As the COVD-19 tsunami began its global spread, it exacerbated crises that were already taking a toll of vulnerable populations across the world.
In India the pandemic triggered a domestic migrant worker disaster. In Yemen it threatened a death toll far worse than the one inflicted by civil war. And in Central America, where farming was destroyed by years of extreme climate events, the pandemic wrecked food security for 1.7 million people, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)
“COVID is making the poorest of the world poorer and the hungriest hungrier,” said Steve Taravella, a senior spokesperson for the WFP, at an ethnic media press briefing on February 26 to discuss the fallout from the pandemic. Advocates warned that a coronavirus-induced global famine loomed for millions.
“270 million people marching towards the brink of starvation need our help today more than ever,” WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley, told the UN Security Council last year. “Famine is literally on the horizon.”
The pandemic has inflicted its heaviest toll on poorer communities in the developing world, exposing the inequities driven by poverty and economic inequality that plague marginalized populations.
In India nearly 1 in 3 people face moderate or severe food insecurity, said Parul Sachdeva, India Country Representative for Give2Asia, a non-profit that supports charities in the Asia Pacific. India has the distinction of being the country with the largest number of food insecure people, and accounts for 22% of the global burden of food insecurity. When the pandemic hit, people were already struggling with poverty and socio-economic crises that gave them less food to eat. The lockdown that followed disrupted both the harvest and the food supply chain. More than a hundred million people and their incomes were affected by the inability to harvest crops in time.
When India enforced a shutdown to stop the coronavirus spread, it forced tens of thousands of migrant workers to make the long trek back to their villages after they lost jobs and wages. Without ration cards or money to buy food, the disruption to food chains put thousands at risk of hunger, leaving them to rely on NGOs and charitable civic organizations like Akshaya Patra, rather than the government, to provide food aid.
In a double whammy, the pandemic lockdown that increased food insecurity also fueled gender-based violence (GBV).
During lockdown, reported cases of gender-based violence more than doubled during the pandemic, said Aradhana Srivastava, of WFP’s India office. “The extent of suffering is actually much larger than what is being seen.” Research shows that domestic violence closely correlates with income levels, said Srivastava, and GBV is higher among lower-income households and food-insecure families. Increased food insecurity causes mental stress in households and triggers domestic violence towards women. “The increased incidence of domestic violence is linked to loss of livelihoods, loss of access to food — so there is a direct bearing.”
Since 2014, prolonged drought and excessive hurricanes in Central America have destroyed staple crops. But severe climate events and poverty – the key causes of food insecurity – have worsened with the pandemic. “The face of hunger In Central America has changed,” stated Elio Rujano, a Communications Officer for the World Food program. In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, food insecurity has now spread from rural communities into urban areas. COVID lockdowns have taken away income from daily wage earners – 50% of the economy depends on informal labor – which has made it harder for people to meet basic needs like food.
Six years of conflict inYemen has ripped apart the country’s infrastructure and fragile heath system, displacing almost 4 million of its 30 million inhabitants. Conflict has become the main driver of hunger, as food prices skyrocket, and frontlines move. With COVID and the ensuing lockdown, the hunger situation hit new peak in Yemen. WFP forecasts a severe risk of famine and acute malnutrition in 2021 for 2 million children aged 1 to 5, which will have severe long term impact felt by “generations to come.” But famine has not been declared in Yemen even though “people are dying of hunger,” said Annabel Symington – Head of Communications for the WFP in Yemen, calling for funds to mount programs and interventions. “The time to act is now.”
The WFP feeds 100 million in 88 countries every year divided between 3 initiatives:1.Natural disasters, typhoon, cyclones, 2. Conflicts, and 3. Ongoing non-emergency aid such as school meals, pregnant women new mother nutrition, community help, and small farmers. In 2020, WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger.
“We provide basics for sustainability till long term solutions can be developed,” said Taravella. For years the WFP “chipped away” effectively at hunger rates. But conflict, climate and COVID-19 are causing humanitarian crises of catastrophic proportions, making it impossible for people to access food. Before COVID-19 there were about 135 million hungry people in the world. Today nearly 690 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. WFP projects they need $13.5 billion to bridge the gaps in their budget.
According to Taravella, a small group of 2200 billionaires hold about $8 trillion in global wealth. They could help to overturn the tidal wave of food insecurity washing over the world’s poor.
“We are making an appeal to the world’s exceptionally wealthy people to help us close that gap,” he added.
What was startling about the two domestic violence (DV) videos that aired recently on TV and on social media was not just their disturbing subject matter featuring battered women, but the frequency with which such content appears on the news during this pandemic.
On TV recently, a PSA created by a DV support group shows a woman raising her folded fist on a video call with a friend, silently signaling an appeal for help without raising the suspicions of a man behind her in the room.
And in a real life incident in the UK reported by the BBC, an injured woman used a silent code (55) on a 999 emergency call to alert authorities of an attack where she was unable to speak.
