord with him.
That same year, I was invited to attend the annual White House Christmas Party. While I excitedly stood in the receiving line to shake his hand, before I knew it, I was greeted by that larger than life smile. I took a deep breath and said “ Mr President, do you remember me?”
He instantly replied, “Yes, you are the woman who wants to end violence.”
My plan was simple. Stay true to my passion, be direct and use words that will mean something.
My plan was in service of the ultimate goal of ending violence.
When we are able to wrestle our demons and face our challenges and learn their lessons, we can fully show up.
I choose to show up NOT as the abuse survivor, but as an advocate for all women and children.