Author Archives: vsbdiversityconference

अग्नि Agni: The Power of Fire

By: Susan Borecki

Many years ago I took a sabbatical from my legal practice and enrolled as a student at the Ayurvedic Institute.  Ayurveda is the science of life based on the ancient Vedas.  Yoga is the most well-known Vedic discipline in the West.  Another discipline that is becoming more widely known is Ayurveda, the “Mother of all Healing.”  Health and healing according to Ayurveda begin with Agni. 

Agni is Sanskrit for fire.  Agni is hot, light, sharp, and dry.  Agni governs innumerable physiological processes including digestion and the assimilation of food at the cellular and more subtle levels.  

Digestion is key to health and wellness according to Ayurveda.  Foods are digested differently so one needs to know which foods are compatible with one another.  For example, poultry (including eggs), should not be eaten with dairy (such as milk and cheese).  Similarly, dairy should be eaten separately from fruits.  Fruits should be eaten alone, and not served on top of cereal or baked into bread or muffins.  Grains, including wheat and rice, combine well with beans, vegetables, meat, nuts, eggs and cheese.

If one’s agni is strong, the rules can be followed less stringently.  If one’s agni is poor, incompatible food combining can result in incomplete digestion.  The body is not always easily able to eliminate undigested food.  Accumulated over time, undigested food becomes a toxin called Ama.  

Ama is cold, dull, wet, heavy and viscous.  Ama can result in indigestion, fatigue and cloudy thinking.  Ama accumulation can be seen on the tongue.  A clear tongue, free of a white or brown coating, can be an indication of good agni.  A coated tongue may be a sign of ama in the body.  Ama can collect into the deep tissues and, if not addressed, can result in weight gain, dullness and ill health.

According to Ayurveda, food will absorb the ambient energies.  You can improve the quality of your digestion, therefore, by being mindful of your thoughts as you cook and eat.  Be fully present and emotionally grounded while handling food.  

Don’t argue or entertain disagreeable thoughts while cooking and eating.  And never criticize your food.  Your food fuels your activities, your thoughts and your feelings.  It also is incorporated into your tissues including the mind.  If you don’t like a particular dish, then finish it quietly or put it aside.  

You can improve your digestive fire by consuming simple, fresh and tasty meals.  Think positive, good thoughts while you cook and eat your meals.  Put off unpleasant topics for another time.  

Kindle your agni with Agni Tea:

1 quart water 
1 pinch cayenne 
2 handfuls minced fresh ginger root 
2 Tbs. cane sugar or other sweetener 
1 to 2 tsp. rock or sea salt

½ a lime, squeezed

Put the first 5 ingredients in a pot and boil for 20 minutes.  Add the lime juice and enjoy.

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This article is for entertainment purposes only and is not to be used to diagnose or treat illness.  

Diversity Conference Statement on Disability Pride Month

Those with disabilities have recently observed Disability Pride month in July. On July 26, 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act became law. The changes it has brought about in the ensuing three decades have done much to make Americans acknowledge and work together to overcome things that discriminate against the disabled, whether they be physical barriers or work conditions lacking appropriate accommodations.

The Diversity Conference celebrates the attorneys, litigants, consumers of legal services – indeed, everyone – no matter where they may fall in the range of abilities.  Our mission statement expressly includes those with disabilities, stating:

“The Diversity Conference (DC) was established in 2010 to bring together Virginia State Bar members interested in promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and in ensuring that Virginia meets the legal needs of an increasingly diverse population. Diversity refers to, among other things, race, age, ethnicity, gender, religion, education, disability, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. The DC recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of all people and offers opportunities to serve the profession and the public through various programs and educational sessions.”

We celebrate your pride month with you.

The Power of Breath

By: Susan Borecki, Esq.* 

“Wisdom is not acquired save as the result of investigation.” – Sankara Charya

Where did that button go?  That bright red button that opens up the hole in the courtroom floor.  It was right here a minute ago, wasn’t it?  It was under a folder, maybe.

I practice criminal law in Washington, DC.  My job is representing the accused.  I do my best to challenge the prosecutor, her witnesses, her theory, and her evidence.  If I am lucky, I also have witnesses, a theory and evidence to present.  But I am not normally so lucky.  

