‘Valarie has accomplished amazing things’
‘SHE DID THINGS AS
THEY WERE THE RIGHT
Imet Valarie in her first year at Stan- ford. I was offering a course on reli- gious community and conflict in So- uth Asia, focusing on Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. She was a freshman, but
did fine in that upper level course.
She had a special interest in Partition
and had already done a big research project and performance in high school that
won top prize in a national competition.
She was also interested in oral history
and did a fine paper for the course on
methods and meanings of doing history
from oral sources.
From the beginning, Valarie had
her characteristic energy, intensity,
talent, passion to learn and create,
and to make a difference in the
world. We talked a lot and worked
together in various ways throughout her undergraduate career, but
the biggest thing was her senior
honors project, which had quite an
Valarie was a double major in
religious studies and international
relations. She decided to do her
honors thesis in religious studies,
and I was the advisor.
Her plan was to go to India and
do oral history with people who
still remembered Partition. But
9/11 stopped that plan, and as she
has explained to you, she ended up
using her travel grant and video
equipment to document the rise of prejudice and hate crimes in America after
Her footage became the material for a
‘first draft’ of the film that later became
Divided We Fall.
Besides editing the film she did a written thesis on the social psychology of
prejudice, using interviews from her
fieldwork along with theory. Her thesis
won a major award at Stanford.
Then when she went to a Sikh film festival to show her documentary, she met
Sharat Raju. He was a talented director,
a second-generation Indian American,
who had recently finished film school.
He was also showing a film at the festival,
his prize-winning graduation project, a
fiction film about a Sikh family in
America and what they experienced after
Sharat saw lots of unrealized possibili-
ties in her film, so they teamed up to
make a professional feature-length docu-
mentary, Divided We Fall: American in
the Aftermath. After being working part-
‘From the beginning,
Valarie had her
intensity, talent, passion to
learn and create, and to
make a difference in the
during the demonstrations at the New
York Republican convention in 2004,
which led to a lot of pain and suffering.
She started Groundswell and served as
its director. In the last year she become a
regular commentator on one of MSN-BC’s main weekend news programs.
While Valarie has far-reaching inter-
ests in justice and human rights, she also
has a special relation with the Sikh com-
munity. When the killings happened at
the Oak Creek gurdwara, she and Sharat
took multiple trips to Wisconsin and pro-
duced a short film on the communi-
ty and its response to the tragedy.
It may sound like Valarie leads a
charmed life, endowed with so
much talent and privilege, a gradu-
ate of all the best schools. But
Valarie’s grandparents were immi-
grant farmers, she went to public
schools in California’s Central Vall-
ey (an agricultural area), and she
has faced many serious struggles.
Just one example. At the 2004
Republican Convention, while stan-
ding on the sidewalk wearing offi-
cial identification as a legal observ-
er, she was violently arrested, her
arms were painfully and tightly
cuffed behind her back, she was
handled very roughly and sustained
injuries in her wrists and nerves
that caused severe, disabling pain
for years. Valarie often takes risks,
puts herself in danger for the things she
One other important point: Valarie’s a
lot of fun. So is Sharat. What a team! They know how to work seriously, and they
know how to appreciate the joys of life.
During their wedding celebrations in
Costa Rica, where Valarie’s parents live
now, they happened to discover a dog
who lived near her parents’ house and
who was badly neglected and abused.
Valarie tried to feed the dog and reassure
her that she would not be hurt. The dog
joined the wedding party. She changed
dramatically, from being frightened and
starved to enjoying the love and affection
of all the wedding guests. Ultimately
Valarie and Sharat took the dog back to
the US, where she is now a beloved member of their household. Her name is
Shaadi — Wedding! ;
THINGS TO DO’
With the words ‘this is a moment to connect
with powerful forces that have been let loose,’
Professor Linda Hess inspired Valarie Kaur to chronicle
stories of hate crimes after 9/11.
ners for a few years, they became life
partners. I had a great time attending
and helping to officiate at their wedding
in Costa Rica a year and a half ago.
In the last 10 years, since graduating
from Stanford, Valarie has accomplished
amazing things. Because of her interest
in the study of religion and interfaith
relations, she went for a master’s degree
at the Harvard Divinity School.
Eventually, she graduated from the Yale
Law School. But she wasn’t just in school
all the time. Far from it! She kept going
out into the world.
She and Sharat toured far and wide
with the film, screening, giving talks,
holding workshops. Her academic projects often took her out into the world,
and she often brought issues from the
world into academia. She went to
Guantanamo to report on the situation
there. She and Sharat started the Yale
Visual Law Project, which has produced
films on important legal and human
She volunteered as a legal observer
Linda Hess is a senior lecturer,
Religious Studies, Stanford University.
of discussion about politics and current
events. There was good natured sparring, but
in the end everyone agreed with my dad.
Valarie’s interest in politics kept growing
and she would write (op-ed) articles in the
Fresno Bee. Valarie introduced new conversa-
tion when she joined college and began ques-
tioning things with greater passion. She dis-
agreed with my father on everything.”
The Brar parents never really made a big
list of things their children could do — or not.
“They would tell us get good grades and one
day you will go to Fresno State,” he recollects.
Valarie surprised many by going to Stanford.
There was authenticity to everything she
did, even as a school girl.
“Her goal was not do things so that she
could be the Valedictorian,” he said. “She did
things as they were the right things to do.”
It was evident even before she enrolled in
college that once she put her mind to some-
thing, her resolve could not be shaken, he
added. “She broke a lot of rules, she was very
hot headed. She always followed her heart
and her passion.”
Much more than anyone else it was their
maternal grandfather, Captain Gurdial
Singh, who the children called ‘Papaji’ who
made a lasting impression on young Valarie.
“He had studied engineering and he had se-
rved in the Army serving in Sudan, Ethiopia,
Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Palestine, earn-
ing the rank of Captain,” Sanjeev said. “He
always wore a turban, he had a beard, and he
had all the five Ks orthodox Sikhs have.”
At the same time, he made friends across
ethnicities and religious barriers.
“He was quite a liberal and firmly believed
that life was enriched by interacting with
people of other cultures and faiths. Valarie
learned a lot from him,” he added, “especially
not to have fear of ‘otherness.’”
Valarie is anything but the stereotypical
career-oriented person, says her brother.
“She knows to enjoy life, she loves her
home,” adds Sanjeev who lives in Brooklyn.
“She loves hiking, she loves classical dance,
and she loves her dog, Shaadi. Whenever I go
to her Connecticut home, I am sure of good
meals and wonderful conversation. She is
very passionate about her life, not just her
political and social causes.” ;
— As told to Arthur J Pais
Sanjeev Brar is a musician.
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