The group was brought together by Manavi, a group working to fight domestic violence against South Asian women, in memory of Janaki Dantuluru, 43, who died in November.
Police have charged her estranged husband, Timma Kalidindi, 48, with her murder, and Sunday's vigil served to provide a few moments of prayer for Dantuluru and her family—including her mother, father and brother who joined in the vigil—as well as to highlight the ongoing need to battle domestic violence.
Her parents—Raju and Vijayakumari, of Hyderabad, India—lit the first candles, and her brother, Dr. Muralidhar Varma, spoke quietly of her efforts to protect herself and the couple's daughter, 16-year-old Nitya Kalidindi.
Family and friends say the couple had been having problems for about four months before the Nov. 14 incident. According to police, Kalidindi entered the Francis Drive residence where Dantuluru and their daughter were living before Dantuluru arrived home from work.
But when Dantuluru entered the house and saw Kalidindi, she began screaming, according to the affidavit filed in Superior Court. Kalidindi said he put his hands on her neck and pushed her down to try and quiet her—and when police arrived, she was found unconscious, with a rope around her neck, police said.
She died two days later.
"We need to really step up to prevent any more Janaki's giving up their lives," Shuta Devi, a board member of Manavi, said during Sunday's vigil. "We don't want her life to be in vain. We need to learn the lesson."
Devi said domestic violence is an issue across society and said there are many resources available for victims to call on for help.
Manavi's Devangi Raval outlined the help her group can offer, and implored those gathered to reach out for help if they or someone they know is the victim of domestic violence.
The Resource Center of Somerset notes the first step towards fighting violence may be to "acknowledge that domestic violence is one of the most pervasive social problems we face in our communities."
The center noted "One in every four women will experience domestic violence sometime in her lifetime. In New Jersey, according to the 2011 NJ Uniform Crime Report, over 70,000 domestic violence offenses were reported to the police. Over 29,000 offenses were assaults and 40 were intimate partner homicides."
In a letter to the editor regarding Janaki Dantuluru's murder and two other recent incidents of domestic violence, Resource Center Executive Director Christine Schaumburg notes the impact on families, neighbors and friends domestic violence has beyond the most endangered victims.
But, she adds, awareness and communication, through discussions with friends, the media or at events like the candlelight vigil, may be the key to preventing additional incidents.
"These incidents each create an opportunity for discussions about relationships and learning experiences for everyone," she said. "Talking about domestic violence can be 'uncomfortable,' let’s change that. Information is empowering, it allows us all to make better choices and better decisions."
Discussions about helping others and fighting domestic violence followed the precious minutes dedicated to Janaki Dantuluru Sunday, as her friends and supporters chatted about the next steps.
One important step the family has taken is the establishment of a trust for Nitya, described as "a gifted student." The trust will be used to pay for her health, education and welfare as she continues her studies in the U.S. and seeks to find peace after the loss of her mother.
"We didn't want to take her back (to India) because she was born here and she's grown up here," Dr. Varma said.
But the family is concerned for her longterm welfare. Nitya's grandparents are staying to make sure she is secure and provided for, whether she stays with other nearby family members or a host family.
Donations to her trust fund can be sent to the Nitya Kalidindi Trust, PO Box 6245, Bridgewater, NJ, 08807.