“How Can We Look Beyond the Covid-19 Crisis?” Shilpy Chatterjee’s Year in Review

Working in a remote setting has been a battle between recharging our energies and settling into new boundaries. As a team, we are exploring what it has meant to shift work that we never could have imagined as anything but in-person, to a virtual setting. We have found both new challenges and possibilities in the process. In reflecting on the past year of virtual adjustments, we sat down with our colleagues to dive into their year, and discuss what made 2021 a memorable year for them.

[author] Shilpy joined Sakhi in May 2018. Shilpy has a degree in Legal studies from Delhi University and started her career as a farmer and tribal rights activist in India. Her work took her to extremely remote places which gave her the opportunity to meet with people from diverse cultures and perspectives. After moving to the U.S., Shilpy continued her work with people experiencing crisis by devoting her services to women and children in domestic violence situations. Right before joining Sakhi, Shilpy was Domestic Violence Victims’ Advocate in a police precinct in Queens. She is fluent in English, Bengali, and Hindi and understands Punjabi and Gujarati. Shilpy is good with tools and loves assembling furniture whenever she gets a chance. She can be reached at . [/author]


  • What has 2021 meant for you (at Sakhi)?

2021 began with a positive note: 2020 had been difficult, but we had learned to settle into new work styles, adjust to virtual connection, and build upon our relationships with Sakhi staff and survivors. This sense of security, after having endured so many unforeseen challenges in 2020, felt important.

I also began to recognize how life continues to move forward, despite the pandemic. The main question I found myself asking was, “How can we look beyond the Covid-19 crisis?”

With this in mind, I conceived of the e-newsletter, We Celebrate Us. The premise of this project was attractive to me because it looked beyond Sakhi.

We Celebrate Us opened up space for survivors to take a moment away from their victimization and survivorship and reclaim their entire selves. We collectively remembered the women they admire and honored their influence and memories. One survivor I spoke with said the woman she admired in her life was her eight year-old daughter because she is the one that tells her, ‘we can get through this.’”

We Celebrate Us is not just part of Sakhi’s work, but a way to imagine possibilities beyond our work. I wanted to move away from focusing on what Sakhi does for survivors, and instead capture why these survivors chose to work with Sakhi. What makes them who they are, because of and beyond survivorship?


  • How has survivor-led programming manifested in your work with Sakhi this year?

In the fall, I launched the Road to Justice support group and workshop series in partnership with Queens Legal Services. Many survivors had been sharing their experiences with me individually, expressing that if they had approached the courts differently, they may have received a more favorable outcome from the legal system. They felt that they were at fault for a system that is inherently built against them.

The Road to Justice series created space for survivors to support each other and affirm that they are not the problem. The support groups were a way of learning that one sometimes has to play the system at its own game– institutions often manipulate us, and abusers manipulate the court. In this safe space for reflection and community, survivors held their ground and pushed back on feelings of shame. In sharing their stories with each other, survivors built a support system by and for themselves that tackled the systemic issues that often try to hold them back.

I’ve also been making meaningful connections across issue areas. Recently, I wrote an article published by OVS that discusses the relationship between hate crimes and domestic violence, especially as anti-Asian hate has surged this past year. Abusers weaponize a survivor’s fear of hate crimes; they make survivors feel that if they go outside, they will experience a hate crime because of their identity. Abusers use this fear of the outside world as a tactic of intimidation. This creates an environment in which the home does not feel safe because of the abuser, but neither does life outside of the home.


  • Is there a moment or interaction that is most memorable to you?

In a call with a survivor, we both at one point began laughing uncontrollably. In response, the survivor’s baby also started chuckling. This goes without saying, but the laughter of babies is always so cute and infectious!

The survivor then told me that her son never hears her laugh, and that she felt he was laughing because he could sense his mother’s own happiness. “Thank you for making my baby laugh,” she said. That was a small but special moment for me.

There are so many tiny things we take for granted, like the laughter of children. This survivor is often stressed, so she probably doesn’t have much time or space to laugh normally, freely, organically. This is what makes Sakhi special to me– these relationships. To be able to create these moments with clients.

Each time a client calls to share a happy personal news or to casually check in on me, it reaffirms my faith that we are in this together. We are partners in this fight against gender based violence and the relationships that we have built have the power to change the culture of the world.


  • As you reflect on this past year, how have you felt community through the pandemic?

By the end of 2020, I think we all collectively felt closer to the world despite our physical separation from each other. We went through, and in many ways still are going through, a shared experience marked by fear, joy, and everything in between.

At Sakhi, our ability to utilize technology to continue our work has really opened up possibilities. Even before the pandemic, survivors were not always able to come to the office. Now, we have so many creative and meaningful opportunities to come together– whether one-on-one, or in community with other survivors. This ability to expand access through technology is something that I hope will live with us, well after the pandemic.