New Jersey, May 14,
By Chhavi Dublish
The South Asian community in the United States is fast-growing and
Some 30 US groups
help South Asian domestic violence victims
While its emergence as an important economic and political sector is
lauded by many, the fact that this group is also experiencing an upsurge
in cases of domestic violence against women is often ignored.
Many South Asian women have reported experiencing abuse. Barriers of
ethnicity, language and isolation from friends and family often prevent
these women from being able to seek help and many of them accept it
as a part of their life.
The abuse can take many different forms - verbal, sexual, even severe
Anita (not her real name), 21, came to the US from the Bangladeshi
capital, Dhaka, in 1995 and says she was beaten every day by her husband.
I had three failed pregnancies, a battered body and three years with
a husband who abused me every day
Anita, domestic violence victim
She started working but bore the violence at home silently.
After three years of quiet suffering, one day her supervisor at work
noticed bruises on her arms and sent her to the police to file a report.
"By then I had three failed pregnancies, a battered body and three
years with a husband who had physically, sexually and psychologically
abused me every day," Anita said.
The police were not able to help her much since it could not understand
her specific needs and after another four years Anita finally sought
help from Sakhi - an organisation for South Asian women based in New
Here Anita got the helping hand she was seeking as she was led through
legal procedures and economic empowerment lessons.
Today Anita is pursuing a degree in New York and envisages a bright
future for herself.
Soma Dixit from Manavi, a New Jersey-based women's organisation, says
most of these women are inherently limited by culture as a result of
centuries of submissiveness, denial and passiveness.
The most distressing cases are of the women who want to get out of
these relationships but are held back due to immigration issues.
Soma Dixit says abuse
often takes non-violent forms
The spouses of H-1 visa holders, who are given H-4 visas, have no right
to employment; they do not have a social security number and no independent
"H-4 visa holders are completely in the control of their spouses,"
says Shivali Shah, an attorney offering legal counsel to distressed
"Often her husband will mislead her by saying that he has filed
for her permanent residency card and women hoping for a green card will
continue the relationship."
Purvi Shah, executive director of Sakhi, says: "The H-4 status
is particularly burdensome for survivors of violence because very few
legal remedies exist to support women with this non-immigrant status."
Soma Dixit says abuse experienced by immigrant populations need not
be violent or sexual.
Extreme isolation - no phone calls allowed to friends and family, no
access to mail boxes - a spouse refusing to provide money and threats
of deportation, are typical forms of ill treatment.
Rubina came to the US from Bangladesh with big dreams only to discover
her husband was having an affair
Alka, counsellor with Manavi
In such cases, it requires extreme courage for a woman to take the
first step and seek counsel.
Many call intermittently, always hoping that things at home will improve.
"Rubina (not her real name) came to the US from Bangladesh with
big dreams about settling into her new home, only to discover that her
husband was having an affair and openly flaunted his infidelity,"
said Alka, one of the counsellors with Manavi.
"Limited by immigration, Rubina could not work and called us.
She sought counsel, but then she conceived and hoping that a child would
sooth things, she stopped calling us," Alka said.
Five years on she has called again, and does so intermittently.
Domestic violence in the South Asian community in the US is thought
to be on the rise.
Some 30 organisations geared towards helping victims have sprung up
in the past 15 years.
Handling up to 500 cases a year, they advise the women on their various
options and provide legal and practical help.