‘Her strength is the
vibrancy with which
‘Working together fills us with
she’s able to convey
gratitude and appreciation’
her own experience’
‘She can use visual storytelling to make a positive change in the world.’
Filmmaker Sharat Raju on his wife and work partner, Valarie Kaur.
I think she’s someone who, having a background both from law school and from her
own background in religious studies and
learning about the Sikh community, would be
able to do this very, very well.
Valarie stands out as someone who has
come out of a particular religious and ethnic
community in the US and has taken that on
as sort of her main field of study really. There
are others who have taken a different line,
who have gone on to do Sikh graduate studies
and become professors. They have become
scholars for the Sikh community and of South
Valarie has done something slightly different, which is to go from a master’s degree in
religious studies not into a PhD in religious
studies, but into a law degree from Yale. And
that combination equips her for a different
kind of role of a public intellectual, which I
think is important for her and for the rest of
us as well.
This is her area, and this is what she intends
to do — to really address issues of social justice from the perspective that she speaks.
In doing so, she makes very clear that these
are foundational to the Sikh community —
the notion of human equality, the notion of
hospitality, all of this is part of what it is to be
Sikh in America.
Valarie is a woman of her generation, really.
I have a lot of South Asian students — I mean
I’m an advisor to the South Asian student
group and the Hindu student group — they
are very energetic, thoroughly American in
one sense, but a distinctly South Asian community. I think Valarie represents the very
best of them. And perhaps one who, perhaps
more so than others, is simultaneously committed to her Sikh roots.
She is an image of a young South Asian
American that is very much of this generation, and she may be not typical, but very
much representative of that kind of energy.
It’s been a privilege to be a part of her life
over the past 10 years. ;
On the way to a friend’s home through the desert off Los Ang- eles, a student filmmaker happened to see an abandoned car.
‘Could there be something suspicious
about it?’ he wondered. After all 9/11
had just happened, and officials were
warning of anything ‘suspicious.’
“That image of the stranded car trig-
gered a lot of questions in my mind,”
says filmmaker and activist Sharat Raju
who would soon make the short film,
It would lead him to meeting activist
and fledgling filmmaker Valarie Kaur
and making four documentary films.
Apart from Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath, a chronicle of hate
crimes in the United States post 9/11,
Kaur and Raju, who are now husband
and wife, have made three documentaries including a film on maximum
sentence prisoners in America for a Yale
Law School Visual Arts project.
“Valarie and I have, together, made
documentaries which often by their
nature, are topical and related to current events. She is a real activist, someone who can use media and visual storytelling and strives to make positive
change in the world,” says Raju whose
maternal grandfather Mogeri Gopalakrishna Adiga was one of the legends of
“I don’t claim to be an activist; I’m a
filmmaker who sometimes will make
something that can be used and shared by
someone as passionate and as smart as
Valarie to do good,” Raju says in an e-mailed response.
“We are both very professional when we
work together, but we also appreciate how
unique it is to create something with
someone you love, to spend long hours on
a project we both believe in, and to sur-
round ourselves with friends, family and
collaborators who feel the same.”
Sharat and Valarie met 10 years ago at
the first-ever Sikh film festival in Toronto
in October 2003 after the screening of
She showed him footage from the inter-
COURTES Y: VALARIEKAUR. COM
Valarie Kaur and Sharat Raju at the White House. She
was invited as one of 150 community leaders for a
briefing and reception in honor of Asian American and
Pacific Islander heritage in 2011.
Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative
Religion and Indian Studies and the
Fredric Wertham Professor of Law and
Psychiatry in Society in the Faculty of Arts
and Sciences, Harvard Divinity School,
spoke to Chaya Babu.
views she had collected after 9/11 and
asked if he would help her make the film.
Trained at the American Film Institute,
Sharat became the film’s director and co-producer and that’s how their journey
Subsequently, the couple founded the
Visual Law Project to bring together documentary filmmaking and legal scholarship into a new form of visual knowledge
Featured on CNN, NPR, BBC and others, Divided We Fall is the first documentary on post 9/11 hate crimes.
Demand for the film sent the husband
and wife team on speaking and screening
engagements in more than 150 towns and
cities in America, Canada and several
The basic structure of any narrative, he
said recently at a seminar at Yale, goes as
follows: There’s a person, this is what the
person was up against, this is what
happened, and this is the result of
— Arthur J Pais
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