Both videos reflect the rise in DV incidents this year in the aftermath of COVID lockdowns, which have forced vulnerable women into dangerous proximity with abusive partners. As more people stay at home due to the pandemic, the risk of domestic violence (sexual, verbal and physical abuse) is increasing say experts.
In a recent report, The New England Journal of Medicine described domestic violence or intimate partner violence (IPV) as a ‘pandemic within a pandemic’. According to their research, many IPV victims are trapped with their abusers by stay-at-home orders intended to protect the public from the spread of infection by COVID19. As a result, across the US, states are reporting a spike in domestic violence cases during the pandemic, creating a national public health crisis.
An NIH study says that “In Portland there was a 22% increase in arrests related to domestic violence, Jefferson County Alabama experiencing a 27% increase in domestic violence calls during March 2020 compared to March 2019, and New York City experiencing a 10% increase in domestic violence calls during March 2020 compared to March 2019.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline tracked a significant surge in calls from victims between March through May, reporting a 9% increase in total calls received, with 6210 callers citing COVID 19 as the reason for an escalation in abuse. Another study in May reported a 10.2 percent increase in domestic violence calls to the police for service.
But though domestic-violence hotlines expected more demand for services as shelter-in-place mandates were enforced, DV organizations say that in some parts of the country, “the number of calls dropped by more than 50%” as victims fear drawing attention to themselves in their households. Experts believe that the lockdown has prevented victims from safely connecting with services during isolation, not that IPV rates have dropped during the hidden pandemic.
So how do DV victims navigate out of dangerous situations when trapped at home, and send out an SOS without saying a word?
Nowadays, as most interactions with other people occur online, support groups are devising strategies for survivors to ask for help that do not leave a digital trace. In the videos that aired, DV victims employ tactics that demonstrate hand signals and options that are safe to use. Certainly, increased public messaging and media coverage are one way to take IPV out of the shadows and show victims how to reach out and ask for help without being afraid.
But why has COVID19 exacerbated the DV crisis and what does it say about the culture we live in?
At a briefing hoisted by EMS on December 4th, health advocates shed light on various factors that have contributed to the DV crisis during the pandemic, and the DV questions that need to be asked.
“One in three women and one in ten men experience domestic abuse in their lifetime,” stated Bay Area psychiatrist Dr. Ravi Chandra. He explained that the anger and abuse that drives DV and other forms of violent behavior, derives from a culture of abusive power that’s reflected in our society. We live in a world said Chandra, where the racial trauma of George Floyd’s murder and the BLM movement for example, have an underlying aggravating cause that’s rooted in strains of a ‘narcissistic, self-centered, tribalistic personality and culture.’ These characteristics manifest for example, in political leaders or some members of law enforcement who wield ‘power, suffer from ‘self-centered delusion’, and employ ‘subordination, silencing and scapegoating’ to inflict trauma and retain power.
“Abusive power is given far too much license and is yet hidden in the shadows,” stated Chandra. The individualistic, antagonistic, aggressive, self-centered masculine power that Chandra describes is exemplified for instance, in the police officer who knelt on a dying George Floyd, while the legal recourse that shields police officers, is indicative of the entitled ‘wink and a nod’ directed towards law enforcement, when they use influence and the justice system to protect abusive officers with impunity.
These incidents are “a metaphor for the abusive household,” said Chandra, in which family members ‘look the other way’ rather than deal with the inappropriate behavior and assault that IPV victims endure from a parent, spouse or caregiver. We are all affected by a society which values money and power, especially masculine power, as more important than a relationship, said Chandra, adding that when compassion and common humanity become subordinated and under assault, it becomes difficult for DV victims ‘incarcerated’ in a household’ to fight their way out.
“COVID underscores risk factors for domestic violence,” noted Chandra. The pandemic has exposed the effects of living in an abusive household and the psychological experience of victims subjected to devaluing, bullying, threats, intimidation, coercion, gaslighting, dehumanization, calls for violence and more. Isolation encourages opportunities for psychological aggression and control, added Chandra. Furthermore, financial stressors – frustrations over job loss, and income insecurity are risk factors that have contributed to the rise in DV cases.
Chandra also warned that DV victims have suffered setbacks during the Trump Presidency. In 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) narrowed the definition of domestic violence to only physical aggression, ruling out psychological aggression. And, the administration has not reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act which has been partially credited for a 60% drop in violence against IPV victims between 1996-2010.
While women’s rights should be upheld, Chandra urged that men be given space to ‘come to terms’ with their own histories of childhood trauma and abuse. “Racism has disempowered and devalued BIPOC men in America,” Chandra stated, and this is an added psychological stress that needs examination.
Chandra suggested the need to deconstruct racism as well as masculine entitlement to power, to better understand how male vulnerability and ‘a friendship crisis among men’ makes them more isolated than women, and unable to comprehend how mutual relationships work. Domestic violence stems from this disconnection he explained.
