(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)
It’s believed one in three Australian women will be a victim of family violence at some time in her life.
No social or ethnic group is immune.
However several horrific cases in Australia’s Indian community have prompted questions.
Do cultural practices such as arranged marriage, the joint family and dowry systems have an impact on family violence in the Australian Indian community?
‘The Enemy Within’ examines violence in Australia’s Indian community.
Some names and voices have been altered to protect the identities of some victims.
Listen to the full radio documentary by clicking on the audio tab above.
“I think the biggest problem was the constant demand for money. My family members were repeatedly asked to send money, gold…in fact even if I needed to buy clothes for myself, my parents were asked to provide money for it. As it is, my parents had sent $20,000 many times earlier. Many times. And it is easy to just say $20,000 here, but when we convert it into Indian currency, it’s a very substantial amount.”
“I was abused a lot, physically and emotionally; they tried to control me psychologically, financially too – they gave me very little money. I spent many nights in the fear that someone will try to smother me with a pillow while I’m sleeping. He used to drink a lot of alcohol – he wouldn’t listen even if I tried to stop him. He would drink so much, that he would finish more than half a bottle of whisky at one go. Then he’d just keep sitting around and use abusive language – usually abusing my parents. If he didn’t have access to whisky, I have seen him finish three bottles of wine at one time. And under the influence of alcohol he would cross many boundaries and try to harass me in extreme ways.”
“I had resigned myself to the fact that I can never be happy ever again. I used to feel that there is absolutely no hope for the future, that the whole of my life will just be wasted away like this. That I will always remain suppressed and repressed, without a voice of my own.”
“My family used to call me from overseas quite often. My in laws would sometimes allow me to talk, and wouldn’t let me take the phone at other times. When my family members spoke to me, they would ask me repeatedly ‘Are you ok?’, but I never dared to tell them anything over the phone – that I’m not ok, that I’m in distress or anything like that. My mother was the first one to sense that something was wrong. Because earlier, I used to be a very happy and cheerful person. Before I got married, I was very confident and bubbly. But that had changed dramatically – I wasn’t anything like the person I used to be. I was broken. I was a shattered person.”
Arzoo, Malvinder, Seema and Aarti all left their parents’ houses in India with big dreams as they set out for Australia.
But domestic violence brought an end to their dreams, and some considered suicide.
“Somewhere within, I used to feel a sense of guilt and blame myself – that maybe I’m the one who is wrong. I didn’t have a husband anymore, my in-laws did not support me at all, and I was a burden on my parents. And people in the wider society kept their distance from me, and that would make me think, “maybe I’m at fault – my child and I are to blame for all this.” I stopped speaking to people. I used to stay lost within myself, confined within the house, not feeling like going out anywhere. Then there came a time when I became so depressed that I thought of committing suicide. For two or three months, I would constantly think on those lines – if I were at the shopping centre, I would check out which poison is the strongest. I thought my son and I should both take it – and I wanted to be sure that the poison would kill us for sure – that we shouldn’t survive it.”
“I used to feel awful and start to cry. I can’t remember a day that passed without me breaking down in tears. I don’t remember sleeping any night, without having cried. This had just become a daily routine – I’d be abused verbally; I would still force myself to eat, and somehow swallow the food with tears in my eyes, because I knew I had to remain living for the sake of my children. Sometimes I would contemplate committing suicide. But I couldn’t even find a way to commit suicide! I had no friends; if there was anyone who I could count as a friend in Australia, it was a white woman – my neighbour.”
So why do victims of domestic violence stay ?
Aarti and Seema explain that why they couldn’t just walk away.
“This is our culture. In our culture, we are always taught to “adjust”. And even our community seems to clearly send the message “you as a woman should not leave the family home. He may do anything to you, but you shouldn’t leave him”. I only stayed on in the family home because of the children. After the children are born, in a way, you become dependent even on a person like that. Back then it seemed almost impossible for me to contemplate walking out on my husband. I didn’t know how I would manage on my own, what I would do. There was one time I thought maybe I should leave the house, but then, your parents and the people around you always counsel you to “adjust”. They say, don’t make a decision so hastily, try to make to work. So that’s why so many years went by, because I was trying to adjust.”
