Battered South Asian Women
in U.S. Courts
SHAMITA DAS DASGUPTA
To end men's violence against their female partners, the U.S.-based anti–domestic violence activists paid special attention to modifying the criminal legal system (CLS) to prepare it to play a critical and sensitive role in the lives of battered women (McMahon and Pence 2003; Pence 1999, 2001; Weisberg 1996). Today, many advocates and policy makers consider the mandatory arrest and subsequent legal penalization in the courts (e.g., no drop prosecution) effective deterrents for batterers, as these evoke the formidable powers of the state. Regardless of the efficacy of these methods, domestic violence laws and policies differentially affect battered women who live at differing crossroads of race, class, sexuality, ability, and citizenship (Coker2000, 2001; Dasgupta 1998b; Mills 1999; Ruttenberg 1994; Visweswaran 2004). Battered immigrant women of color, caught at the intersections of these various factors, often fall through the cracks of the legal and social service systems supposedly erected to protect all battered women.
In this chapter, I cull the experiences of nine advocates, three attorneys, and two academics who have assisted and, on behalf of South Asian battered women, represented and/or testified as cultural experts in U.S. courts.1 Added to this is the knowledge that I have gathered over the past twenty-five years as a battered women's advocate, academic, community organizer, and South Asian cultural expert. The interviewees were all women and, except for two, of South Asian descent. Seven of the advocates I interviewed worked in South Asian community-based organizations and two in mainstream anti–domestic violence agencies. All the interviewees have supported, represented, and/or advocated for South Asian battered women engaged in the U.S. legal system. Through semistructured interviews, I attempted to explore the myriad problems South Asian battered women encounter when they seek justice in U.S. Courts.