Sunday, November 12, 2006

Domestic Abuse in South Asian Communities

After the recent reportings of two killings and an attempted murder, all involving Canadian women of South Asian descent, a sense of urgency has finally been sparked for people to start taking notice of a very important matter affecting our community. During a forum in Vancouver, 1500 people congregated to discuss the issue of domestic abuse in the South Asian community. Radio India, a Punjabi radio station based in Surrey, hosted the forum. CBC Canada reports, "Several women said isolation, shame and cultural barriers have hidden the problem of domestic violence in the community."

Babita Chumber, who spoke at the forum, said her six-year marriage started with high hopes but quickly became a nightmare. "My husband would spit on me, kick me, emotionally degrade me. I would go to work with bruises. Pieces of hair would be out of my head and I would cover it up because of the shame that is involved," she said.

Kavinder Lehal said she was beaten and threatened with knives and a gun during her 11-year marriage. Lehal said many South Asian women stay in abusive relationships out of fear they will bring shame to their families. "You're not shaming your husband or his family. He shames his family when he raises his hand on you. He shames his family when he beats you up," she said.

These are words that are most likely felt by a large number of South Asian women. However, the incidence of abuse amongst this community is only recently being seen as a problem as more and more women are speaking up and coming forward with their stories. Even though we have a long way to go in terms of educating our community, these conversations are a first step.

In a related issue, my advisor (Dr. Anita Raj) from Boston University School of Public Health recently published a paper related to domestic abuse among south asians. She finds that Indian-American women who are victims of marital violence are also being abused by their in-laws. Dr. Raj and her team examined the link between abuse by the women’s husband and abuse by her in-laws. Specifically, their research showed that in-laws themselves may be abusive to their daughter-in-law, emotionally and physically. Also, they often provide a supportive context for wife abuse by ignoring it when it occurs or even actively encouraging it. The study also revealed that mother in laws were aware of and tolerated the physical abuse perpetrated by their son. And in some cases the mother-in-law herself committed physical abuse.

Raj and her colleagues argue that to effectively address IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) with South Asian women, advocates and practitioners must simultaneously explore the problem of abuse from in-laws.

Details of the study, entitled 'Victims of Intimate Partner Violence More Likely to Report Abuse From In-Laws,' were published in the October 2006 issue of the journal 'Violence Against Women.'


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