“There was no happiness in my marriage. The only reason….everyone always says “think of the children, try to make it work, give it time and things will work out”. You keep going, you keep trying to make it work. Many people said to me, “it’s easy to break a marriage, but very hard to make it work, so keep trying”. But that’s not true. It’s harder to walk away than to live in it. It’s very easy to live in a marriage, because it has got its conveniences. It’s harder to walk away.”
However, even if the victim of violence does walk away, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee their safety.
23 year old Sargun Ragi left her husband Avijit Singh’s Melbourne home and approached the police and the courts for assistance.
However, on October 4 last year, Avijit Singh found his wife and killed her.
He was found dead at the scene.
They had been married less than a year, and Sargun had only come to Melbourne five months previously.
Her death came despite an intervention order and her relocation to a “safe” house.
The case is being investigated by the coroner, so we are limited in the details we can reveal.
Sargun told police the physical abuse began after her husband discovered she had begun a relationship with one of his friends.
She said in her statement that when Avijit found out about the affair in August, they left the house they were sharing with friends, moving to another residence.
She alleged Avijit then began to beat her every day, would only feed her once a day and raped her.
She said he would lock her in the house when he went away for the day, and she wasn’t allowed to leave or make phone calls.
Sargun left after around 10 days of this treatment and police successfully filed an intervention order on her behalf.
The intervention order clearly stated that Avijit should not contact Sargun by any means – including telephone, email or facebook.
Nearly a month later, both were required to appear in court over renewing the intervention order.
However, Sargun was too scared to enter the court room, choosing to sit outside.
Broadmeadows Magistrates Court gave special permission to the SBS Punjabi program to reveal the details of the intervention order against Avijit Singh and to broadcast the audio recordings of Sargun Ragi’s testimony at a court hearing.
Judge – Is Sargun Ragi present here
Sargun’s male lawyer – She’s on her way. She’s here today. She’s not wanting to come the court.
(Announcement on the courtroom PA system) – Sargun Ragi to courtroom 3.
Judge- This was from an arranged marriage situation, wasn’t it?
Avijit’s female Lawyer – Yes your honour.
Judge – Is this marriage actually recognized by Australian law?
Avijit’s female Lawyer – She’s on a spousal visa your honour. So my understanding would be that the marriage is recognized in Australia.
Judge – I presume Mr Singh wishes to contest the allegations which have been made, is that right?
Avijit’s female Lawyer – He does wish to contest those, your honour. He disputes the allegations, disputes the need for any intervention order.
Judge – I’m just wondering if there’s on on-going violence issue, or whether there’s an on-going visa issue, which is really, absolutely at the heart of this. It would be very helpful if she came into the court . She’s not at risk in the courtroom.
Sargun’s male lawyer – In between the time of this order and now, she will be alleging on-going phone contact from Mr Singh, and that, forms part of her fear.
Judge – I’m just not going to sit back and allow breaches in family violence orders to occur. This issue of a potential breach is of great concern to me. I’m a bit concerned she’s not in court. I mean, I can understand her feeling a bit scared or something, but we’ve got police protection here.
(Announcement on the courtroom PA system) – Sargun Ragi to courtroom 3 please, Sargun Ragi to courtroom 3. (Music)
Judge – Take a seat Ms Ragi. Ms Ragi what I’m interested in is, I’m told that there’s been some breaches of the intervention order, whereby your husband just telephones you.
Sargun – Yes. He call me from blocked calls.
Judge – Blocked calls?
Sargun – Yes
Judge – So the phone won’t display his messages.
Sargun – Uh… he called me, I replied him one message.
Judge – You replied to a message. What did you reply?
Sargun – Not message, I replied his call.
Judge – Yeah. Did you speak to him?
Sargun – He speak to me and he was telling me to take your case back.
Judge – When did he ring you?