I attended a CLE in the early 90s called, “Only the Strong Survive.”  One of the presenters discussed the Red Button.  It was somewhere on the defense table, but was mostly elusive.  Usually, the best one could hope for is the court reporter to ask for a break.  

The presenter of this class gave a lot of pointers on preparing to defend the indefensible, how to bolster your client’s and your own confidence.  One tip I remember was labeling your trial binder with the client’s name emblazoned in large bold letters on the cover and spine.  Things you could do ahead of time so maybe you had a lot of distractions that you wouldn’t think about the red button.

But a CLE is not usually the place to look for solutions to mental or professional crises.  We have to find those elsewhere.  I did.  Let me share it with you here.

Meditation is the quieting of the endless chatter in the mind.  It is the attention to the breath that helps move one’s consciousness away from the mundane details that keep us busy and distracted.  

It’s a few moments of discipline leading to peace.  Over time, with practice, meditation stills the mind.  It gives one the confidence to find the necessary momentum, to pivot, whether it is standing one’s ground or ceding it with grace.  

The gap between two breaths contains a universe of possibilities.  

So, let’s get started.  Sit comfortably and breathe in (you didn’t need me to tell you to take off your mask, right?).  Breathe out.  Breathe out through your mouth, pushing the air out from your diaphragm.  Breathe in again, this time more deeply.  

If you haven’t closed your eyes yet, close them now.  Breathe in from your nose, filling your lungs.  Pause, if only for a nanosecond, then breathe out, again through your nose.  Give yourself the pause.  Continue breathing in and out like this for a few minutes.  Some people go for hours, but a few minutes once or twice a day is fine.  

Center your attention around your breath.  Thoughts may arise in your mind.  Ignore them.  They will drift by.  If they are important, they will be there when you are done.  Keep to the simple task of relaxing and breathing until you are done.

The answer to panic is the emptiness between breaths.  The breath can lead to space and clarity.  There is no reason to disappear.  Instead, transform and refresh by centering yourself.

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*The author has been a student of Ayurveda and its related disciplines for as long as she has practiced law. Her specialty is criminal law, and she has prevailed in a number of high profile and precedent setting cases. 

When Lawyers Reigned in the World’s Largest Company

By: August Bequai, Esq.*

“Cursed he be above all others who’s enslaved by love of money.”    

-Anacreon                    

Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Franklin D. Roosevelt were all proud members of the legal profession. Their accomplishments and contributions to history and the law are well documented. History is not lacking in thousands of unnamed lawyers who have also played a crucial role in the evolution of their societies and the rule of law. The lawyers who reigned in the world’s  largest company-(the English East India Company; “The Company,” to historians)- are a continuum of that proud legal tradition.

A Behemoth is Born

There has never been anything like The Company in the annals of recorded human history. Today’s giant multinationals are but dwarfs when compared to this corporate behemoth. At the height of its power, The Company employed one of the largest three navies in the world, and an army of more than 200,000 well trained soldiers. It fought wars against the empires of China and India, and controlled more than fifty percent of the world’s trade at its peak. Its geographic expanse and influence were in par with those of the largest empires in history. Julius Caesar would have envied The Company.

 In the process, The Company corrupted the British political system to the point where it was said that every member of Parliament was on its payroll.  It also became a model for the corporate multinationals that followed in its footsteps. The Company’s beginnings, however, went unnoticed for many years. It was dwarfed at first by many of the trading companies that had sprung up in 16th century Europe to tap into the lucrative trade with the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Competition from Dutch and French trading companies was especially fierce. The Company’s growing financial interests, however, would embroil Britain in costly wars with China and other European countries.

Envious of the Spanish and Portuguese trade in the Americas and Asia, a small group of English merchants and investors met in a London pub on September 22, 1599, to plan the formation of a company to trade with Asia. They petitioned Queen Elizabeth for a Royal Charter; on December 31, 1600, the Charter was granted. Thus, was formed the Governor and Company of the Merchants of London trading into the East Indies.  Save for a handful of investors, few others took notice; let alone realizing that a multinational Behemoth was born.

Until 1707, The Company was officially  known as the English East India Company; after which it, came to be called the British East India Company. Informally, however, it would be referred to as The Company throughout its history. Its initial staff was small-(fewer than two dozen clerks); it made its headquarters at London’s Nags Head Inn. Years later, moving it to the fashionable India House. The Company sold stock to investors throughout Britain and Continental Europe. Its favored politicians were rewarded with both insider information and stock in The Company; whence came the term “ insider trading.”