For now though, it will take more than hand signals and heart searching for victims to unravel and emerge from the twisted knot of domestic violence. But help is at hand from advocates via the sources listed below.
As Chandra hopes, “As a psychiatrist and humanist, I hope that we can all work to create an equitable society where all have access to the all – important human journeys of identity, belonging and wellness.”
Meera Kymal is the contributing editor at India Currents
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to assist victims of intimate partner violence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling or texting (800) 799-SAFE (7233).
Women around the world are facing a shadow crisis amid the COVID 19 pandemic, as their workloads for both paid and unpaid labor increase dramatically.
“The COVID 19 pandemic has aggravated the existing conditions for women, who are discriminated against in all sectors,” said Dr. Beatrice Duncan, Policy Advisor, Rule of Law, UN Women, at a May 22 briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services.
Panelists at the briefing noted that the COVID crisis has both highlighted and exacerbated gender inequality around the world. They also discussed the dramatic rise of domestic violence, including abuse by adolescent children. Duncan stated that domestic violence has seen a three-fold spike in the U.S. over the past two months.
Dr. Kirsten Swinth, Professor of History at Fordham University, compared the current pandemic to the 1918 pandemic and the Great Depression, suggesting that there were lessons from both that inspired women to push forward.
“The 1918-19 flu pandemic was a huge blow to male-led modern medicine, and its faith in science to cure infectious diseases,” said Swinth. Nurses however, were valorized, because of their professionalism in providing essential care services.
Similarly, in the current pandemic, essential workers, including those on the bottom of the economic ladder are lauded as heroes for providing essential services in a time of crisis, she said.
Recognition of women’s critical role in the 1918 epidemic occurred simultaneously with suffragettes going door to door to garner support for women’s right to vote: the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.
Swinth also pointed to how increased social and economic burdens on women during the Great Depression helped birth a generation of women leaders who fought for cost of living issues and increased participation in labor unions.
Dr. Nicole Mason, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research said women disproportionately account for the nearly 39 million people who have filed for unemployment in the last nine weeks because of their over-representation in service sector jobs which require employees to be on site, rather than working remotely. The service sector has been hit the hardest by the economic lockdown.
The U.S. Labor Department released data earlier in May, which examined unemployment claims by gender for the month of April. Unemployment rose overall from 4.4 percent to 14.7 percent. For women, unemployment rates rose to 16.2 percent versus 13.5 percent for men. In February, prior to the pandemic’s full throttle on the U.S. economy, unemployment rates for both sectors were roughly equal at 3.5 percent.
As day care centers and schools close down, women face the double burden of full-time care for their families — including home-schooling them — while also trying to hold down a full-time job. Conversely, women who have retained their service sector jobs are having to make very tough choices between working and taking care of their families, said Mason.
Women will also have a harder time economically recovering from the pandemic. “Many lost jobs will not be returning,” she said, advocating for long-term policy solutions which would help women re-enter and remain in the workforce; flexibility in schedules to address child care needs, along with work-site child care centers; paid sick leave mandated for all employers; and a universal basic income.
Dr. Estela Rivero, Research Associate with Notre Dame’s Pulte Institute for Global Development, stated that the COVID 19 pandemic has exacerbated the already limited opportunities for women to gain financial independence. “Time is one of our most precious resources,” she said, and women are now forced to spend more hours doing unpaid labor compared to men.
In the U.S., her studies show that amid the pandemic women ages 30-40 spend an average of 60 hours per week in paid and unpaid labor. Men spend 57 hours, primarily in paid labor.
In Mexico, women spend 80 hours a week in paid and unpaid labor, while men spend 70 hours primarily in paid labor. If a member of the household becomes ill, women spend an additional 10 hours per week caring for sick people. Overall, women’s sleep is decreased by 5 hours.
“One positive note is this: as family members spend more time at home, they get to see what women do to keep the household running,” said Rivero, expressing hope that this will lead to a shift in attitude about the value of women’s work.
Mimi Lind, Venice Family Clinic’s Director of Behavioral Health and Domestic Violence Services, said that the rise in domestic violence during the pandemic coincides with the loss of traditional lifelines such as shelters, the court system, and health care.
Lind defined the many types of abuse, which include physical and sexual violence; forcing a victim to be financially dependent; name-calling, shaming and using social media to hold power and control over a partner or ex-partner.
Women isolated at home with an abusive partner cannot call a hotline for help because of fears that the violent domestic partner or adolescent child might overhear, resulting in increased violence. As more health care services are conducted via tele-medicine, women also lose personal access to doctors and nurses who often ask about partner abuse when a woman comes into a hospital.
Some protections do remain for women living in Los Angeles County, said Lind. Courts within the county can still provide restraining orders against the abusive partner. Additionally, some domestic violence hot-lines can provide women with vouchers which would allow her to leave an abusive situation and go to a hotel or motel temporarily.
Duncan closed the briefing by likening the pandemic to a global war. “This could be the Third World War that we are facing.” Like her fellow panelists, she looked for signs of hope in what her agency describes as “the shadow pandemic.”
