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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
US Asians domestic abuse woes
By Chhavi Dublish in New Jersey

The South Asian community in the United States is fast-growing and prosperous.

Counsellors from Manavi, a New Jersey-based organisation helping South Asian victims of domestic violence
Some 30 US groups help South Asian domestic violence victims

While its emergence as an important economic and political sector is lauded by many, the fact that this group is also experiencing an upsurge in cases of domestic violence against women is often ignored.

Many South Asian women have reported experiencing abuse.

Barriers of ethnicity, language and isolation from friends and family often prevent these women from being able to seek help and many of them accept it as a part of their life.

Silent suffering

The abuse can take many different forms - verbal, sexual, even severe physical assault.

Anita (not her real name), 21, came to the US from the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, in 1995 and says she was beaten every day by her husband.

I had three failed pregnancies, a battered body and three years with a husband who abused me every day
Anita, domestic violence victim

She started working but bore the violence at home silently.

After three years of quiet suffering, one day her supervisor at work noticed bruises on her arms and sent her to the police to file a report.

"By then I had three failed pregnancies, a battered body and three years with a husband who had physically, sexually and psychologically abused me every day," Anita said.

The police were not able to help her much since it could not understand her specific needs and after another four years Anita finally sought help from Sakhi - an organisation for South Asian women based in New York.

Here Anita got the helping hand she was seeking as she was led through legal procedures and economic empowerment lessons.

Today Anita is pursuing a degree in New York and envisages a bright future for herself.

Visa issues

Soma Dixit from Manavi, a New Jersey-based women's organisation, says most of these women are inherently limited by culture as a result of centuries of submissiveness, denial and passiveness.

The most distressing cases are of the women who want to get out of these relationships but are held back due to immigration issues.

Soma Dixit from Manavi
Soma Dixit says abuse often takes non-violent forms
The spouses of H-1 visa holders, who are given H-4 visas, have no right to employment; they do not have a social security number and no independent immigration status.

"H-4 visa holders are completely in the control of their spouses," says Shivali Shah, an attorney offering legal counsel to distressed women.

"Often her husband will mislead her by saying that he has filed for her permanent residency card and women hoping for a green card will continue the relationship."

Purvi Shah, executive director of Sakhi, says: "The H-4 status is particularly burdensome for survivors of violence because very few legal remedies exist to support women with this non-immigrant status."


Soma Dixit says abuse experienced by immigrant populations need not be violent or sexual.

Extreme isolation - no phone calls allowed to friends and family, no access to mail boxes - a spouse refusing to provide money and threats of deportation, are typical forms of ill treatment.

Rubina came to the US from Bangladesh with big dreams only to discover her husband was having an affair
Alka, counsellor with Manavi

In such cases, it requires extreme courage for a woman to take the first step and seek counsel.

Many call intermittently, always hoping that things at home will improve.

"Rubina (not her real name) came to the US from Bangladesh with big dreams about settling into her new home, only to discover that her husband was having an affair and openly flaunted his infidelity," said Alka, one of the counsellors with Manavi.

"Limited by immigration, Rubina could not work and called us. She sought counsel, but then she conceived and hoping that a child would soothe things, she stopped calling us," Alka said.

Five years on she has called again, and does so intermittently.

Domestic violence in the South Asian community in the US is thought to be on the rise.

Some 30 organisations geared towards helping victims have sprung up in the past 15 years.

Handling up to 500 cases a year, they advise the women on their various options and provide legal and practical help.

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