Tag Archives: #domesticviolence

BURNED

I wrote this piece of fiction in honor of victims of acid attacks — especially in India. It was developed at EnActe Arts as part of the WEFT (“women enacting for themselves”) program. It is a humble and probably inadequate attempt to depict the victims’ plight, written with deep humility for unless we walk in their shoes we cannot know the unimaginable pain they bear. I offer it with empathy for their suffering, and admiration for their courage in the face of such heinous crimes. India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU) has found that between 2014 and 2018, there have been 1,483 victims of acid attacks in the country, according to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau. Many more go unreported or unrecorded. 

In my dreams I am whole, with my easy laughs, ready quips, fleeting annoyances, steady love of ice cream. I am walking, happy. But I shiver. I walk towards the sun. I don’t see the gaping pit ahead. I wake up shaking, sweating, hot and cold. Then my hands are on my face, and… I feel the scars, the craters, the hardness — Your gift.

Your gift erased so much of me, my face, my one window to the world. They say we are nothing without memories. We are also nothing without a face. This visage, this countenance, this mirror where the world sees itself reflected and knows its place. How do I tell the world who I am? I look in the mirror and my one watery eye sees a stranger, a horror story with no end. This thing that used to be a face, a recognition, a mirror is now a dark hole where all light ends and nothing reflects. Where there used to be me, my signature smile, my left cheek’s dimple – it’s all gone. I remain a nameless, faceless ghost visible only in my misfortune. Your branding iron left a seething script. 

When it first happened, they wanted me to utter your name. I wouldn’t defile my mouth. The neighbors, the relatives, even the police came asking. They came to condole, to comfort my father, my mother, my brother who seethes in daily rage. But I know they just came to see me – the remains of me. Curiosity beats empathy but sometimes that’s the only vehicle to my door. I wrote your name down only once and gave it to the police. My mother took a photo of that piece of paper with my brother’s phone. When did she learn to take photos with a phone? She knew I wouldn’t utter it again, so she kept the “evidence” she said. But I know she keeps this paper to rekindle vengeful fires in her heart. My gentle, god-fearing Kali, who quietly tolerated harsh words from her mother and mother-in-law, is ready to kill for me today.

My father does not look at me. I miss how he used to cup my face, kiss my forehead every morning. Proud Papa. Now he won’t touch my face, just puts a hand on my head looking away. Sometimes I hear him crying when he thinks I can’t hear. My mother hardly cries. Instead she asks him harshly, “What’s the point of crying now?! Have you called the lawyer?” She is hard. So hard I fear her brittleness will break her. She only softens when she brings me food. Patiently lets me eat, gently wiping the drool from my mouth. My lips’ bare remains, mere lines relearn how to contain food. Grateful I can still taste, I tell her how much I love it. She won’t even acknowledge this joy. She keeps her vengeance alive.

I can’t recall the particulars, only the horrific pain of your carnage. Or why? Later they said it was because “you could not bear an unrequited love”. “Love”? Yes Love! Love? I want to laugh! I have forgotten that sordid history. Somehow the acid erased that too; clean, flat, blank like the contours of my face. Perhaps best this way or I may join those that blame me. “She could have said yes…”, “She could have married him…”, “Girls these days think they are better than anyone…”. Your signature devastation demands justice and there will be none. Blaming me helps the onlookers feel better. Perhaps safer. Some relief for their miserable, beaten souls. 

When I came home after the first 23 surgeries, I heard them in my stupor from all the painkillers. I hated them then. All of them who said, who still say I could have alleviated your hate, who think I should now be traded off to someone even lesser, to “free” my parents. Perhaps free them of any hint of guilt. They know they are who made you possible. They supplied the fodder for the kind of anger you thrive in. When I first heard them I would scream but no sound emerged. Only violent, bruising tears. But then my mother – my gentle Kali – took care of them and their solicitousness. That makes me smile – only on the inside. The skin on my face borrowed from my thighs, my stomach stretches too thin to bridge a smile. I’ve tried it in the mirror – a contortion for a smile. I cringe with my eyes without eyelashes, even as I marvel at my perfect painted eyebrows. I often marvel at how well I saw all the flaws in my reflection before this annihilation of me. Maybe now I will learn to accept what I see. Maybe that is how I win.

It’s been over two years since I came home. I must have nightmares because my mother shakes me awake, often caressing my forehead, trying to calm me. But all I remember are dreams where I am whole. At first I prayed for a merciful death. But now I don’t want to die. I listen for the birds singing in the morning. My good eye loves the sun. I still marvel at how well my mother sings. I cook with her, I learn to sew with her, little things. Soon my hands will be steady. I put my head on my father’s knee when he comes home every evening. His blessing stalls the night.

This week I step out for the first time. I shake so hard that my Kali grips my hand tight as I accompany her to the market. I cover the side of my face. I want to keep my old face. I don’t let go of her hand. Soon I know I will bare my whole face and let them all see — and let you see. Maybe when I see you in court. I will look and point at you – steady, unselfconscious, straight. Maybe you can relish what you wrought. Your hatred manifesto. I will let you flinch at my ugly erasure. And when you flinch I will laugh. You gave me unutterable pain, you scarred me for life, almost erased me. Almost. The me that your acid cannot erase, is here. Still here. I win because I will make YOU look away. 


Reena Kapoor is a writer and photographer. Her poems take the reader on journeys through a multitude of places, time periods, and emotions. ‘Arrivals & Departures‘ is her debut poetry collection. 

Help Mitigate Intimate Partner Violence By Taking a Survey!

(Featured Image: Illustration by Jawahir Hassan Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera)

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a global health problem that disproportionately affects women; about 35% of women globally have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. The core elements of IPV include: physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression.

In the United States, it is estimated that 35.6% of all women will experience IPV in their lifetime. IPV results in several mental and physical health issues, which has shown to disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority and immigrant women. Literature on rates for IPV has reported that Asian American minorities have a significantly greater odds of experiencing IPV compared with other racial and ethnic groups.

Specifically, Asian Indian Americans report a 38-94% risk for lifetime experiences of violence. Research, educational outreach, and prevention programs can help educate and provide resources for Indian Americans on IPV related issues, however, these services have been criticized for an overemphasis on Western (European and American) ideologies. To create services with a better cultural perspective for Indian Americans, it is important to create a culturally relevant definition of IPV.

As an Indian American myself, I feel the effects of a lack of representation in research and healthcare services, which is why I started this research project examining perceptions of IPV within Indian American communities. Considering the severity of this health issue, this research raises awareness on IPV and its consequences within the Indian American community. Using survey data collected from Indian American communities, the current study will establish the relationship between IPV and its factors. To gather data for this research, willing and interested participants are encouraged to participate in a confidential online survey that takes 25 minutes to complete. The survey will ask you questions about your opinions and experiences as an Indian American on IPV and IPV related factors. Demographic information will also be collected.

If you are interested in joining in this effort to spread awareness and encourage others to make their voice heard in our Indian American community, here is the link to the survey: https://www.psychdata.com/s.asp?SID=191163

If you feel uncomfortable answering any questions, you are able to skip any questions at any time. In order to be a participant in this study, you must be at least 18 years of age or older and be an Asian Indian American. 


Briana Joseph is the daughter of two Indian immigrants from Kerala and is currently in her third year of college. This research is a part of her thesis and she hopes to continue this line of research in graduate school.

The Good and Bad of Living as an NRI

From Surabhi’s Notepad – A column that brings us personal essays and stories, frivolous and serious, inspired by real-life events and encounters of navigating the world as a young, Indian woman living outside India.

Sitting beside a window in my house in West Singapore, as I stare thoughtlessly at the view of lush green trees and a verdant Bukit Timah hill, I see a family of yellow parrots playing around enjoying the tropical weather. When we moved to this house two years ago, they were a family of two. Now, they are three- mom, dad, and baby parrot. The sight of this lovely playful family makes me nostalgic, it makes me sad. It makes me miss my family back in India even more.

Where I come from, living in a foreign country is considered fashionable and glamorous. While I don’t deny the better lifestyle and surplus savings, the fact remains that living abroad comes with its own set of challenges. You can feel displaced and lonely. With a pandemic imposing travel restrictions, it can very easily cause anxiety, stress, and even depression.

Pandemic or no pandemic, the realities of living away from the Motherland are not necessarily that glamorous and fun as portrayed in popular culture. In Yash Chopra and Karan Johar movies, we see Indians abroad in big landed homes, driving fancy cars, and living a life of luxury. What is rarely depicted in pop culture is the other side of the coin. Living away from India can take a toll on you emotionally and psychologically. The lack of a robust community support system, similar traditions, and enthusiasm for festivals and important occasions can be very alienating and daunting. However, in many parts of the world, Indians have managed to build a community for themselves. 

House used for the Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham Set (Image by Wikimedia Commons)

It can take some adjustment and a lot of patience to “settle down”, especially if you are a new immigrant. One tip I can give to my readers planning on moving abroad soon is to seek help. Start looking at online forums and groups based out of the place where you are moving, connect with people, and be open to putting yourself out there. 

Having some connections and being open to new relationships always helps. But in your head, be prepared. Even something as small as different weather at a given point of time of the year can take some getting used to. For example, when I moved to Singapore, initially, it took me a while to adjust to summers round-the-year as I’d grown up enjoying four lovely seasons in India. 

The blind race to marry an NRI and its ugly consequences

For me, the struggles have been more on the psychological front caused by the displacement and lack of a sense of belonging. I have been lucky to have a supportive and loving husband and some great friends.

For some, unfortunately, the repercussions can be worse, even life-threatening. That is why, people, especially, women should think twice about how badly they want it and for what reasons. I know a lot of girls who specifically seek NRI husbands just for the sake of the coveted label of being foreign-settled. In this blind pursuit, sometimes, women end up marrying the wrong guy landing themselves in abusive families – sometimes they are subjected to mental torture, sometimes they are abandoned, and sometimes they even end up dead.

In a case that came to light in 2017, highly-educated and well-qualified Usha Parikh left her lucrative job in a top-drawer IT company in Ahmedabad to marry a US-based NRI engineer only to realize later that her husband was an unlettered ordinary mechanic and an alcoholic. In another case the same year, Rekha Shah, daughter of a silk-stocking Surat diamantaire, married a Singapore-based doctor and within three months, the 29-year-old pregnant woman was desperate to come back to India from the physical abuse she faced from her husband and in-laws for dowry. 

In the first seven months of 2017 alone, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs received over 300 SOS complaints from Indian women stuck abroad in fraudulent marriages. According to a 2020 report, there are over 30,000 ‘honeymoon brides’ in Punjab who have been deserted by their NRI husbands within days or months of their marriage this year alone.

According to a 2018 article by Reicha Tanwar, Former Director of Women’s Studies at Kerala University, there has been a steady rise in cases of Indian women being deserted after marriage or tricked into fraudulent marriages by husbands and their families who are residents of a foreign country in the past ten years. She writes that between January 2015 to November 2017, the MEA received 3,328 such complaints. Most of the complainants were from Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana followed by Gujarat. This year, amidst lockdowns and stay-at-home impositions worldwide, cases of domestic violence- both mental and physical- surged.

What’s worse is that these NRI husbands leverage the gaps in the laws and policies, and generally go untouched. Fraudulent NRI marriages are also cases of rape, torture, human trafficking, violence, and extortion. Between September 2009 to November 2011, around 800 cases have been registered in India’s National Commission for Women but not a single NRI husband was extradited back to India as of July last year. 

The problem lies in the implementation of Article 498(a) of the Indian Penal Code wherein cases of domestic violence, the presence of NRI husbands cannot be secured in Indian courts. There is no strong law to help bring them back and that is why most of them go untouched.

Know your rights and weigh your options

It is important for every adult woman to know their rights, weigh their options, and seriously consider if they want an NRI husband at the risk of not knowing enough and going in blind. Generally, there are some red flags and patterns that can help catch the trouble early in the process of meeting the families and the boy.

Are they in a hurry? Is the boy not around and will directly come over at the time of the wedding? Have you seen the legal documents like passports, visas, etc? Are you in touch with any relatives, friends, and foreign acquaintances of the groom’s side?

Living in a foreign land seems dreamy and glamorous but at what cost?

Women and their families must do their due diligence and think twice before entering into a union with a foreign-based boy. Having said that, I completely understand that there are many scenarios where the person is smooth and there are just no alarming signs ahead of the wedding and a woman can find herself in trouble after landing in a strange country.

At that point, it becomes crucial to know where and how to seek help. Reach out to the Indian embassy or High Commission in your country. Go to the Ministry of External Affairs website or Twitter handle and reach out to them. Reach out to government organizations like NARI or non-government organizations in your area.

Here are some relevant links for readers in California: 

I am saddened by the lack of family visits this past year amidst the pandemic and as we usher into the new year with uncertainties and bleak hope, I feel even worse. However, my struggles are nothing like these thousands of women who go abroad with dreams of starting a new family, a new life, and are faced with such atrocities. It is important for us all to remember that life is not about the material side of things but in the end, it is the people and the relationships that matter. If anything, this past year we have all learned the value of having loved ones in our lives. 

I wish and pray that the new year only brings happiness and health for all of us- in India and abroad. Happy, safe, and healthy 2021!


Surabhi, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Website | Blog | Instagram

Maitri at Sevathon 2019

Cultural Norms, A Generational Curse For DV Victims

(Featured Image: Maitri at Sevathon 2019 walking to support Domestic Violence Victims)

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, India Currents presents a 2-part series discussing abuse and its impact within the South Asian American community. This is the second and final installment, which discusses the cultural implications of domestic violence, and how these expectations have changed amid the pandemic. Find the first article here.

I know of people who are being subjected to a lot of violence and they are people you wouldn’t even suspect”, emphasizes Kasturi Basu.

Immigrant women often don’t walk away from abusive marriages because they fail to recognize the abuse. Rather, toxic and aggressive behavior is miscoded as spousal affection. In a phone interview, domestic violence survivor Mala Sharma recalls forgiving her second husband “many times” despite his threats and derogatory language. 

“I convinced myself that he wasn’t so bad,” Sharma says. “My first husband used to hit me, this one only swears.” 

According to Neelofer Chaudry, Executive Director of New York-based nonprofit Domestic Harmony Foundation, South Asian American victims are taught to internalize their abusers’ attacks from a young age. Cultural taboos create troublesome expectations for immigrant families. 

“These women grow up in a South Asian household and are [told] not to say anything about what happens in the house. Do not talk to anyone about it, even relatives,” Chaudry says, echoing the stifling attitudes within these households. “Because it [domestic violence] is so taboo and shameful, there’s this internalization — ‘what’s wrong with me, is it my fault that I’m being abused?’” 

Kasturi Basu echoed Chaudry’s thoughts in her own narrative, discussing the prevalence of domestic violence in her own social circles. “My friends knew, but in the South Asian community, people don’t want to talk about it. I would put makeup on my bruises and go to parties” says Basu. Guilt and community expectations also work against abuse victims. “If the children didn’t perform to his expectations, he would make our lives miserable with verbal, physical, and emotional abuse.” 

America’s Model Minority Myth, the expectation that Asian Americans represent financial and familial success, further restricts victims from speaking out. In a 2017 op-ed published by the New York magazine, political commentator Andrew Sullivan attributed Asian American “prosperity” to the maintenance of the ‘solid two-parent family structure.’ The assumption that all South Asian American households are ‘solid’ and monolithic, Chaudry suggests, is problematic. 

“It’s been hard,” Chaudry says. “There’s this pressure on our community to be perfect. When we first started talking, we were heavily criticized by [fellow] South Asians. We were called home wreckers, asked ‘why are you airing out our dirty laundry?’ We’re scared to discuss what’s considered a ‘private issue’ between husband and wife. Abuse is never private. It’s the responsibility of the community to speak up.” 

Organizations like the Domestic Harmony Foundation offer emotional support services for their clients, where trained professionals can address survivors’ conflicted emotions about their relationships. They also host annual youth leadership programs to empower the next generation and dismantle toxic social norms. 

“When it comes to abuse, there’s a tendency to repeat behavior,” Chaudry adds. “If a son sees his mother being abused, he is more likely to repeat that. It’s a social moray, which is [why] we want an opportunity to break the cycle. When you bring survivors together and have them share experiences with one another, they see that they’re not that different.” 

Reaching out, moving on 

In 2017, Sharma ‘nervously’ reached out to Houston nonprofit Daya after divorcing her second husband. She had no source of income. Her phone was flooded with desperate messages from her ex-husband, many of them threatening or pornographic. She removed his name from their apartment’s lease and changed the locks, prompting further harassment. 

“Daya really helped me,” Sharma said. “They first helped me secure a restraining order against my husband, who later went to jail after I filed a complaint with the police. Daya worked hard, offered me counseling services where [I learned] that I am not wrong,  that this is not my mistake.” 

Sharma is an exception. According to the US National Library of Medicine, only 11 percent of South Asian women who report domestic violence actually receive counseling services. 3 percent are successful in obtaining a restraining order against their partner. The numbers are low, says Daya Executive Director Rachna Khare, because mistrust and disillusionment run high in the South Asian American community. 

“It’s discouraging because there are some immigration protections for survivors of crime,” Khare says in a Zoom interview. “But they’re difficult to access. For example, if you’re married to an H1-B visa-holder and you’re a dependent..it could take years to get a U-Visa, if ever. Is it safe to wait?” 

Khare is referring to the U Nonimmigrant visa, which permits victims of crimes such as sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking to remain in the United States. Although U-visas are designed to protect the immigration status of all abuse victims, only 10,000 of them are accepted a year. Those denied are “given priority” for the next year, which is why so many South Asian women who apply are expected to remain undocumented for years. 

Law enforcement across the country also has a history of undermining U-Visa petitions, as indicated by an assessment from The Center of Investigative Reporting. According to their analysis, U-Visa petitions have dropped since 2018 because “nearly 1 of every 4 [agencies] create barriers never envisioned under the…program.” The effects, Khare says, are devastating — and not just for the victims. 

“It’s interesting that people look at domestic violence work as just charity.  In reality, our work is about keeping our community safe,” Khare says. “Abusers are likely to continue their violent behavior if we ignore this crisis… Their children will need extra interventions and support at school and their families are more likely to experience negative health effects… Domestic violence prevention and services  are investments in public safety and healing that hold abusers accountable and allow survivors to stay in their homes safely and flourish.”

COVID-19: Locked in with an abusive spouse

The COVID-19 pandemic has considerably aggravated the situation. Lockdown restrictions have forced victims into a vulnerable space with their aggressors. The usual support systems, such as neighbors and family friends, are no longer available. 

Boston-based organization Saheli reported an increase in 911 emergency calls where their advocates had to assist non-English speaking South Asian Americans.

Meanwhile, the advocacy organization Domestic Violence Women United says that the coronavirus pandemic has added “multiple layers” to the atrocities of violence that are permissible within South Asian American households. DV Women United was formed by three women — Kasturi Basu, Sushmita Dutta, and Ms. Ghosh. Some being domestic violence survivors themselves founded the organization eight years ago as an anonymous support system for other victims. 

“When you have children in a violent relationship, they are not going to school or having any other outside interaction during COVID,” said Kasturi, a principal at Alum Rock Elementary School. “When they’re at home more often, they witness more abuse and may also be subjected to more violence themselves. It’s a completely different environment.” 

Kasturi also said the virus itself can be weaponized against victims of domestic violence. Many abusers prevent their spouses from seeking any outside support, using the pandemic as their rationale. In some relationships, Kasturi mentioned that aggressors even threaten to spread the coronavirus to partners, thus adding to an unhealthy power dynamic. 

After the fact 

Three years ago, Sharma was alone and unemployed in a country she says she did not trust. Today, Sharma is a qualified beautician and proud business owner. With Daya’s help, she established her own salon in Houston where she pursues her passion within the beauty industry. 

“Daya really worked for me, to show me how to do business. They helped me to get a business loan, taught me how to run a business, find clients, meet with people…they taught me [the way] you teach a schoolchild,” Sharma says. 

