Body Evidence: Intimate Violence against South Asian Women in America

By Shamita Das Dasgupta | Go to book overview

Introduction

Abuse of women in the South Asian communities in North America is no longer a matter of conjecture, even though it might still be a matter of relative silence. In the past two decades, South Asian women's activism against domestic violence has indelibly changed the landscape of the community and the larger nation. The skepticism that many of us early activists faced when bringing up the issue of domestic violence in community forums is slowly fading, as is the palpable hostility toward agents who dared to air dirty laundry in public. Along with this intracommunity cynicism, the mainstream disbelief of problems of a model minority is also in the wane. Since the 1990s, nearly twenty-five South Asian community-based organizations (CBOs) devoted to anti–domestic violence work have been established;1 several books, articles, and special issues of journals on domestic violence have been published; many conferences have included sessions on South Asian American domestic violence; and some service and research grants have seeped into the community. Although none of this is adequate to meet community needs comprehensively, collectively they certainly testify to a burgeoning South Asian anti–domestic violence movement.

Besides validating women's experiences of violence in their homes in America, the existence of the South Asian anti–domestic violence movement underscores the distinctiveness of South Asians as a community characterized by culture, ethnicity, and special needs, as well as the uniqueness of ideas, issues, and intervention strategies that are effective in the community. The South Asian CBOs have successfully challenged the notion of universality of battered women's experiences and highlighted that successful intervention has to be culturally, emotionally, legally, and linguistically appropriate (e.g., Abraham 2000b; Agnew 1998b).

In a society where race and citizenship are organizing principles, although South Asians have some commonalities with other immigrants and communities of color, they remain distinct. Thus, understanding domestic violence in the community requires specialized knowledge and a singular perspective, one that

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