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January 29, 2000
R S Shankar
As a coalition of South Asian community members, agencies and allies got ready to hold a candlelight vigil in Berkeley on Saturday evening to remember Sitha, 17, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning, many of the coalition members explained why they were holding the vigil.
Sitha is one of the three young women who were put up in an apartment by Berkeley's biggest landlord, Lakireddy Bali Reddy, who investigators say had sex with them. She died on the eve of Thanks Giving Day in November.
Sitha's 15-year-old sister was also taken to hospital unconscious but survived. Reddy was released on $ 10 million bail on Tuesday much to the anger of women's groups. His estimated worth is said to be more than $ 62 million.
"He should not have been allowed to get out with such a small fine," said Samantha Rajaram of South Asian Bar Association, that led a protest outside the court.
The coalition consists of, among others, Narika, the Asian Law Caucus, the South Asian Bar Association, the San Francisco Women Against Rape, Kamilat and Maitri.
"We don't know her real name, but we know she was a daughter, a sister, a friend, and now a symbol to all of us who deplore the oppression and exploitation of women and girls," a press release said, adding, "This vigil honors her memory."
Initial reports gave her name as Sitha Vemireddy but investigators claim that the man, who posed as the father of Sitha and her sister and brought them to America a few months ago, is an impostor. His "wife" happens to be his sister. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has taken the duo into custody.
The vigil "also honors the commitment of organizations and individuals in our communities who work to end violence against women and labor exploitation," the press release says.
"Domestic violence; trafficking; the physical and sexual abuse of children; the exploitation of children, youth and adults for their labor; rape; intimate femicide: These are the ways of violence and brutality. And deep suffering follows in their wake," the press release adds.
According to Narika executive-director Firoza Chic Dabby, "This case highlights many linked issues: The oppression of children, women and the disenfranchised; the exploitation of poverty; racism; the privileges of predators who use women and girls for sex, labor and profit; the entitlements of class and caste; and the impunity of the abusers."
"We want to point out that these are sanctioned by the culture and ideologies of patriarchy," says Dabby.
"To the fearful and the victimized, we offer our support and help," Dabby says. "To the dead and the grieving, we offer our respects. To the abusers, we direct our outrage and condemnation."
The vigil will be held, 6-8 pm, in front of Pasand Madras Indian Cuisine, the restaurant owned by Lakireddy Bali Reddy. It is located at 2286 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA.
The coalition is collection donations for the victims who have allegedly suffered at Reddy's hands.
Money can be sent to PO Box 14014, Berkeley CA 94712. Checks are payable to 'Narika - Victim's Fund'.
For more information, contact 1-800-215-7308.
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