Although financially independent, Sharma’s fight continues. She is the mother of two children who are still living in Nepal and is struggling to obtain green card status in the United States. Sharma lived with domestic violence for more than 13 years, an experience that has colored her vision of South Asian marriage and cultural expectations. 

“Asian men need to compromise,” Sharma says. “Even my own father and brothers never gave my mother any respect. And [Asian] women need to speak up. They need to connect with other people. I want them to know how much power they really have.” 

She ends the call on a hopeful note. 

“I’m not afraid of anyone anymore,” Sharma says and laughs. “I feel like I’m flying in the air.” 

If you or someone else is struggling with domestic violence, please refer to the resources below. 

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

Maitri Helpline: 1-888-862-4874 (https://maitri.org/)

Narika Helpline: 1-510-444-6048 (https://www.narika.org/

Domestic Harmony Foundation: 1-516-385-8292 (http://dhfny.org/

My Sister’s House: 1-916-428-3271 (http://www.my-sisters-house.org/


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the Youth Editor of India Currents, the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, and the Global Student Square editor for Newsroom By the Bay. Follow Kanchan on Instagram at @kanchan_naik_

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

‘I Blamed Myself’ Says Sharma on Staying in an Abusive Marriage

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, South Asian American victims of domestic violence have fewer options than ever. As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, India Currents presents a 2-part series discussing abuse and its impact within the South Asian American community. 

*Certain names have been altered to protect the privacy of the interviewees. 

45-year old Mala Sharma met her second husband at a student union in 2012, and they soon shared a cramped Houston apartment to begin their new life together. Sharma had recently fled Nepal and an abusive marriage, gaining asylum status in the United States for her condition. She had endured the violent, volatile tendencies of her first husband for more than ten years. 

A local politician, her first husband had an unhealthy control over her life even after divorce, prompting Sharma to “go undercover” for fear of being killed. She says she trusted her new partner, believing that she knew and understood domestic abuse. 

She was wrong. 

“He was so nice to speak to in the beginning,” Sharma says in a phone interview. “But as I came closer to him, his real habits were revealed. He began swearing at me, pushing me everywhere…there was lots of verbal abuse.” 

These incidents only escalated. Sharma says her husband isolated her from friends and family, threatening to ruin her reputation if she retaliated. When she finally divorced him in 2017, he spent days waiting outside her apartment, screaming. He constantly harassed her online, on “everything from phone calls to text messages to Viber.” Their marriage ended in a restraining order and jail time. 

“I was so scared,” Sharma says. “I blamed myself, kept telling myself that I was a bad wife, bad daughter, a failure.”

Kasturi Basu came to the country when she was 25 years old to live with her once-divorced husband. Soon after she landed, she got pregnant. A little while after that she found that she had married a dangerously violent man. With two daughters, she was stuck in a physically abusive marriage. Over the years, the police came out to her house a dozen times but it wasn’t until police found her bleeding and insisted on documenting the episode that her husband finally went to jail. 

After several years, Basu managed to secure a restraining order, but her husband took her to court contesting it. When she tried to extend the order, he contested it again. Basu was emotionally and financially destitute after years of her husband’s manipulation — and so she finally gave up. Basu has been subjected to multiple divorce trials by her husband and currently is fighting the divorce in appeals court. Still, with some distance from her abusive husband, she was able to begin the slow, painful process of healing and recovery. 

Sharma’s and Basu’s stories echo one told by thousands of South Asian American women suffering from domestic abuse. Violence, insults, intimidation — these are only a few of the atrocities immigrant women experience and are slowly taught to accept. 

At the intersection of the coronavirus pandemic and precarious immigration status, Indian American women are more vulnerable to abuse than ever. 

Statistically Unsafe 

According to a 2003 study published by the US National Library of Medicine, roughly 40% of the 160 South Asian women sampled from Greater Boston, Massachusetts reported ‘experiencing intimate partner violence,’ including physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. Most of these women had freshly immigrated from South Asia within the past two years and had no family or social support system in the United States. The study also indicated that a majority of the non-US born participants initially had no knowledge of support services for domestic violence victims or did not have the bandwidth to reach out. 

