Barnali Ghosh and Anirvan Chatterjee first met in 2003 at a film screening Chatterjee was hosting about the Bangladeshi freedom struggle. Later, Chatterjee came to a photo exhibition Ghosh helped organize as a fundraiser for the nonprofit Asha for Education. Drawn together by their activism work, they married the following year. The progressive organizing that brought the pair together is also what inspired the walking tour they created last August to honor radical South Asian history in the Bay Area.
Ghosh immigrated to Berkeley from Bangalore, India fourteen years ago to attend graduate school at UC Berkeley. Chatterjee came to Berkeley in 1995 as an undergrad at the university. Being committed to causes like gender equality and access to education, both quickly became involved in the South Asian activist community. Through their work with organizations like Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA) and women’s collective South Asian Sisters, Ghosh and Chatterjee kept hearing stories about cultural resistance movements led by South Asians that had happened over the past century in Berkeley. But they realized not many people were aware of them. “We’d get excited and share the stories at dinner parties with friends, but we found out that’s not the appropriate place,” said Ghosh.
Originally, they created their tour as a curriculum piece for BASS, a youth camp for South Asian teenagers to learn about progressive issues and organizing strategies. But after getting positive feedback they thought, “Why don’t we do this for everybody?” Thirty-two tours and 455 participants later, Ghosh and Chatterjee are pleased with the results.
Covering a span of about two miles, the tour visits seven locations, each highlighting a lesser-known aspect of South Asian Bay Area history. Their primary audience has been first- and second-generation South Asians, but they hope to eventually draw in a more diverse crowd.
Beginning at the Pacific Center, the pair describes how Trikone, the oldest South Asian LGBT organization in the country, was founded. The oldest story told on the tour is from 1908, when sixteen South Asian students who were enrolled at UC Berkeley protested a talk by a Christian evangelist about how Hinduism was the source of India’s problems. The tour ends with a story about youth organizing at Berkeley High after a rise in hate violence following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Their goal is to promote more activism in the South Asian community by linking tour-goers with organizations like ASATA, domestic violence group Narika, and South Asian Sisters. Money raised by the tour is used to support activist organizing. Last year, they gave the $2,500 they made to BASS.
“We’re very interested in connecting people to their local history and local activism,” said Ghosh. “We’ll keep doing it as long as people keep coming.”
The next Berkeley South Asian Radical History Tour happens Sunday, August 25. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2 p.m.-5 p.m., $15 for general admission, $5 for students. BerkeleySouthAsian.org