“In all the wars we have faced across the years, the fatalities have mainly been men, but the consequences are born by women because women then have to manage the households.”
“Whenever we experience this kind of social change, it also comes with changes in gender relationships,” said Duncan adding: “In some cases, it allows women to advance more because they become the household heads.”
“These are unprecedented times…” is probably the beginning of every email that you’ve written, received, or been forwarded over the course of the last month. While our lives have surely been changed, our day-to-day schedule in quarantine largely looks, well, pretty precedented. If you’re anything like me or my family, you’ve probably tried your hand at the internet’s favorite Dalgona coffee, baked banana bread out of boredom, or co-starred in your younger family members’ TikToks (reader, please explain to me why I’m now obsessed with the Skechers song!). In the world of social distancing, we often believe that we are at a loss to do anything other than propping ourselves up with these mundane pleasures. After all, many of us aren’t epidemiology researchers, state legislators, or doctors (as much as my parents would have hoped differently). But the truth is, there’s more we can do to help our community than we might currently think.
The Indian-American community is one of the most successful ethnic minorities in America, with the highest average income of minority groups in this country. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is receiving praise for his commitment to donate $1 billion (28% of his net worth) to the COVID-19 crisis, but leaders in the Indian-American community have not pledged nearly the same. Several Indian-led nonprofits have stepped in to help in ways they can. Our community has seen over 40 deaths in America. While saddening, these figures pale in comparison to the health disparities in black and LatinX communities, which shows that we have more of an obligation than ever to contribute. There’s a variety of ways for people to get involved in local efforts, donations, and advocacy, and it’s important to keep these opportunities on our radar as we brace for several more weeks of isolation.
While not everyone can be in a place to be able to financially support local charity work, there’s plenty that can contribute with their time. In today’s climate, vulnerable populations often see their challenges exacerbated, with social-isolation, medical bills, and job losses plaguing our country. Victims of domestic violence are quarantined with their abusers, high-risk senior citizens are spending days alone, and the impact on migrant and refugee communities is terrifying. For many of the non-profits seeking to provide resources to these communities, what they need most is an increase in volunteers to reflect their increased needs at this time. Here are a few ways you might be able to get involved:
You can help with contactless driving for Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit that helps provide food and check-ins for senior citizens.
Got extra cloth? Help sew masks for your local health professionals.
Looking for a more comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities? Look no further.
While some of us might be able to donate extra hours, if someone’s quarantine-buddies are immunocompromised, or if the hectic pace of our lives has not calmed down, donating money might be an easier avenue for them. Mutual Aid collectives, which organize under the philosophy of “solidarity, not charity,” help mobilize a community’s financial resources for those who are in need. Mutual aid groups have been used in several universities and municipalities, and this locator helps a user see the aid efforts nearest to them. There are several well-known non-profits and locators that families can use to donate to at this time:
CDC Foundation: supports the efforts of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Feeding America: Provides food and resources to food banks across the country
Think Globally, Act Locally
While the saying might be trite, the most impact that we can make is within our own communities. Whether it’s buying gift cards to your favorite small businesses, dropping off groceries for a neighbor, or caring for the children of medical professionals, there’s a lot we can do by simply keeping ourselves aware. You can subscribe to the email list-servs of your local political representatives, who often can provide constituents with information about neighborhood efforts. Charity navigator is also a great resource that can help you identify what organizations are doing great work in your community. If you’re from the Bay Area, Silicon Valley strong is a wonderful place to start with your efforts. The possibilities are endless, and the genuine good in the hearts of everyday people is incredible. If there’s a silver lining to all of this, it’s this: we are stronger together.
Swathi is a junior at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.
The woman on the phone will talk only if I promise not to identify her—not her first or last names, not the town she lives in.
This woman, let’s call her Geeta, lives in the United States with her husband and two young daughters. Her husband controls the finances because, according to him, she is too stupid to manage money. He tells her constantly that the only thing she’s good for is cooking and cleaning. Not even sex; he’s had better. He doles out just enough money for gas, so she can get to work and back.
She is an engineer, the one with the job and the visa; he’s the one who cannot hold down a job. For years, they’ve been telling friends and family that he works from home. “It can be hard on a man, you know,” Geeta says with a touch of defensiveness. “Not to have a job.”
Geeta’s parents used to visit once every three years. On one such visit, when Geeta’s sister and her family were also present, she asked her husband to reach for the water jug from the top shelf. Convinced that she was “disrespecting” him in front of her family, he flew into a rage and punched her multiple times. Geeta’s parents fled to their bedroom, dinner forgotten. She has no idea what her sister’s family did. What she did was to grab coloring pencils and paper, loaded her kids in the minivan and drove herself to the hospital, broken jaw and all.
