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Asian American Week 2013: Grassroots Queens Group Fights For Immigrants, Muslims, Workers

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Many South Asian women in New York are breaking down barriers within their community as neighborhood activists. One of those women is a first-generation Indian immigrant who defies stereotypes as the leader of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a grassroots Queens organization. Borough reporter Ruschell Boone filed this first report of NY1's Asian American Heritage Week.

It's not uncommon to see Monami Maulik and members of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) at protests across the city. The grassroots organization based in Queens has been outspoken on issues affecting Muslims, immigrants and workers' rights for more than a decade.

"Our community, the South Asian immigrant community, needed an organization of our own, especially one where immigrant and low-income immigrant mothers, daughters, families can have a voice in the city," says Maulik.

There are now 2,000 members, but 13 years ago Maulik started with just a handful of people who helped immigrants from India, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries who were facing discrimination.

"At that time, South Asians all of a sudden became a huge population in the city, from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands, so we quickly had to start doing immigrant rights work," Maulik says.

A year later, the group began protesting some of the problems South Asians were facing after the September 11th terror attacks.

"We had to respond to so many people in our community facing crisis, backlash, hate crimes, but also detentions, deportations," says Maulik.

Today, the group provides legal and other services for its members and it has taken on many political issues.

"Now we're involved in education reform and immigration reform and civil rights issues," Maulik says.

DRUM is located in Jackson Heights, where there is a large South Asian population. Many in the neighborhood say it is a well-respected organization, but it took a long time to build that reputation. Maulik says that is partly because most of the members are women.

"As a woman in my community but in any community, I've definitely dealt with challenges and being taken seriously, and looking younger it's a little bit tougher. But I always feel like the proof is in the work that you do," Maulik says.

That work has grown to include international partnerships with a number of grassroots South Asian groups around the world. The goal is to build a worldwide coalition.

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