And the numbers are on a troubling rise. A 2010 study published by the National Institute of Justice indicated that younger generations of Indians and Pakistanis immigrating to the United States today are much more likely to endure all kinds of partner violence than their older counterparts. 

New Country  

“Immigrant populations are more vulnerable than other populations”, says Zakia Afrin, Manager of the Client Advocacy Program for Maitri. Maitri, an SF/Bay Area-based organization, provides legal help, housing, counseling, resources, and a live helpline to South Asians in situations of Domestic Abuse.

“It is heightened when you are away from your home country,” affirms Bindu Oomen-Fernandes, Executive Director at Narika, a Bay Area nonprofit dedicated to assisting South Asian survivors. “Imagine…you don’t know anybody but your husband, you don’t know things like 911, you don’t have access to local resources, and you’re afraid of deportation.” 

Aggressive partners assert financial and legal superiority over their spouses, often by holding their immigration status hostage. Fernandes discusses how many husbands on an H1-B visa withhold their wives’ papers — what Fernandes calls ‘immigration abuse.’ 

“There have been cases where we question a survivor and she says she doesn’t even know her visa status,” Fernandes says. “And in circumstances where the abuser files for divorce, she realizes she doesn’t have her documents, doesn’t know where the passports of her children are. She can’t even make plans to leave because her status changes rules around deportation.” 

“Financial dependence is huge,” says Maria Arshaad, one of Narika’s program managers. “When these women come into the country, they’re not able to work. Even if they have a degree back home, [often] the credentials don’t transfer or their visa doesn’t [allow] them to get a job.” 

Without economic autonomy, domestic violence survivors cannot care for themselves or their children. Nor can they afford appropriate legal services and counseling. Sharma, for example, spent several months living with her second husband even after divorcing him. 

“I was working at a salon for $3 an hour,” says Sharma. “He was working at a local gas station. I did not want to live with him, but he convinced me to stay together to save money.” 

Even if a survivor can make plans to leave, where can she go? Restrictive visas and income inequality leave few options for South Asian American women. 

“This is not the end of the road. There are services available and the systems and communities have come a long way in recognizing that. Just talk with a DV advocate. Please explore your options before you give up,” urges Afrin.

Maitri and Narika are great resources if you are in the Bay Area. Sometimes the best, first step is letting someone know that there is a problem.

Find the second article HERE.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the Youth Editor of India Currents, the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the Global Student Square editor for Newsroom By the Bay. Follow Kanchan on Instagram at @kanchan_naik_

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

She Amid COVID

Violence against women is not a spatially or temporally bounded. It persists all around the Globe. In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. This Declaration defines, violence against women as ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life’. 

According to the World Health Organization, violence against women is a major public health problem that has seized the woman’s basic human rights internationally. Particularly vulnerable are the women in forced social subordinate status and less education because they are more prone to experience intimate partner violence.

In the year 2017, it was estimated that 137 women across the world were killed by a member of their own family every day. More than a third were killed by their current or former intimate partner.

These ‘Covidnary Times’ are extremely challenging and Neo Normal. The COVID era has made the existing ‘vulnerable’ section more prone to abuse, both physical, sexual, or mental. It remains a poisonous truth of our society, that women, even in the 21st century, still do not get the same status as men. The degraded state of women is visible, not only in our society as a whole but is also prevalent in a more severe form within the households and this makes women highly vulnerable in the Covid-19 Tsunami

Women continue to exist as a neglected bunch and their plight is often swept under the rugs.

Any Pandemic like Covid-19 is bound to have a draconian impact on the lives of women particularly those belonging to marginalized communities.

This is primarily due to two major reason: firstly, the women in India within a given household remain neglected which means even if they become symptomatic of the deadly Coronavirus disease there is a high probability of them being ignored especially in orthodox families that possess pre-existing patriarchy overdose; Secondly, because of the widespread educational deficiency which persists more in women than men, globally. 