Sargun – He started ringing me from 24th of August.
Judge – And then when did he ring you after that?
Sargun – He rang me 24th two times, after that he rang me on 29th of August, and 31st of August, 2nd September and 8th of September.
Judge – You’ve got some notes there. On which occasion did you actually speak to him?
Sargun – Uh… 8th of September.
Judge – Did you speak to him the other times?
Sargun – No. He was spoking (sic) to me but I was not speaking to him and on 8th of September he told me to take your case back. He has hacked my Facebook password and Yahoo mail so I can’t log into my facebook account. And he has also given my number to his friend and his friend was also calling me.
Judge – Alright. Well, thank you. I gather that’s going to be contested by your client, but, there is a need (a) for the on-going order for the protection of Ms Ragi. I’ll set the matter down for defended hearing on the 4th of December.
However, both Avijit and Sargun were dead before that last hearing came around.
Many marriages in the Indian community can be described as arranged marriages.
However, these marriages cannot be described as forced, because they usually require the consent of both parties.
There are also couples whose unions are not arranged by the family, but are described as “love marriages”
Violence can happen in both situations.
Jaspreet Kaur’s 28 year old sister Manpreet was killed by her husband Chamanjot Singh in December 2009 in Sydney.
“Yes this was a love marriage. But I believe that Chamanjot’s main motive was to come here to Australia. I think he didn’t really love my sister. Because if he did love her, than at the very last moment, when he killed her – whatever he did – he would’ve thought, at least for a fleeting moment, of checking what had happened to Manpreet. But he didn’t do that. He simply ran away. (presenter, during interview) – How many stab wounds did Manpreet’s body have? Jaspreet – Eight times on her neck, throat area, and more than 22 times on the rest of her body.”
Jaspreet says the physical violence began in August 2009.
“Manpreet told me that they had fought a lot that day, that he had beaten her up, her head hit the wall a few times, and she was quite badly injured – I saw those injuries myself. There was large mark near her eye, which she had bandaged up. I immediately suggested to her, “lets go to the police station, this is clearly too much now”. If he has hit you, we must lodge a police complaint against him. But Manpreet said to me, “Don’t worry about anything; he is my husband, probably he will become absolutely fine very soon. Given time, he’ll understand what a husband – wife relation really is”. Only on her last night did she begin to consider taking some step to leave him. In fact it was I who suggested to her on that night – the night that she died – I said to her, come to my house, and we’ll sort it all out together. She never ever came to stay with me, because she always felt that we are living really far away from our parents. And if she separates from her husband, it would be very difficult to survive here, so it’s better for them to resolve everything and stay together amicably. Even I went to their house many times and tried to counsel Chamanjot by saying, “start living happily; we only get one life; why do you always keep fighting?” He always said to me, “I’ll try to improve my behaviour, I’ll reform myself”, but that day never came.”
Manpreet’s husband argued in court that he had lost control because Manpreet told him that she no longer loved him, and loved someone else.
The court accepted that he had been provoked and did not find him guilty of murder, but of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
He was given a six year sentence, and is due to be released in 2015.
However, Manpreet Kaur’s case has been instrumental in the campaign to change New South Wales law allowing provocation as a defence.
Jaspreet says Chamanjot Singh should never have been allowed to argue he was provoked.
“If Manpreet did indeed tell Chamanjot that she didn’t love him and loved someone else, where is the proof of that? How can you say that provocation applies to this case? I feel as if everything that Chamanjot said in court was accepted in its entirety – Chamanjot alleged that my sister had an affair with someone else. He alleged that her lover was in Sydney itself. So I asked a question exactly about this point – if this alleged lover is in Sydney, then you must have looked for him. Did you find him? Did you find anything in Manpreet’s telephone records? When absolutely nothing was found out about any man in a relationship with Manpreet, so how can this be a case of provocation? Why did the court accept that blame on my sister?”
“There were many knife cuts and lacerations on Manpreet’s hands. Maybe she was trying to shield herself by extending her hands. There were so many cuts on her body as well. That’s why I ask this question – if someone loses his mind momentarily, then he may stab someone once, maybe twice. Will he continue to keep stabbing so many times? Manpreet had black marks near her eye – maybe he had punched her really hard over there. Her face didn’t have skin at many areas – I saw that myself and I don’t have the heart to describe what type of marks I saw on her dead body. That’s why the committee has undertaken a full enquiry on this case, they can probably see that perpetrators are using “provocation” to the detriment of victims and getting away with lighter punishments. So they are trying to see if this law can either be abolished, or at least, amended.”
In Australia, more women are attacked inside their homes, than outside.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch of New South Wales Police, says the scale of the problem is huge.
“It is a very very big problem. So much so that domestic violence is the biggest volume crime type that NSW Police force deal with annually. Last year in 2011, Police in NSW responded to in excess of 120,000 separate cases of domestic violence across the state. That is on average around 400 a day. So in terms of crime, that is the biggest volume of crime type that we deal with and daylight is second.”
Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch says these crimes are committed amongst all types of women.
“Doesn’t discriminate against socio-economic background, culture, religion, age…doesn’t discriminate. It effects everyone.”
Detective Superintendent Rod Journing is in charge of the Sexual and Family Violence section of the Victoria Police Crime Command.
“In the last twelve months we’ve had over 50,000 family violence incidents reported to us. That’s been a fairly substantial increase – 23 per cent on the previous year. So the reporting rate is, is going up. But I stress that is the reporting rate, as opposed to the prevalence. (presenter- during interview) – Because historically there’s always been under-reporting of family violence, but even at that number of 50,000 we’re talking about close to 150 cases per day in Victoria. Rod Journing- Yeah, a little bit over 140 cases a day, that’s correct. (presenter – during interview) – But it’s a staggering statistic that the majority of crime is committed within the family home. Rod Journing – A majority of assaults – yes, that is a terrible thing. The fact that a woman or child is less safe at home, in their home environment than they are on the street – it’s a very very damaging thing to society. It should be no different to whether it’s an assault on the street or an assault at home. It’s intolerable in any sense.”
This is true for all Australian women, not just for those of the Indian community alone.
New South Wales and Victoria police are unable to provide statistics about the Indian community specifically.
But they agree many women from non-English speaking backgrounds prefer not to contact the police, and the violence perpetrated against them goes largely unreported.
Police believe uncertainty around visa arrangements could be a big factor in the under-reporting of family violence in the Australian Indian community, especially among newly-arrived brides from India, who often don’t seek police assistance.
Rod Journing and Mark Murdoch say many Indian women mistakenly believe that if they make a police complaint against their husbands, their spouse visa could be cancelled and they will be deported.
“The Police are very much there to support and protect the victim. The visa stuff – we understand it. We understand that for some women, the difficulty they are placed in, if their spouse who becomes violent is their sponsor, and they feel they are trapped and they have nowhere else to go – could I just say to them that the Police are there to protect and support you, not work against you. They are there to work with you.”
“There’s been amendments, from what I understand, to the Migration Act, and its been introduced just recently, to cover those exact concerns. It’s really about protecting those partners that might be in an abusive relationship, where they do believe that they have to leave Australia, or their visa is going to be cancelled, if they report. We would just encourage as much as possible to, to come forward and report it. It’s not going to impact on any visa application.”
One Indian woman, who we will call Malwinder, was removed from a difficult situation with the assistance of police.
“My maternal uncle, maternal grandmother, many of them live in Canada. They called me again one day. Must be around 4pm one afternoon – I usually would remain in my room only. I overheard my father in law outside, using very abusive language over the phone. And I thought to myself – “oh good, perhaps I’m safe today because it is someone else’s turn to be abused today. But how was I to know that he was abusing my own Uncle.”
Within a few hours Police came to Malwinder’s home, where she lived with her husband’s extended family.
“When the Police first saw me, they asked me to confirm my name and then said, “yes, she is the one we want.” I began to tremble, thinking what wrong have I done? I’ve never stepped out of the house alone – why are they here for me? Then they asked me if I had relatives living in Canada, and I replied that most of my extended family is there, only my mother lives in India. Then they said, “your maternal Uncle wanted to speak to you and has been trying to get through for a week. They are worried about your security”. My mother in law, who was standing behind me said “Oh just tell these people you’re ok and come inside.” But I just stood there and said, “I don’t know.” I had numerous questions swirling in my head at that time. I thought that those abusive words on the phone were probably spoken to my Uncle – and I thought to myself “things have come to this now. Earlier they had only abused me or my mother, but now they’re using foul language on other members of my family.” I had remained quiet all this while for the sake of my family members and my family had remained quiet for my sake. But now I thought, this can’t go on. If I ever wanted anything, it was that my children and I should be safe. My children were the only reason why I hadn’t committed suicide till now, despite everything that had happened”. Anyway, thinking of all these things I told (the Police), “I’m not”. The police asked me what I would like to do. I said I don’t know but I don’t want to stay here. So they said, “Fine, collect your things and come with us. Can’t ask you to bring everything, take a few of your belongings and come.” So I went in, pulled out a suitcase and started throwing some of my childrens’ and my clothes in. My mother in law came into the room and started to throw the clothes out of the suitcase. She said, “You can’t go. Wait for your husband to come back.” I thought to myself, “If my husband comes back, I won’t be able to leave the house with my children and I probably won’t have the courage to take this step ever again. The police won’t come again – then what will I do?” So that was the only opportunity for me and I took it. I accompanied the Police to the police station. They contacted the domestic violence womens’ cell – who then came to get me and took me to a safe place.”
Family violence occurs on many levels, and can include emotional or psychological abuse or the witholding of financial support.
Another woman, who we will call Aarti, says the violence against her was not physical, but had a severe impact on her life.
“Usually violence is considered to be physical. But, not all cases involve a victim being beaten up, or people getting hurt and having wounds to show. Emotional violence happens just as often. You’re always consistently told that you’re the problem. So you sometimes tend to doubt your own judgement. I began doubting myself. I began thinking that maybe I lack something, I’ve done something wrong. Because in our cultural perspective, it’s not just the partner who is the perpetrator of the violence – their whole family gangs up against you and the girl feels absolutely alone. Like in my case, I have no one from my family here, but he had his entire family around him and all of them were supporting him. They would always say “No no no, our son can’t do anything wrong, she is the one to blame.”
“When violence like this occurs – the victim can’t show signs of this kind of violence. I don’t have a scar to show, or a burn mark or any physical evidence to say – here, this shows I’ve been violated. The wounds inside are so…. they run so deep and they hurt so…so.. so much that you feel completely isolated. You have no one. When you face loneliness to that degree, you just feel that life is not worth living anymore. When violence like this occurs, you think “it would have been easier had he just hit me, because that scar would’ve been easy to show.” But I don’t have any wounds to show. I can’t even tell anyone about it – no one even understands it. Everyone thinks “No, that’s not violence.” But it is. It is. It is violence to a deep deep level.”
Then there’s the case of another Indian woman, now living in Melbourne, who we will call Aarzoo.
She says she faced familial abuse at a financial level.
“I had a love marriage with my husband, and this was a huge issue for my in-laws. They felt “we got nothing”, but they had to accept the marriage under pressure from the society. But because they always felt that they didn’t receive enough dowry, they kept harassing me. They would always pass comments like “Oh, we got nothing”. They would tell my husband, “you should have married a girl from a family with a higher status than ours. Why did you bring a girl from a starving household?” After five years of our marriage, my husband died in a car accident. His death was….the start of hell for me. My in-laws said “we’re not going to keep this girl in our house now. She came into our house and we lost our son.” I was made responsible for that tragedy.”
Aarzoo left India to escape her situation and came to live in Melbourne.
However, she soon found herself destitute, and at her lowest point, fed her son food she found in a rubbish bin.
“After living here for a year, I called my father in law and asked him for financial help. Because I was here as an international student. My father paid for my international fees as well as for my son’s school fees, which were charged at an international rate too. But my father in law said to me, give us the child and take Rs 500,000. I didn’t get any help from them at all. They haven’t given me a single cent.”
Traditionally, under arranged marriages in India, families will introduce a prospective bride and groom.
If the man and woman are both willing to be married to each other, the wedding goes ahead.
Traditionally, the couple will then enter a joint family arrangement, where the bride will go on to live in the groom’s house, alongside the groom’s parents, brothers and their families.
But do these practices contribute to domestic abuse in Australia?
Aarzoo says her marriage was not arranged, but she did live with her in-laws.
But she believes abuse can happen in any type of marriage or living arrangement.
“My in-laws always harassed me mentally…always. They didn’t dare to do anything physically because they knew their son supported his wife. But I can tell you, mental harassment is far worse than physical harassment. Constantly degrading someone, demoralizing someone, casting aspersions on the character -in my case, they said I had loose morals and a bad character, that’s why I had a love marriage. Even that is very wrong. Violence occurs in both arranged marriages and love marriages. As regards domestic violence, whether you live in a joint family or a nuclear family, it can happen anywhere.”
La Trobe University law lecturer, Reeta Verma, works in the areas of family violence.
She says arranged marriages and the joint family system can’t be blamed for family violence in Indian families.
She says these traditions have been followed for thousands of years and argues that it is in fact, because of these very traditions that the majority of Indian families live in harmonious households.
“In India, we get married into families; joint families are our strength. So, we don’t need to think, “oh now that we are living in Australia, we don’t need to live in a joint family because it is the root of all evil”. That’s so wrong. My own father in law stayed with us throughout his life, and I never saw any clash there. It was wonderful because “Grandpa” was an integral part of my childrens’ lives from when they were infants. I can’t even think of a family home without my parents in law. So we should not weaken this strong point of our culture – it is our strength. It is so wrong to blame joint family system for violence and disputes within families. Making it out to be the root cause of family violence is absolutely wrong.”
Muktesh Chibber works with clients from a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds in her work as a counsellor at Relationships Australia.
She says culture should never be used as an excuse for violence
“I do not agree with this at all. Culture just becomes an excuse. No culture, no tradition encourages you to be violent or abusive. Till today, I have not come across any culture that promotes this.”
Nearly 100,000 Indian international students have arrived in Australia over the last six years, and still more Indians have come to Australia under the skilled migration scheme.
Jasvinder Sidhu works for prevention of family violence through his association with Australia India Society of Victoria, and the Tarneit Gurudwara (Sikh Temple).
He says the arrival of increased numbers of Indian students has increased the visibility of the Indian community.
“Our community size has increased significantly over the last 10-15 years. Over 200,000 Indians live in Victoria alone, which equates to almost 4% of the state’s population of 5 million. So obviously when domestic violence cases happen in the Indian community, they gain far more visibility. And of course, if a large proportion of the Indian population comprises of new migrants and international students, it’s easy to draw a correlation there – that there is more family violence amongst Indian international students and new Indian migrants. But this is prevalent in all sections of our community. It’s a wider social problem. There are many more issues involved.”
The increased numbers of Indian migrants coming to Australia will inevitably place increased pressure on social welfare services and other culturally appropriate services.
Reeta Verma says new arrivals have different issues, compared to more extablished migrants.
“When we see family violence occurring in the established Indian community or long settled families, in those cases, power and control maybe the primary issue, or cultural expectations, or definition of gender roles, in which they say, “You’re a woman, so you have to do this, or, you’re a man, so this is your job”. But in my experience, in most cases, couples simply grow apart, since they’ve been living together for 20-25 years. They grow out of love and even that can be a reason for family violence. On the other hand when we look at newly arrived migrants and international student community, there’s more of a settlement issue. I always feel, that family violence arises out of basic issues of adjusting from one culture to another. First of all, cultural shock is an issue; loneliness is another issue; anxiety is another issue.”
Dr Manjula O’Connor, is the founding director of the Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health.