“You had the presence of mind to grab the coloring pencils?” I ask. “Will keep the kids occupied in the ER,” she says matter-of-factly. The ER physician insisted that Geeta report the incident. Geeta had previously tried talking to a couple of people about the abuse, but they had laughed it off. She can’t be sure whether this was because they thought she was joking, or it was because they didn’t want the hassle of dealing with someone else’s problems. She hadn’t tried again. The fact that her parents were witness to the violence gave her the courage. She talked to the police.
Her husband was arrested, taken to the police station, and booked. Geeta’s sister and brother-in-law were distraught at the thought that the Indian community would find out. Her parents could not bear that their son-in-law would be publicly shamed. Her father berated her for her selfishness. Her mother threatened to kill herself with the kitchen knife. They pressured Geeta into withdrawing the case. Her parents went back to India, never to return. Her sister and she have not been in touch since.
Is that okay with her, I ask. That her sister will no longer talk to her. She sighs.
She tries to excuse her own husband’s behavior by saying, “Sometimes the pressure gets too much for him. He needs an outlet. It is only understandable that he loses control.”
“Surely you need an outlet for your own stress? Do you lose control?” “No,” she says. “I have the kids to think of.”
“Doesn’t he?” I ask. She has no answer.
“Does he abuse the kids?” I ask. “Oh no! He’s a great dad.”
“How about in front of other family or friends?” “Never,” she says. “He’s very dignified when they are around.”
“Which means control isn’t the problem, is it?” I say softly. “He has enough self-control not to cause damage to himself, not to get himself in any trouble with the law, with immigration.”
She has no answer to that, either.
She says that there is no hope for her. She tells me the only reason she’s talking to me is that she hopes that someone reading this—parent, brother, sister, friend—will be roused into stepping up and supporting their loved one.
She quietly ends the call.
What is Domestic Violence?
Rama Jalan, Executive Director of Maitri, a Bay Area-based organization that provides support to victims of domestic violence says that domestic violence is one partner’s (or family member’s) power and control over the other, sometimes manifesting in physical aggression. More often than not, it is much more than assaulting someone; it is about humiliation, about destroying their self-confidence, controlling access to finances, isolating them from friends and family, or breaking any support system they may have. Denying an immigrant the ability to contact family overseas, blocking social engagements, not allowing them to pursue studies or employment—these can be abuse too.
If a woman feels constantly devalued, undermined, or bad about herself after interactions with her husband, or partner, she needs to consider whether she is being abused.
Social stigma is the leading reason why Indian-American women won’t leave abusive marriages, says Rovina Nimbalkar, Executive Director of Narika, another Bay Area-based organization.
Because of this stigma, she says, and the resultant secrecy, people in the Indian community are able to pretend such things do not happen in their community of “strong family values.”
Most women, and sometimes men, don’t recognize domestic violence for what it is, according to social worker Shanthi Karamchetti. It is only as a relationship grows and intensifies that the pattern of abuse begins to emerge. Emotional abuse, reproductive coercion and male privilege are other forms of abuse that might not involve overt aggression. Karamchetti says she’s starting to hear more about stealthing as a form of abuse. This is when a man takes off condoms during sex in an effort to force pregnancy upon a woman.
Karamchetti cautions that abuse towards the mother can be extremely damaging to kids, even babies. She says that even as a baby’s brain is wiring, the baby is absorbing. The effects are profound. With the right support and treatment, the brain can rewrite itself, but it is important for the baby to be removed from the environment for it to thrive.
Watch this video by Maitri Bay Area about the real-life impact on a child growing up in a violent situation.
Jalan says that frequently abusers create self-doubt in the minds of their victims. It may begin with simple name-calling—fat, ugly, good for nothing. The more it affects the victim, the more the abuser uses this as a control mechanism. Creating doubt about her abilities and mental well-being is often the next step. This negative message, coming from someone they trust, can serve to confuse her. Isolation, and a lack of support from friends and family, often compounds this belief.
Women’s Cultural Conditioning
Cultural conditioning plays a big role in how women accept injustice. Take, for example, the infamous Brock Turner case. When the star swimmer from Stanford was convicted of rape, his father argued in favor of probation, saying any jail time for his son was “a steep price to pay for twenty minutes of action.”
Turner was sentenced to six months of prison time, instead of the fourteen years of hard time he could have potentially served. In face of public outrage stemming from both the sentencing, as well as the father’s statement, the judge tried to excuse his leniency by claiming that he didn’t wish to “ruin” the future of someone with so much potential.
I bring up this specific instance because hard as it is for a woman to report stranger rape, it is worse when she has to work up the courage to report marital rape, or sexual violence within a relationship. Such an egregious miscarriage of justice does not help induce confidence in the criminal justice system.
Lundy Bancroft, in his book Why Does He Do That?: Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, says an abusive man’s disrespect of women, his sense of entitlement over her being, stems directly from how his own father treated the women in his life. With an attitude like his father’s, it isn’t surprising that Turner grew up with extreme disdain for women.