Out of Control

By the late 18th century, The Company reigned supreme on the Indian subcontinent. It had bypassed the Dutch and French India trading companies in influence and financial returns for her investors. Many of its initial organizers and investors would become some of the wealthiest individuals in Britain; posing a serious challenge to the country’s political institutions. Her stranglehold over British politics would linger well into the mid-19th century. Promoting Leo Tolstoy to write, “A commercial company enslaved a nation.”

The Company’s lobbyists were the most numerous and best funded in the British Parliament; many having served in that institution.  The Company also retained an army of prominent legal scholars and literary figures to laud its contributions to Britain’s economy and free trade. Among them, such luminaries as Charles Lamb (England) and Ram Mohan Roy (India). The Company’s propagandists inundated the news outlets with reports of The Company’s efforts  to combat inequality, poverty, and the slave trade; neglecting to note that The Company was one of Asia’s biggest slave traders.  A prompting a late 18th century Mughal official to remark, “(The Company is) a handful of traders who have not yet learned to wash their bottoms.”

In her quest to maximize profits for her investors, The Company became embroiled in  costly military and political entanglements that historically had been the province of the British government; these would later come to roost home. Among these, a series of wars with the Mughal Emperors and princely rulers of the Indian subcontinent, conflicts with the Sultanates of East African over control of the slave trade, wars with China over the opium trade, and even entanglements in the American colonies over the tea trade. Unbeknown to many, The Company played no small role in sparking the American Revolution.  

From its inception, The Company’s policy had been to pit the various religious, racial, national and ethnic groups under its governance off against each other. Giving Siks preferential treatment over Muslims in its military; Indians over Chinese in its bureaucracy, light skin Africans over their darker brethren in commerce, and so on.  The Company’s policy of divide and conquer came to an ignominious end with the Indian Rebellion of 1857-(also known as the Sepoy or Indian Mutiny); which prompted the British government to take control of The Company’s global commercial empire. Corruption had finally given way to the rule of law.

The Final Curtain

As far back as the Middle Ages, England has had a tradition of legal reformers. They have played an important role throughout much of English history; constituting a respected and powerful segment of her political class.  As King John and those that followed him on the English throne would  find found out, the English are a nation of laws and lawyers; not of dogma or political zealots. It would only be a matter of time before Britain’s reformist lawyers; allied to their brethren in Parliament, would reign in The Company.

Serious efforts to regulate The Company commenced with enactment by Parliament of the India Act of 1784, which created the India Board; whose task it was to oversee The Company’s trading practices. When abuses by The Company continued, several of its governors-general were impeached; among these, Warren Hastings. Nevertheless, The Company’s powerful lobby was able to blunt many of the legal reformers efforts to curtail its power and influence well into the  19th century.

In 1833, under pressure from both the public and legal establishment, the British government took control over much of The Company’s trade in India; in return for an annual dividend of 10.5% to its stockholders. That dividend continued to be paid for more than 100 years.  The Company’s end as a viable business entity, however, came in 1858.  In response to the political fallout from the Indian Rebellion of 1857, reformers and the legal establishment lobbied Parliament to enact the Government of India Act; which nationalized The Company. This was followed by the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act in 1873, which provided for the formal dissolution of The Company a year later. The final curtain had come down.

Lessons to be Learned

The Company was history’s most powerful and enduring multinational business organizations; a de facto state mobile, with few nations able to rival its wealth and influence. It became a model for many of the multinational businesses that followed in its footsteps.  It embroiled itself in both domestic and international politics and came to view itself as independent of the British state; responsible solely to its investors. It came to view British law as an impediment to its quest for wealth, and Britain’s lawyers as inconsequential blowhards.

The Times of London would write that The Company, “accomplished a work such as in the whole history of the human race no other trading Company ever attempted.”  The Times failed to note, however, that the law and the lawyers that enforced it were not inconsequential and a nuisance as The Company had come to view them; they spanned a proud tradition of more than 1,000 years of English history and were a force to reckon with inside British society and politics.

The Company and her directors, while astute in business, had failed to grasp the important role of the law and lawyers in human governance. The Company‘s wealth and arrogance had blinded it to the realities of British politics and society. While slow to act at first, when the British legal establishment finally acted, it did so decisively at The Company’s detriment. An important lesson to heed for today’s arrogant and self-absorbed multinational corporations..

Closing

The legal profession is not a cult, religion, or political dogma. Lawyers are not a monastic class, ready to evangelize to the world at large. Lawyers are one of the oldest professions in human history and will continue to serve humanity long after many of today’s multinationals and their management are long gone and forgotten. The law is the foundation that enables society to function.

Lawyers as a class, should never forget that they are part of a proud and ancient reformist tradition. Like their 19th century brethren in Britain, they are the firewall that ensures equal justice to both weak and strong alike. These are some of the important lessons we would do well to learn from how Britain’s lawyers reigned in the most powerful business entity in recorded human history.

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*The views expressed are solely those of the editor.

                                

An Immigrant Woman’s Odyssey: Domestic Violence in America

By: Iqra Sheikh, Esq.*

Settling in America

Maryam [1] was born and raised in small rural community in Asia. In her country’s culture, the siblings of one family are often married to the siblings of another family, in order to strengthen family ties and preserve the family’s wealth. Women in the community were also taught that this system would also reduce domestic violence; for if a man were inclined to beat his wife, he would be reminded that her brother was married to his sister and could retaliate accordingly.

Neither Maryam nor her husband received any formal education, and both spoke the local ethnic language of their country, rather than the national language spoken by the elite. Nonetheless, Maryam and her husband immigrated to America, hoping as all immigrants do, to make a better life for themselves in the new world. For years they worked the night shift at a convenience store together; saving money to purchase their own franchise outlet, enabling them to accumulate wealth beyond their highest expectations. Despite their financial success, the couple remained childless; much to their sorrow and that of their families.                              

Cultural Norms Follow

Although their family overseas began pressuring Maryam’s husband to take a second wife, Maryam was shocked when her husband called her from a trip back to their home country and informed her that he had married again. By the time Maryam’s husband returned to America, his second wife was expecting their first child, while Maryam was still married to him.

Maryam’s husband, upon returning from his overseas trip with his second wife, had also changed in his conduct towards Maryam. He had become not only abusive but demanded that Maryam agree to a divorce and return to their home country. Maryam now found herself in a precarious position. She had no home to return to and lacked independent finances. As a divorced woman, she would also be shunned by her family and relatives.

Faced with a legal quandary of his own making, Maryam’s husband became physically abusive. His violent temper became increasingly physically dangerous, leaving Maryam with black eyes, a bloody nose, and broken limbs. With no one to turn to, she suffered in silence.

Maryam and her husband associated mostly with fellow immigrants from their home country; most of whom believed that spousal abuse was a private family matter. One learned from the old country experience, never to involve the authorities in family matters. Further, despite her many years in the United States, Maryam still had limited English skills. Relying on her husband to communicate with the outside world, manage their money, and secure their legal immigration status.

She had no grasp of her legal rights or the governmental options at her disposal, even if she had been able to communicate her needs in good English. Fearing for her life, Maryam fled her husband, staying with and relying on the charity of close friends. Her friends, however, similarly lacked the legal knowledge to assist Maryam or the language skills to advocate on her behalf.                                       

Immigrant Women and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is not only an immigrant problem, but immigrant victims of domestic violence—many although not all women—face unique hurdles and challenges that limit their ability to seek redress. While sensationalist stories of acid attacks and honor killings in immigrant communities often garner the most media attention, most forms of domestic violence go unreported. Statistics on domestic violence involving immigrant groups are incomplete and unreliable; even though more than ten million people a year, many of these are women, are victims of domestic violence in the United States annually.

Immigrants, however, experience higher rates of domestic violence than the native-born population; largely because the social drivers of domestic violence can be particularly prevalent in immigrant communities. Some studies show that nearly 50 percent of immigrant women have experienced domestic violence and that in some cities in this country nearly 50 percent of domestic violence homicide victims are foreign born.

Immigrant victims of domestic violence are soft targets because of their delicate immigration status and may also fear law enforcement because of their experience in the countries from whence they came. Many spousal abusers also threaten to deport their victims if they complain and keep the children as hostages. Economic dependency on an abuser, and the economic consequences that can follow if the abuser is arrested, are motivating factors that lead abused spouses to maintain their silence in immigrant communities. Especially if the immigrant women are in the country illegally.

Many immigrant victims of domestic violence and abuse may also have high threat perception from police officers; particularly if they come from countries where law enforcement is routinely abusive towards civilians or indifferent to sexual and gender-based crimes. This threat perception may be exacerbated by their fear of deportation. Spousal abusers often exploit these fears.

Unfortunately, some of these concerns may be warranted: in a 2015 study by the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) found that of 900 immigrant domestic violence and sexual assault victims, 88 percent of respondents said that police often or sometimes do not believe the victim or blame the victim for the violence and 83 percent said that police often or sometimes do not take allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault seriously.

Another 51 percent of them said police are often or sometimes biased against immigrants and 69 percent said that police are often or sometimes biased against women. Sixty-one percent of the respondents said that reporting domestic violence or sexual assault to the police could trigger criminal charges that could lead to deportation. .

Many immigrant women like Maryam are unaware that the U.S. legal system can grant them primary custody of the minor children, spousal and child support from their abuser, protection orders to prevent their abusers from threatening them, and the right to file criminal charges against their abusers, without fear of deportation. Fewer still know how to secure legal assistance from pro bono legal clinics and volunteer attorneys.  Like Maryam, they are often at the mercy of their spousal abusers.                                               

Needs of Immigrant Women

Immigrant victims of domestic violence, if they complain, also risk ostracism by their family and community. Volunteer counsel must be taught to grasp the social and cultural challenges of the immigrant abused spouse. Lacking such training, they can appear callous and indifferent to someone like Maryam. A grasp of the cultural diversities of our society is needed by today’s legal professional. Her needs also entail language and norm value hurdles that she needs to surmount.

Even if Maryam were to surmount many of these hurdles, she could face threats to her physical safety and that of her family back in the old country. Domestic squabbles have been known to spark blood feuds and violence between families. The legal challenges extend beyond staying in the country without being deported or having custody of the children. They can take on a sinister format that calls for the volunteer attorney to be sensitive not only to the client’s legal needs, but also the cultural barriers and challenges that the client faces. No easy task.

Lack of adequate translation services is particularly acute in the rural areas of this country, and victims may be forced to rely on their young children to act as translators, which can often compound the trauma children of an abusive marriage face. Concern of getting the children involved will sometimes muzzle a victim’s voice and stifle her ability to tell her story and seek redress from the authorities. Maryam, while having no children, nevertheless, faces many of the same challenges.                                                           

Summary

Although lack of access to justice can be debilitating for immigrant women who are the victims of domestic violence, legal assistance can benefit them greatly and reduce their abuse. As many survivors’ report, the most frightening part of domestic abuse for an immigrant spouse like Maryam is the reality that one cannot escape from the abuser or get help from the authorities. Especially like Maryam, a feeling that their life in America has turned into a nightmare. Leading some to commit harm to themselves and their children in response to the pressures that they face.

Volunteer attorneys have the power to not only provide legal assistance to their clients, but also to end the most frightening part of their ordeal by giving them control over their lives, and the option to leave the spousal abuser on their own terms; without fear of continued physical abuse. With legal assistance, Maryam can leave her abusive husband without fear, and before the vicious circle he has created can lead to the loss of her life.  Her need is dire. Her American dream need not end in a nightmare.                                                                                       ______________________________________________________________________________

*The author is a Virginia lawyer who is both familiar with the challenges that immigrant women face, and who volunteers of her time to assist the victims of domestic violence within immigrant communities in the United States.

1. The name Maryam is fictional character. A composite of the abuses and suffering that many immigrant women undergo daily, because of norm-value systems that has followed them to this country.

Available Resources

Attorneys who, while not familiar with the plight of immigrant women, who seeks to assist, can find help in some of the resources listed below:

  1. Legal aid organizations including, but not limited to: Legal Services of Northern Virginia, Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, and Blue Ridge Legal Services.
  2. Immigrant legal service organizations including, but not limited to:  Ayuda, Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, Hogar Immigrant Services, and Just Neighbors.
  3. Domestic violence organizations, including, but not limited to: The National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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