She says family violence does not necessarily happen any more frequently in the Indian community.
But she says when it does transpire there are additional pressures.
“In our culture, we condition ourselves to keep a marriage going – never to break it. We are trained to believe that a marriage should last for a lifetime. On the one hand this is great, because it dramatically reduces the divorce rate; but on the other hand, if the woman is extremely suppressed, and living in jail-like conditions, not allowed to contact anyone on the phone, not allowed to ring her parents in India, facing more and more demands for dowry or money, then the situation is untenable. If the woman resists all this, she will be beaten up; if she agrees, then her parents in India… or in Punjab or in Gujarat, may not be able to fulfill such demands. How many people in India can afford to gather $20,000 and send it here to Australia? So on the one hand, the woman is taking a beating and being tormented, and on the other hand, she worries about her parents in India. She has nowhere to turn to. I’ve seen far too many girls in this situation. At least two new violence victims come to me every week, all with these kinds of problems. Every girl seems depressive, many of them mention suicide.”
There is almost an unwritten rule in Indian society that domestic violence isn’t something you should talk about.
People generally turn a blind eye to any domestic violence happening in someone else’s family; and if a woman dares to leave an abusive household and begins to live separately, then she has to deal with complete isolation from the wider Indian community.
Many victims we spoke to, told us that the wider Indian community, through its attitudes, exacerbated the hurt caused.
“People would always maintain a distance from me. No one would ask, “do you need anything, or bring your child to our house one day.” No, no one would say that. That’s what used to hurt me the most. I’m a self-respecting person, I’ve never asked anyone for anything. And there are many more girls like me here, in the exact same situation. We don’t ask for financial support – we only need emotional support…an ear that will listen to us – that is the biggest thing we need.”
“Emotionally you feel very disturbed when people turn away from you at times when you need them most. During difficult times, girls like me only need moral support – nothing else. An Aunty, an older lady…they maybe living in harmonious houses and you know, we’ll never cast an evil eye on their happy homes…but we only request them to come forward to women like me, to place a blessing hand on our heads and just say to us, “everything will be alright, dear. Believe in God, everything will be fine.” Sometimes, that’s all that we need to hear.”
Family mediator Reeta Verma says there is still a huge amount of stigma surrounding family violence.
She says she herself has had to deal with a great deal of criticism for her work.
“It’s a matter of shame, but I can’t even talk to my close friends about my line of work – about how I help men and women in violent situations. Because people are very quick to pass a judgement! If someone wants to tackle issues of domestic violence, and is working hard to find solutions for it, people will be very quick to conclude, “Oh perhaps she’s facing it at home herself, that’s why she’s working in this field. She must have a vested interest.” Or they’ll say “she’s only doing this because she’s a woman.” But Manpreet, I would like to say emphatically, that this is not a woman vs man issue. This isn’t a small issue that can be dealt with from family to family. This is a serious societal issue. And if our community is doing something to address this, this should be a matter of pride…this is not exposing our weaknesses. I’ve heard many people in the established Indian community saying, “Oh, they’re giving India a very bad name.” Recently, when the media reported many cases of family violence in the Indian community, the established Indian community began saying, “Oh we must do something. These new Indian migrants from India are bringing our community to disrepute.” Now we aren’t spoiling the image of India here. We are asking people to search their souls, and find solutions to the problems we are facing. Don’t shift the blame. Blame shifting doesn’t help. I believe one must raise a voice against domestic violence – it is your moral, social and ethical responsibility to do so.”
Those exposed to domestic violence say it is essential that victims speak up.
“I will only say this to you – keeping quiet in situations like this doesn’t help at all. Unless you speak up that your shoe is pinching you somewhere, no one can understand it. Only the person wearing a shoe can tell where it hurts.”
“Earlier I used to think that I should remain in the marriage for the sake of the children. But then I reached a point where I started to think – now I should break this marriage for the sake of the children.”
Relationships Australia’s Muktesh Chibber says there is a clear line in relationships that should never be crossed.