Then there is the Gattani-Rastogi case, which involves Indian immigrant, Abhishek Gattani, who managed to achieve that most elusive of American dreams: being a Silicon Valley CEO. He is also a man who admitted at the Santa Clara County Superior Court, of beating his wife Neha Rastogi, over a period of ten years.
The punishment for this heinous crime? Thirteen days in prison after his crime was brought down from a felonious assault through a plea bargain in order to spare him deportation to India. Rastogi, understandably, is furious. Next time you ask why a woman might not report domestic violence, think of these cases.
“I feel fooled not just by a convicted criminal, aggressor, wife beater, batterer, that I unfortunately married—the worst mistake of my life but by this court as well. With all due respect to the system…I stand fooled, disgraced and ridiculed as a victim,” Rastogi said. “I get heard to be ignored? To be told that the system understands the abuse and the impact it has had…but sorry it is what it is. I was told no jail, no classes, no penalties can change Mr. Gattani. Is this the faith the DA’s office and the court have in the justice being provided in this court? Is that the reason for leniency in such cases? Have we given up on justice?” —Excerpt from Neha Rastogi’s victim impact statement after hearing of lenient sentence for her husband Abhishek Gattani
A very common refrain on social media after the Gattani-Rastogi case was why Rastogi, who is by all accounts an extremely accomplished woman, one who worked alongside the likes of Steve Jobs, did not walk away if the marriage was “really abusive.” The implication was that Rastogi was making things up, or that walking away was an easy thing to do.
There are many reasons why a woman might not walk away from an abusive marriage. She might view the breakdown of her marriage as personal failure. She could be financially dependent on her husband. Or, she might choose to stay for, “the good of the children.” Perhaps she has grown up in such an environment herself, where it was normal occurrence for her own mother to be abused. Maybe she loves her husband, and keeps wanting to give him yet another chance. Maybe she has grown up believing that such things happen only in “bad” families. Even when the woman gathers the courage to confide in someone, she may be advised to make an extra effort to hold the family together for the sake of the children, or for the “reputation” of the family.
If he’s abusive after a hard day at work, she might make excuses for him, not realizing there can never be any excuse for abuse. What can add to the confusion is that the abuser can also be thoughtful: if he makes her tea, or gets her car serviced, or helps the kids with homework, he can’t be all bad, can he?
Not In Our Community? Read this 42,700+ helpline calls; 4,700+ crisis calls; 3866+ survivors empowered. —Source: Maitri (Statistics since inception)
Insidious Forms Abuse Can Take
Abuse doesn’t have to be physical to be considered abuse. When the abuser gaslights her, when he manipulates her psychologically, when he denies her reality to the point she is no longer able to trust her own instincts, that is abuse, too. So the next time he tells her that she “made him do it,” or that she “asked for” the punching, the kicking, the shoving, she believes him.
She might interpret his control of her as love, or concern. If he’s abusive after a hard day at work, she might make excuses for him, not realizing there can never be any excuse for abuse. What can add to the confusion is that the abuser can also be thoughtful: if he makes her tea, or gets her car serviced, or helps the kids with homework, he can’t be all bad, can he?
Abusers are often charming and sociable in public. This can make it very difficult for women to get support when they do decide to confide to someone in their social, or familial, circle. There is often shock if there has been no overt display of aggression. Nimbalkar says that since talking about any kind of violence, especially sexual violence is such a taboo in our culture we, as a community, have gotten comfortable with the pretense that violence does not exist in our circles.
The Pressure to Stay
In the context of abuse within our community, there are additional reasons that are unique to the Indian situation—if there are siblings who are ready to be married, there is additional pressure to stay on in the marriage. There is the worry that if the marriage breaks up, the woman’s family will be considered “bad.” Social isolation is another. A third reason is the premium placed on the state of marriage-hood.
Married women have exalted status in society; unmarried women—not so much. Lines are often drawn in social or religious events; invisible, but very much there. Married women, the fortunate ones, are at the top of the social pecking order. Unmarried girls come next, because they can still find husbands, and become part of that elite first group. The widows are the unfortunate lot, the has beens who, while invited, aren’t offered kumkum and turmeric—the auspicious prerogative of every married woman.
Divorced or abandoned women are essentially in societal limbo. No one knows quite what to do with them: they are either not invited to religious functions or, if they are, they choose not to go to spare their host embarrassment. This explains why, to the Indian parent, an unhappy marriage is better than no marriage at all.
Divorced or abandoned women are essentially in societal limbo. No one knows quite what to do with them: they are either not invited to religious functions or, if they are, they choose not to go to spare their host embarrassment. This explains why, to the Indian parent, an unhappy marriage is better than no marriage at all. Men, on the other hand, have no such issues to do with social status. They can remarry, and suffer no such consequence.
Visa issues are another worry for Indian women in America. If they’re not working, which is often the case if their husbands are on H1-B visas the husbands threaten them with deportation. Until recently spouses of H1-B visa holders were not permitted to work. The previous administration lifted this restriction, but this might soon change. This is particularly worrying to women if there are American-born children involved.
