MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Your article “Marking Time” (IC, July 2005) was a missed opportunity to discuss H-4 visa issues in a meaningful way. While many H-4 visa holders find new opportunities, this article had the potential to accurately address some of the many challenges, including domestic violence, facing H-4 visa holders. Perhaps they could benefit from knowing more about the agencies that regularly advocate for them.

Physical and emotional abuse within a family impacts many South Asian women in the Bay Area holding H-4s. Several agencies advocating for South Asian domestic violence survivors regularly see the affect on our families. While I commend the author for listing local domestic violence resources, none were interviewed. These groups field calls from H-4 visa holders on a daily basis and can offer a more direct view of the issues facing H-4s. Approximately 20 community-based legal agencies provide free services to abused immigrant women H-4 holders; none were interviewed or listed in the article.

In addition, the H Visa Survey studies the pervasiveness of violence and other issues affecting H-4 holders. The results of this survey will help community advocates improve laws and create more access for H-4 visa holders; yet none of the research was included.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill may create provisions making H-4 visa holders eligible to self-petition for their status or work authorization; none of the community agencies involved with these projects were contacted.

I would also caution the readers about the comments made by Indu Liladhar-Hathi regarding divorce. Divorce is an individual choice with many personal and legal consequences. From an immigration perspective, obtaining a divorce without pursuing an alternative immigration status could lead to unlawful presence in the United States, triggering the 3/10-year bar from reentering the United States. H-4 holders should consider all these factors and make an informed decision. It is a shame that the opinion of only one attorney was included when many community-based legal agencies regularly represent H-4 visa holders.

I truly hope that the next article on H-4s will comprehensively address the challenges and solutions available to H-4 visa holders.

Kavitha Sreeharsha, President,Board of Directors, Narika (www.narika.org)

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SANDHYA CHAR RESPONDS

I read Kavitha Sreeharsha’s comments with interest. Whereas violence against women is inarguably a serious issue, the focus of my article was the frustration of H-4 visa holders who are not allowed to work. The quiet misery of these visa holders—both men and women—may not be as grave, or as dramatic, but is in its own way as important.

Sandhya Char, via email

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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND DIVORCE

I appreciate the opportunity to respond and clarify comments that were attributed to me in your cover story (“Marking Time,” IC, July 2005). Specifically, I wish to elaborate on my statement regarding seeking a divorce where there is domestic violence. I recommended that where a victim of domestic violence has unequivocally concluded that her or his marriage has failed, she or he should have an option of filing for divorce here in the United States, notwithstanding that the marriage has taken place in India. Many of these victims are led to believe that they do not have a right to file for a divorce in the United States as courts here lack jurisdiction on the marriage. Divorce should not be taken lightly, but where the relationship is clearly forcing a victim into compliance with the spouse’s demands, it should be considered as an option.

For H-4 victims, immigration options are limited. While battered immigrants married to a U.S. citizen or green-card holder can self-petition under VAWA, an H-4 spouse has no such resource. Filing for U visa may provide limited options if the victim files a case for domestic violence with the police. However, this is sometimes not an attractive option since the victim may be reluctant to subject her or his spouse to deportation proceedings.

It is important to keep in mind that the H-4 visa holder file for a change of status before the divorce becomes final. Until the divorce is final, the H-4 status remains valid. If there are ongoing divorce proceedings, USCIS will consider a change of status to B-2, provided appropriate evidence is provided.

It is also important for your readers to know that VAWA is up for reauthorization; it will expire in September 2005 unless Congress reauthorizes it. We need a push from the community and businesses to urge their congressional representatives to lobby for the H-4 visa holders to be permitted to work and to be able to self-petition.

Finally, it is very important for the victim to contact agencies like Maitri, Narika, and Next Door Solutions to seek help. I also believe that your magazine does an extremely good job in promoting awareness by advertising the role of these organizations.

Indu Liladhar-Hathi, San Jose, Calif.

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REPEAL DRACONIAN HUDOOD LAWS

The savage gang rape of Mukhtaran Bibi has created a firestorm of outrage and placed Pakistan in the spotlight of the world media. As most of your readers are aware, Mukhtaran was targeted for punishment for an alleged illicit relationship her 12-year-old brother had with a girl belonging to a rival tribal family (a charge Mukhtaran fervently denies). Demonstrating enormous courage, she sought justice and won a stunning victory. The court found her attackers guilty and ordered them jailed and granted a monetary compensation to Mukhtaran. She used the money to purchase land and open a school for children. The media attention that accompanied “Pakistan’s Joan of Arc” unleashed a predictable response from Pakistan’s male-dominated feudal system. A higher court released the rapists, placed Mukhtaran under house arrest, and denied her travel to the United States on the invitation of Amnesty International and a group of Pakistani-American women.

Sadly, there are many rape victims that do not gain media attention and suffer enormous pain and misery. No woman is immune to these savage attacks. Consider the plight of Shazia Khalid, a medical doctor. She was gang-raped in a government-owned natural gas plant. Her pleas for help were ignored and she was drugged and dispatched to a psychiatric hospital. The police accused her of being a prostitute. Fortunately, she gained the support of her husband but his grandfather suggested she be killed for bringing shame to the family! In another bizarre incident, a village council had punished a man for having an affair by ordering his 2-year-old niece to be given in marriage to a 40-year-old man. In yet another incident, an 11-year-girl named Nazan was rescued from her husband’s family, who beat her, broke her arm, and strung her from the ceiling because she didn’t work hard enough.

It is outrageous that Pakistan’s Hudood laws demand four male witnesses as proof of victim-hood, failing which the unfortunate woman is whipped for committing adultery. I ask India Currents readers to contact the Pakistan Embassy and demand repeal of the draconian Hudood laws.

Jagjit Singh, Palo Alto, Calif.

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DIATRIBE ABOUT WATER

I am surprised and saddened that you did not condense Alex Maarten’s article “How to Eat” (IC, July 2005) by cutting short the diatribe about water. It is easy to identify a bottle, cup, or glass by marking it with a pen or felt-tip marker—both available in India. Even children do this when they go on school trips.

Name withheld upon request

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ALEX MAARTEN RESPONDS

Some individuals ask for these stories to be longer; some perhaps prefer that documentation of certain events is shorter. I’m sorry that this story didn’t appeal to this reader. The situations described happened exactly as documented, however. To me a situation and the people, especially the way they explain things to me, are some of the most fascinating aspects of my trips to India. Thanks for reading and the feedback!

Alex Maarten, via email

Write India Currents Letters, P.O. Box 21285, San Jose, CA 95151, email letters@indiacurrents.com, or fax (408) 274-2733.

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