Domestic Violence, it touches us all
I attended a fundraising event for Chaya, an organization that is dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence become successful survivors. Chaya also helps families come to a better understanding of how to continue with a successful model that does not permit physical, or emotional abuse in a family. I also has programs that help educate children to grow up with a feeling of respect for each other. As a board member of Chaya, I am committed to do all I can, to help our various communities not just understand domestic violence, because we all understand what domestic violence is, to one degree or another. No, my job is to help everyone understand that the demon of Domestic Violence lurks everywhere; it is as common among the rich as it is among the poor, as common among the “educated” as among the illiterate…as common among people of one faith, as it is among people of another and South Asian communities are no exception. Domestic Violence is condemned in all societies, but tolerated in all, because nobody wants to be the one to point to finger as close to home as our friends or relatives. It is like having a friend with bad breath, but seeing the nobody wants to be the one to tell him he has a breath that could kill an elephant…except the consequences of our silence in the face of DV can be catastrophic. The cruel tentacles of domestic violence reach out everywhere, they are just as present in the Muslim household where the man kills his wife, as they are in the “Western” household where the man is likely to kill his wife’s parents (local King County Deputy Sheriff recently) or, his wife AND his children. Often, counseling the man who is usually the perpetrator is not a good idea unless the man actually wants the counseling otherwise, he will go home to beat his wife some more because she “told on him”. Intervention is a most delicate balance which is all-too elusive and quite often, the only way is to help the woman get away (ONLY IF she wants) in safety. It was during the Chaya event a few days ago, that a VERY brave young woman gave a speech (below) in which she described her own ordeal with domestic violence. I was stunned that this woman should have suffered as much as she did and awed by the fact that she was brave enough to talk about it in a huge group of people who were mostly drawn from South Asian Communities…Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. Her speech touched me deeply. I obtained her permission to present it to a larger cross-section of South Asians in hope that it will awaken more of us to be alert to domestic abuse and to move to see if the victim is ready to be helped (DON’T try to help” people who do not want your help!). I made a few changes to her speech in order to remove her identity and to remove any connection with a specific South Asian group, because I did not want to rest of us to then feel as if we can dismiss her story because “it does not happen among ‘OUR’ people”. This young woman could be from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan; she could be the wife of a Microsoft millionaire or a taxi-driver, but the story would still remain the same. Please take time to read it and pass it along to your friends, we all must help raise the awareness of domestic violence, regardless of our race, religion or nationality.
Presentation by an actual survivor of Domestic Violence, at the Chaya fundraising event on May 22, 2010:
Hello my name is Y and I own a local small business. Many of you may be familiar with our place and the others who I hope will consider venturing there soon. I am proud to only be a Chaya supporter. I have been a volunteer with Chaya for about 5-6 years and prior to that I took Domestic Violence training classes at the Eastside Domestic Violence Prevention (EDVP). I am also involved in many other volunteer activities however, my most important role is being a mom to my beautiful 10 year old daughter.
I am very pleased to be here and joining you this evening as we look to the future and role of Chaya in our South Asian community. Our South Asian community is one of broad education levels, distinct ages, varying degrees of assimilation in to the Western culture, and old school thoughts, merging with New Age thinking.
With such a distinct population, it becomes very challenging to reach a common consensus on social issues. Regardless of education, economic status and family affluence, intimate-partner abuse touches many lives. There really is no predictor of family violence, it cannot be explained by a reason or personal traits, it just happens… I should know because it happened to me and I stand here today as a survivor.
I always thought of myself as a very naïve and gullible girl growing up, thrown into a world of two intense contrasts. Distinct as black and white or further yet, night and day. These two images represented my life, the American side and the South Asian. Confusion, anger, and frustration were common emotions I harbored for many years and well into my twenties. You see my family had immigrated to the Seattle area when I was about 4 years old, so I grew up with exposure to American influence, yet I always had a very strict and religious upbringing in my home. The two sides did not mesh together and there was hardly any room for overlap. I was expected to make very clear-cut decisions, after all, I was the daughter and girl in the family. More specifically this meant nothing more than being persuaded to make the sacrifices and living life in duality. I was allowed to live in the dorms at college, but instructed to come home on the weekends. I was encouraged to pursue higher education and fulfill a satisfying career yet I was obligated to marry into an arranged marriage; a stranger, who I was to share my life’s miseries and hopes with. I had no choice or alternatives; I was a girl, thus I was to sacrifice my self worth and identity to please my family.
It was a miserable union from day one, and I could sense it but was this just really how marriage was? I asked myself this and contemplated this terrible notion for weeks, and then months, and slowly into long years. I was thrust into a life with a man I barely knew and shared no common interests with. He quickly grasped my naivety and my need to please my family and others around me. I didn’t know how my surroundings shifted and slowly life became more exhausting, the arguments intensified, and I was continually blamed. I began to doubt my judgment and reasoning and couldn’t figure out the how to approach this man. He became increasingly hostile as the weeks passed and months rolled by. I was walking on eggshells every time he entered the room, not knowing what I would say would trigger the next barrage of profanity and his incessant mental and emotional blows to me.
Fearing his next outburst I began to encourage my parents and family to visit me less so that I could deal with the situation on my own. How could I let them know that the truth was he couldn’t stand any of my family and friends? Slowly he pushed my loved ones away with his outrages of temper and physical violence. I feared for my life many times and questioned the point of marriage if this is the insanity that it really was.
How could I know any better since this was all I knew to be? I know you ask me, isn’t it just that simple to walk out the door and just leave? The truth is that this is the most difficult decision to make. