WE ARE SAATH (“WE ARE TOGETHER”), originally named I-AM SHAKTI (I AM POWER), was co-founded in November 2017 by a team of six South Asian students who envisioned an ambitious agenda for South Asians across the world. At that time, #IAMSHAKTI was our movement’s first iteration.
This is the three-part story of how we began, how we persisted, and how we evolved to become the symbol we are today.
PART 1: THE BIRTH
WE ARE SAATH began with a story.
To the world, Archit Baskaran, a recent college graduate at the time, seemed perfectly fine. His family and friends did not see his panic attacks, flashbacks, twitching, or nightmares. Only his administrators could see his decline through his increasing absenteeism at school.
The truth was, he was experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition characterized by extreme emotional and physiological stress. With the overwhelming stigma around mental health in the South Asian community, he felt he could not turn to his family nor his peers to support him. His counselors, who were Caucasian and trained to provide culturally competent care, were inspiring and invaluable in his recovery. But he still felt an overwhelming cultural dissonance, which prevented him from fully feeling empathized with and related to. Even when briefly consuming medications, he could not disclose this to his peers nor relatives, out of fear of being labeled and otherized.
In June 2017, while at one of the lowest points in his life, with a spark of hope to recover, he finally decided to tell his parents the uncensored truth about his health. Amidst these various experiences, he noticed that while many general wellness programs existed with resources for mental health, they were not enough for BIPOC students.
As he wrote about his story in his personal journal, Archit drafted a call to action on the website Medium. A few weeks prior to publishing the piece, he called six of his friends at the time: Ragashree Komandur, Dhivya Sridar, Aishwarya Chenji, Shyam Mani, and Mohan Ravi. Soon afterward, Nikita Saladi, a fellow student, also joined this team of core organizers.
The six of them officially came together in 2017 and co-founded the movement I-AM SHAKTI on November 19, 2017. I-AM expanded to “Indian-American,” and in the language Sanskrit, “SHAKTI” meant power.
Within one month, dozens of South Asians came forward to support this movement.
PART 2: THE GROWTH & STRUGGLE
In December 2017, very soon after our launch, we opened up I-AM SHAKTI to an initiative called Join Us. We brought the first wave of organizers/activists into our team. Five people in the first week, an additional ten in the second, and within one month, 25.
However, the next year of establishing our identity as a movement and finding a unified voice proved rocky at best. Our members buzzed with excitement and passion, but lacked clarity and direction about a common path forward. Struggle with organization internally, coupled with interpersonal and resource strain, together muddled our vision for our movement, resulting in members burning out and leaving our team.
It was in July 2018 that we finally had our first wave of members join I-AM SHAKTI (I-AS) for the long term. With our newfound team working toward an evolution in strategy, we redefined our internal operations as two-dimensional: first, as a non-profit organization, and second, as a social movement. We created a bridge to link the two. But still, two big challenges remained:
We were not inclusive enough. Our name itself, I-AM SHAKTI, did not resonate with many members of our diverse communities -- particularly underrepresented South Asians from the nations & diasporas of Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, and more
Our foundation was not clear. Were we primarily a non-profit, or a social movement? Was hierarchy reconcilable with decentralized autonomy? How were we to generate a coalition of young and old alike to advance this movement past our time?
PART 3: THE RISE
Today, we are known as WE ARE SAATH, meaning “WE ARE TOGETHER.” We are a grassroots driven 501(c)3 non-profit organization that backs a social movement driven by local networks.
Our vision is to increase access to mental health resources to the South Asian community through activism, education, and story-telling.
Our slogan is “Together, we uplift.”
Our National Team is structured as a nonprofit organization with members spread across the United States and abroad. Our social movement is the aggregate of our local networks spread across different localities. While dynamism, ambition, and vision are virtues in any person, WE ARE SAATH believes that the ability to lead and follow are in coexistence within every human being. Servant leadership is our instructor, intersectionality our mantra. This means that no matter who you are, whatever your identity, ability, (dis)ability, or background, there is a place for you in our movement. We believe in the power of people. And we welcome you to join our cause.
As quoted from our initial Call to Action,
“If just one voice can shake empires and inspire millions, imagine what all our voices can engineer together. So, let us send shockwaves through this universe, and become, at this very second, indomitable.”
Former and Current Members of WE ARE SAATH