Ahims and the Contextual Realities
of Woman Abuse in the
SHAMITA DAS DASGUPTA AND SHASHI JAIN
In the mid 1980s, even as the South Asian anti–domestic violence activists organized to safeguard women, the mainstream of the diasporic community denied the very existence of woman-abuse. It has been particularly disinclined to acknowledge domestic violence based on four commonly held beliefs: (1) the class-based assumption that education and affluence protect against intimate violence; (2) the concept of unbreachable family privacy; (3) the shame associated with abuse perpetrated by intimates; and (4) the image of an impeccable immigrant group (read: model minority). When such violence occurred, South Asians were either oblivious to it or asserted that it was an anomaly perpetrated by a few sick individuals and therefore deserving of little serious attention.
However, domestic violence remains a significant issue among South Asians in America, an issue that has not yet been adequately addressed or investigated. This study was undertaken to attend to this gap in research and enhance understanding of domestic violence in South Asian contexts. It explores attitudes toward intimate abuse in one particular segment of the South Asian community, the Jains. The Jain community is distinguished by its adherence to radical nonviolence, ahimsa, and strict religiosity. Our goal in selecting this particular community was to assess the pervasiveness of woman-abuse among South Asian immigrants and test whether religious endorsement of nonviolence can erect a protective buffer against domestic violence.
Religion and women's movements have had sharp differences regarding their approaches to defining and dealing with intimate violence. Although both groups agree on a woman's right to live in safety in her family, they tend to diverge around the method of achieving it. Furthermore, they differ on the priority allocated to