Prevalence of domestic violence within South Asian Americans may be much higher than the general US population, says lawyer, social activist and author Anu Peshawaria.
Anu Peshawaria, a federal immigration and international law attorney, is also a social activist, author, speaker, legal advisor and mentor to several tech companies and non-profits in Silicon Valley. She has practiced in the Supreme Court of the United States, Supreme Court of Washington, and the Supreme Court of India for more than 35 years. She has also served as the legal advisor to the Embassy of India, Washington, DC and Indian consulates in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Houston.
She has also authored three books on domestic violence: Never Again, which was published recently, The Immigrant’s Dream, and Lives on the Brink.
In a conversation with the American Bazaar, Peshawaria talks about various aspects of domestic violence among South Asian Americans.
Why do you think it was important to address domestic violence in South Asian community?
It is necessary to address domestic violence issues faced by Indian and South Asian women from India and elsewhere in South Asia because they marry Indian/South Asian men living in the United States and end up in violent or abusive domestic situations and many of those reasons are unique for several reasons.
Perhaps the most important one is that many of them are either completely unprepared or ill-prepared to deal with it because of the fact they find themselves in a wholly new sociocultural milieu in a country some 10,000 miles from India and other South Asian countries. Many of them fall into such relationships even before they have had the time to familiarize themselves with their immediate surroundings, let alone social and legal services available to them.
Secondly the issues are so complex that no amount of legal or social intervention is able to resolve these situations.
Thirdly the laws of immigration are so complicated that nobody really understands the effect it has on domestic relationships.
Lastly the resources available to women are very limited and a huge amount of social stigma and legal implications hold them back from reporting the crime.
Do you feel denial about domestic violence has done more damage in the past in the community?
Yes, it has. The women in past kept everything to themselves and suffered the violence due to social stigmas. They begin to believe everything they are told, that they are worthless, that they have no one except them, that they are incapable of making it alone in this foreign country where they do not know the rules, where you might not know the language. However, the women these days have overcome these obstacles and have started to call for help.
What do you suggest should be done to build a support system for women trapped in abusive relationships so that they can come ahead and talk about their situation?
Indian women are inculcated to keep such matters to ourselves. It is extremely difficult to overcome this tendency, especially when you find yourself in a strange land with unfamiliar people. Your husband may have been good to you at one time, but is now behaving like a cold, cruel monster. His terror tactics, and perhaps those of his family, are designed to keep you in line, to make sure you are too scared to ask for help. Every year, I have educated numerous women and families in remote areas of India and the United States, written books and article about the issue. Three of my books have given detailed advises to the government of the United States, as well as India, to what kind of preventive measure can be taken. They are The Immigrant’s Dream, Lives on the Brink and Never Again. I strongly believe just as #MeToo has shaken the deeply institutionalized, as well as individualized, sexual assault and abuse to their core, there is a need for what I call #NeverAgain movement against domestic violence and abuse. The time is now.
Over the years, has there been any case or incident that personally shook you and showed you the ugly face of domestic violence amongst South Asians?
Not a particular or a personal incident but the number of calls and e-mails I receive from women who are in desperate situations is astonishing. As an immigration lawyer, who has worked with these cases for years, I am in a position to help, and I go out of my way to provide support beyond legal advice. Fighting these cases is not easy without money or governmental support. Some girls have been left in India never to see their children again, while others have given birth to kids who never got any love, or support and don’t even know who their father is. The ones who fight the system go crazy trying to understand the hoops of international law while others just give up and stay depressed and sometimes suicidal.
What shocking revelations have you found about the occurrence of domestic violence in Indian American community? Are there any numbers/statistics or cases that show the extent of the problem?
Although there have been no national or statewide studies of Indian/South Asian women and domestic violence in the United States, there is reason to believe that this is a growing problem. Indian Americans are a reasonably large group of people. According to the US Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey, there are 3,982,398 multi-race, multi-ethnic and single-race Asian Indians, of which 3,699,957 are single race. According to the recent survey in the Boston area, 40.8 percent of South Asian women reported that they were physically or sexually abused by the male partner in their lifetime. The same survey concluded that 36.9 percent of the surveyed women reported some form of abuse by their partner in the past year. (Raj and Silverman, 2002). This figure is much higher than that of the general US population. (28 percent, according to UNICEF, 2000). Nearly 90 Percent of the women were immigrants.
(Anu Peshawaria is currently a senior Attorney at the Anu Attorney Professional Law Group, PLLC. She can be reached through her website, www.anuattorney.com.)