Because of the intense secrecy relating to uncomfortable issues, there is misinformation on the kind of families such things happen in. Fact of the matter is, domestic violence, like sexual abuse, cuts across lines of class, caste and race.
Can Counseling Help? Lundy Bancroft, who has counseled over a thousand abusive men (he will not counsel couples), says that couples counseling works only when the couple has shared issues that both need to work on. He is emphatic that control and abuse are not a shared problem; they remain the sole responsibility of the abuser.
He warns that a poorly run domestic violence program can actively endanger abused women by sheltering their abusers from accountability. He cites instances where savvy abusers learnt tools and techniques from their counseling sessions and, in turn, used them to further manipulate the victim.
How You Can Help
Violence against women is about entitlement. It is a belief that the life, the needs, the wants of the abuser or perpetrator must take priority over everything else. There can never be any justification for domestic violence. Start with this premise.
If you want to help, don’t blame the victim. Express no judgment. Provide her the resources that enable her to make her own choices. This last bit is especially important, because being in an abusive situation is disempowering enough. Don’t deny her control over her decisions by making them for her.
SAVE (another organization that works with DV victims) advocate, Shailaja Dixit, strongly urges that women check in with an agency such as SAVE if they’re in an abusive situation, and are planning a trip to India. To help with safety planning, she also recommends that the victim call a domestic violence agency before she is in crisis.
How You Can Help
Organizations that provide support to victims of DV provide access to emergency shelters, free or low cost legal and medical services, and peer support groups. In addition, they also offer services in multiple Indian languages.
According to Kate Hart, Director of Programs, SAVE works within the context of the South Asian community—they will, depending on the situation, take in family units as a whole— including boys over the age of eighteen, special needs adults, and in-laws, if needed. Maitri.org (888) 862-4874 Narika.org (800) 215-7308 SAVE (510) 794-6055
National Abuse Hotline (800) 799-7233
Rasana Atreya is a novelist, content writer, marketer and one of India’s self-publishing pioneers. Her debut novel, Tell A Thousand Lies, was shortlisted for the UK-based Tibor Jones South Asia Prize. Her other works are The Temple Is Not My Father, and 28 Years A Bachelor. Also a former rape crisis counselor with BAWAR, she is passionate about human rights issues.
First published in June of 2017.
Legal Advice for Victims
By Indu-Liladhar Hathi
I am an Indian citizen and entered America on a student visa (F-1). About 9 months ago, I married a green card holder. My husband is physically and mentally abusive. I am afraid to leave as I am no longer pursuing my studies and need him to apply for a green card.
It appears that you are a victim of domestic violence. All people in the United States, regardless of immigration or citizenship status are guaranteed basic protections under both civil and criminal law. You can file under: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 which allows immigrant victims of domestic violence to file a self-petition to become lawful permanent residents (LPR) without having to rely on their abusers. In 2000, through the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act, two other visas were created for immigrant victims of violent crime (U visas) and victims of sexual assault or trafficking (T visas). In 2005, the protections expanded to include victims of elder abuse.
I am currently on a H-4 visa and stuck in an abusive relationship. Can I legally work here? If you were admitted to the United States as the spouse of an H nonimmigrant who has abused you, you may be eligible for employment authorization. Employment authorization enables victims to seek safety and independence from their abuser, who is not notified about the filing.
Please check our “Ask a Lawyer” column for more information regarding legal steps to help victims of domestic violence. Attorney Indu Liladhar-Hathi has an office in San Jose. (408) 453-5335.
Narika, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the self-empowerment of survivors of domestic violence, invites Bay Area residents to attend their 26th fundraising gala event on Sunday September 16, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. at the Blackhawk Auto Museum in Danville, CA.
The funds raised at the event will go toward Narika’s programs to benefit victims and survivors of domestic violence and its continued efforts to advance awareness about the harmful and cascading effects of domestic violence.
In a typical month, Narika directly serves its clients by providing groceries, transportation, childcare, temporary stay options, career counseling sessions, legal advocacy for separation and immigration as well as tuition for professional courses. Additionally, through the Self-Empowerment and Economic Development (SEED) and Health, Enrichment and Access to Life Skills (HEAL) programs and other initiatives, Narika opens up pathways to economic independence for survivors.
“This is our 26th year serving the needs of women who experience familial violence within South Asian communities in the Bay Area. This year we’ve launched our HEAL program, and continued to increase participation in our programs,” said Anitha Chakravarti, President of the Board of Narika. “With the slate of soulful entertainment, great food, and a colorful festival theme, we anticipate an unforgettable gala experience this year, too.”
This year’s gala entertainment headliner is Devika Chawla, a contemporary Sufi-Indian performer, who is best known for her sound tracks in Barbara Mori’s movie Spanish Beauty and the Pakistani movie Josh. She is the first Indian vocalist to be featured on Apple’s iMovie in the Bollywood trailer. Devika is a consummate performer with a beautiful textural voice that delivers a blend of old-world classicism and contemporary soul.
