Challenging Cultural Discourses and Beliefs That Perpetuate Domestic Violence in South Asian Communities: A Discourse Analysis

Article excerpt


South Asians are one of the fastest growing immigrant communities in North America. Domestic violence (DV) in the South Asian community is at least as prevalent as it is in the general population, yet is massively underreported. Several reasons have been cited for the silence of South Asian immigrant women about DV. While some of these are financial, social and structural, there are others that arise from discourses specific to South Asian communities. The aim of this study was to examine the origins of these discourses using the framework of historical critical discourse analysis. This paper presents the results of this analysis and provides evidence that challenges the dominant discourses and beliefs that are commonly used by South Asian immigrant families to silence women. The findings have implications for health and wellbeing of South Asian women experiencing abuse and violence.

Key words: Domestic Violence; South Asian Community; Critical discourse analysis.


South Asians are one of the fastest growing immigrant communities in North America and form the second largest visible minority group (Tran, Kaddatz & Allard, 2005). Although homogenized as a single ethnic identity, in reality it comprises a very diverse population from distinct ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups who have varying ancestries, immigration histories and experiences (Tran, et al., 2005). South Asians include people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, and more recently, Afghanistan (Abraham, 2000; Das Dasgupta, 2000). Despite their diversity they have some undeniable cultural commonalities such as the value that they attach to family interaction, the maintenance of social networks within their cultural groups and the preservation of ethnic customs, traditions and languages (Das Dasgupta, 2000, p. 173).

No large scale studies on the prevalence of domestic violence (DV) in South Asian communities have been conducted in Canada. However studies conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom and anecdotal evidence from Canadian women's organizations and media coverage of abuse related deaths in Canada suggest that domestic violence in the South Asian community is at least as prevalent as it is in the general population (Choksi, Desai, Adamali, 2010). An American study that covered 160 South Asian women participants (married or in long-term heterosexual relationships) in the Greater Boston area showed that 40.8% reported they had been physically and/or sexually abused by their current male partners in their lifetime; 36.9% reported having been victimized in the past year. Only 3.1% of the abused South Asian women in the study had ever obtained a restraining order against an abusive partner (Raj & Siiverman, 2002). Clearly, domestic violence is a serious problem in immigrant South Asian communities, but it is massively underreported by the victims.

Several reasons have been cited for the under reporting of DV violence by South Asian women. These include financial dependence on spouse for a period of 3 years after migration to Canada (see Merali, 2006), poor English language skills, a lack of understanding of sponsorship procedures, lack of knowledge of rights, loss of supportive social networks due to migration and lack of knowledge about community resources (Das Dasgupta, 2000). Many of these reasons are common to immigrant women from visible minority communities who experience DV.

As Volpp (1996) clarifies, specific to the South Asian community is the 'model minority status' assigned by mainstream American society to this community. This status idealizes some minority groups over others because of certain perceived traits. South Asians are portrayed by mainstream media as law-abiding, hardworking, self-sufficient and enjoying happy family relationships. But this status has repercussions for South Asian women who experience domestic violence who find it embarrassing to ask for social services or police assistance and are unlikely to seek public assistance to deal with the abuse as revealing the abuse will destroy the myth. …