The disgrace that dares not speak its name
Aruna Papp, National Post Published: Friday, April 09, 2010
On March 29, I participated in a CBC Town Hall meeting aimed at creating awareness of domestic violence within Canada's South Asian community -- which is to say, Canadians descended from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other parts of the Indian sub-continent.
My fellow panelists were Farrah Khan, a counsellor and advocate at the Toronto-based Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, which provides support to women who have experienced violence; and Baldev Mutta, founder and executive director of Punjabi Community Health Services in nearby Brampton. What we three have in common is experience working with victims of culturally-related abuse within the South Asian community.
Unfortunately, we also share experience of harassment from our cultural peers for raising these issues in public.
Initially, the Town Hall was to be held at a high school in Brampton. However, the school board withdrew the invitation after receiving threats of potential violence from certain members of the South Asian community. Prior to the publicized event, individual panel members were subjected to pressure from community leaders -- such as a president of a Sikh temple, who expressed hostility to open discussion of domestic violence. The people making these threats all claimed the event would stoke racism.
These objections made me realize that nothing has changed since I first spoke up about the issue of domestic violence in Canada's South Asian community more than 30 years ago. At that time, too, I received threats from self-appointed flag-bearers within the community, like that of a Hindu TV producer who feared that speaking publicly about domestic violence would "bring shame to the community."
Family violence in the South Asian community, whether it occurs amongs Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims or even Christians of South Asian provenance, does not follow the usual pattern of "domestic violence," as commonly understood. In Western culture, fathers-in-law don't kill their daughters-in-law; mothers-in-law don't go to the bride's home and abuse her; a husband's family does not take away his wife's jewelry and her paycheque, then give it to his mother in order to negotiate a sister's marriage; a husband doesn't expect his wife to cater to his whole family like a servant, threatening her with divorce for disobedience; or threaten her life if she produces a female child. Yet these behaviours are not uncommon in the South Asian community.
Western women abused by their partners find support and validation from their peers when they leave their situation. That is not the case for many South Asian women. As Baldev Mutta noted in the Town Hall, and as my own professional experience repeatedly has shown me, when a South Asian woman leaves her abuser(s), she often receives no support from the community. In fact, she often is re-victimized by the collectivity, who shun her, call her names and denounce her selfishness in putting her needs before those of her kinship group and by extension the whole community. Loneliness often impels them to return to their abusers.
This is some serious bullsh*t.