“Anger is the first warning sign; heated exchange of abusive language, that is the second warning sign; after that, it becomes physical. All of this is classed as violence – these are all degrees of violence. (presenter- during interview) – many girls rationalize, saying “never mind, he was angry, that’s why he resorted to violence.” (Muktesh Chibber) No. That is a crime. There is a law over here – there is a zero tolerance to violence.”
Jasvinder Sidhu from the Australia India Society of Victoria says many Indian women are reluctant to approach authorities.
“Whenever we sit down to resolve issues with families, the one thing that Indian males are most upset about is, “Why did she call the police? She could have spoken to my mother, she could have talked to my older brother or sister in law…why did she involve the police?” I believe that our families, our society regards it as a matter of great shame if things are reported to the Police, especially a family dispute.”
And many Indian migrants find cultural misunderstandings with authorities can make things worse.
Seema, who was emotionally abused in her family home, explains that authorities can often find it difficult to navigate the complex relationships within Indian families.
“Sometimes, its hard for women like me to explain to the authorities here, that if we tie a Rakhri to a man then he becomes a brother for life. Even if we are not related by birth, that sacred thread makes him our brother for life. Another thing that people here get really confused and surprised by is “arranged marriage”. They often ask, how did you agree to have an arranged marriage. That’s why I believe we need to tell them things about our culture – that we have certain rituals, which establish bonds and relations in our culture. I do agree that the system here is very good and helpful, but I still think they need more information.”
New South Wales Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch agrees that much more should be done to help Australian authorities understand the nuances of Indian culture.
“Rather than just provide a blanket response to everyone, we really need to tailor our response. And I think we’re getting better at that. The various cultural communities that are becoming prominent in NSW, we really need to tailor our services to them. Are we doing that? Yes. Can we do better? Most certainly.”
Det Superintendent Rod Jouning says men need to accept greater personal responsibility for preventing violence.
“I think we need to stand up as a community and protect the women and children. Unless we do that….particularly men actually stand up and say “Look this is totally unacceptable”, and assist those that might be impacted by family violence to seek help, to stop it from happening. We’ve got to really really stop that cycle.”
Jasvinder Sidhu believes Indian men need to be helped to understand their changing roles.
“Last year I dealt with a case in which the male said, “How did my wife dare to say “no” to me! In our families women don’t even open their mouths in front of their husbands. How could she dare to refuse me!” I tried so hard to explain things to him, but he just couldn’t change his perspective. So we’ve had these defined roles for women for a very long time – that they should quietly bear everything and ungrudgingly keep serving the family – this is a huge factor. As it is, women have started earning now and are contributing financially to the house, but their other chores like cooking, cleaning have not been reduced – she still has to do all of that. So the workload has increased but her time hasn’t – she has very limited time. And anecdotally I can tell you, if a husband does try to help his wife a little bit around the house, he gets ridiculed by others. I’ve seen a man helping out by doing the dishes, but his friends piped up “Oh! You’re your wife’s slave now!” So I believe that the males definitely need to think about this and start sharing some of the household responsibilities too.”
A Melbourne man, who will call Amandeep,admits he hit his wife after “losing it” when he discovered her in bed with another man.
But he warns other Indian men that violence against women is taken extremely seriously in Australia, and is not worth the consequences.
“Practically and pragmatically, I would like to say to all men – never raise your hand or resort to violence. Matters don’t get resolved, in fact they become much worse. Right now I’m addressing all my brothers who maybe going through all this…. I pray to god that this doesn’t happen to anyone else…but this country regards family violence as a huge crime. If you resort to violence, you can get legal punishment. So please don’t even think about it – be patient.”
Jaspreet Kaur, who lost her sister to a violent husband, says it is vital that victims seek help before it is too late.
“There are too many cases happening in our community now. Even my sister kept waiting right till the end that “maybe my husband will change, maybe things will improve…but my sister got nothing from him…nothing, except death at his hands! That’s why I appeal to you fervently, take a step as soon as possible, so that you can save your life. We only get one life to live – we don’t get another chance.”