Note that only 45.9 percent of women in India use their mobile phones themselves 

If one goes about analyzing the state of women in contemporary India, it becomes clear that women in India have been and still continue to be marginalized. And it is not only the women as a homogeneous group which is being discriminated over centuries but the women in many sub-groups of women which exists as the ‘marginals among the marginalized’ –  Dalits, tribal, HIV infected, sex workers, LGBTQ, and women belonging to a minority group.

Going by the official data, the National Family Health Survey in 2016 revealed some deplorable Statistics which we cannot afford to ignore. It stated that 28.8 percent of women faced violence domestically by their respective spouses, 3.3 percent of women faced violence even during pregnancy. 

The story however is no different for the women in America. In the United States, a man beats a woman every twelve seconds and women with lower income tend to face six times more violence compared to women with higher income. A woman belonging to Indian-American & African-American subgroup is more threatened with domestic violence. A major cause of female injury-related death during pregnancy in the United States is due to intimate partner violence. And a woman with any type of disability is 40 percent more at the risk of severe intimate partner violence.

Again one should keep in mind that these figures could be misrepresentative due under-reporting or no reporting at all. Women in India remain reluctant to report any kind of violence, primarily due to the terror they face within their given households.

Domestic torture of women is also confirmed by the National Commission Of Women, asserting a steep surge in domestic violence complaints during the COVID-19 lockdown phase. Physical abuse and exploitation of women have severe repercussions on mental health. Various studies suggest that the prevalence of depression is more among women than men in India.

In such times, it is highly unlikely that the required attention and care is being provided to women.

The discrimination, exploitation, and the disadvantages faced by a woman starts even before she takes birth and is being exacerbated by COVID. We must start thinking about our women.

If you or someone you know needs help, reach out to: Narika, Maitri, Kiran Inc, Sakhi, Guria India, ActionAid India.


Sujeet Singh is Political Science Assistant Professor, Delhi University (India). 

Priyanka Singh is an Economics Assistant Professor, Delhi University (India).

Help Your South Asian Community Respond to DV

We need to pay attention to domestic violence in the South Asian community.

Providing support, resources, and intervention to those experiencing abuse is incredibly necessary, but what do we need to do to get to the point where fewer and fewer South Asian people experience domestic abuse?

Working towards a culture where we begin to acknowledge and break down the hegemonic structures that have shaped our community requires active engagement from all of us, regardless of if our lives have been directly affected by domestic violence or not. In one of the few notable studies on the topic, survivors emphasized the need for community empowerment and education to address gender-based violence in South Asian communities.

This summer, Narika, in collaboration with researchers from Harvard, is conducting a study in order to change this status quo. By collecting this data, we will be able to communicate the prevalence and severity of this issue through statistics, which is essential in engaging the community. 

If you would like to participate in our ongoing research project and help us begin to make this change, you can take the anonymous five-minute survey here, and sign up for an anonymous 10-minute interview here. Participating will also enter you in a raffle for up to $100 in gift cards to a Black-owned business of your choice.

Data shows that South Asians experience domestic violence at higher rates than other groups in America. Information is skewed due to the reality of underreporting in our community –– the variety of social and cultural barriers that South Asian survivors face to even report their abuse, from immigration to familial stigma. 

In one study, 42% of the 160 women surveyed reported that they had been physically and/or sexually abused in some way by their current male partners in their lifetime; 36.9% reported having been victimized in the past year. However, only 11% of those South Asian women indicated receiving counseling support services for domestic abuse.

Organizations like Narika begin to fill this gap of support services by providing culturally-informed counseling and programming for South Asian women and families. But one of the most significant obstacles of this work is how in the dark it is: there is very little academic research on gender-based violence in South Asian communities, despite the unique barriers and situations this community faces. 

This lack of data and statistics to support the necessity of their work prevents us from understanding this issue completely and, by extension, doing all that we can in order to build a culture of empowerment and allyship to address domestic abuse at its root. 

If you have any questions, concerns, or would like to learn more about this work, please contact bhargavi@narika.org.

Bhargavi Garimella is a sophomore at Harvard College studying Neuroscience. This summer, she is interning at Narika where she is conducting research on gender-based violence in South Asian communities.