There will be a live auction with exciting prizes including getaway vacation packages to the Canadian Rockies, Cancun and Monterey.
In 1992, a group of four socially conscious women identified the need for domestic violence services in the local communities of the Bay Area. The founders began engaging victims as sisters rather than clients, providing assistance in several different languages. They named the organization Narika, meaning woman in Hindi. Over the years, the need for services in the South Asian community has expanded. In a study of 208 South Asian women in 2006, one in five reported having experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. In 2017, Narika fielded over 1,500 calls and emails to the Helpline and this number continues to grow. Narika works hard to meet and empower the needs of this population. For more information or to register or donate online, please visit narika.org.
Maitri (www.maitri.org ) invites all MEN and BOYS to write their thoughts or experiences on gender based violence / intimate partner violence / family violence and abuse for our community blog: Engaging Men & Boys! Your blurb will be published with your name and photo on the Maitri Bay Area Website, Facebook page and newsletter.
Help in raising awareness! Domestic Violence is real and by working together we can prevent it! Share your voice to challenge the cultural norms and attitudes that support gender violence, domestic violence, victim blaming and prevent help seeking!
Guidelines for submission:
• All men and boys (over 16 years of age) can participate.
• Send your blurb with your name, a short (3-4 lines max) introduction and a profile photo.
• Word count: Max: 800 words. Language: English.
• Maitri will have final editing and publishing rights.
• Send your write up to email@example.com
• If you have questions, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
If we are talking about low-class, uneducated people living in Indian villages, we may find cases of physical abuse of women by their husbands and mothers-in-law who burn them live. But in America, it is impossible to even think of such abuse.
One needs to go deeper to find the real causes why these kinds of cases have started to surface recently. My reasoning is as follows: Most marriages are marriages of convenience not based on love. Men go to India for a couple of weeks and find a bride who is educated, so that both can work and fulfill the Indian-American dream of getting rich. However, since there is no emotional bond, their true selfish motives take over, and the marriage begins to fall apart. The only way a woman can get legal status in these situations is by amnesty.
In the case cited in the article, the woman states that she came to America on a student visa and got married. To my knowledge, people who are on a F-1 or H1B visa marry for securing a green card. They deceive their husbands by filing false reports of psychological and emotional abuse; in fact, they cannot file a report of physical abuse since there is no violence involved. These women know the loopholes in the immigration laws and they abuse them in order to get legal status. Keep in mind that during the last ten years the number of illegal people from India has increased to over half a million. Add another million on H1B visas and you get the picture.
Organizations like Raksha (in Atlanta), and Maitri and Narika in the Bay Area are set up to help these women because in America we have shelters for battered women. These organizations get government help-so, they have flourished.
Indian people have exploited another area which is daycare for senior citizens, because the government pays $95 per person per day!
I despise the fact that people from India know how to circumvent laws. They are experts in sponsoring their distant relatives as blood relatives and they also bring their aged parents so that they can collect Social Security and Medicaid benefits. Many seniors are snow birds and spend winter months in India in properties they have hidden from the American government. I ask-why not let elderly parents stay in India and give them financial support?
We need to raise our moral standard, which does not come from the temples we build. It is time Indians stop deceiving the country that gave us a good life and abundant material success.
Email from reader, Deepika Parikh
As an Indian woman who has lived in USA for 48 years, I am infuriated and appalled by Ms. Mukherji’s response to the problems of domestic violence in our society in America.
How uninformative and ignorant to think that the violence only happens in low-class, uneducated (two derogative words) families in Indian villages. It is unbelievable that an educated, upper class woman like Ms. Mukherji would have so many misconceptions and mis-informations about violence in marriages.
If there are people like her in our society, no wonder abused women are afraid to report anything against their husbands. After reading her letter, abused women will feel abused repeatedly by people like her.
The ‘Ties that Bind’ article describes several issues that inflict violence very well, especially in our culture, and why women tend to be silent about them. Surprisingly, the only thing she learned INCORRECTLY from the article is that the student woman, in the case cited, wanted to get a green card so she accused her husband of abuse. How pathetic!
My hats off to the many volunteers and employees in organizations such as Maitrii, Narika, Raksha , Sakhi, Manavi, Sahara and many more in the US that work diligently to help abused South Asian women. It is an insult to these hard working people to say that “these organizations get government help so they have flourished”. Do people have any idea what kind of emotional stress these people go through EVERY DAY to be able to help these abused women young and old, (yes, old women too).
One more question to Ms. Mukherji, how can you compare the working adult children calling their able bodied senior parents and taking undue advantages of US government in daycare for senior citizens to these abused women who constantly live with their charming monster husbands day in and day out in constant fear of safety of their children and themselves?
We need to raise awareness of what goes on behind closed doors in our society and lend a helpful hand instead of making judgements about unfortunate situations without proper information.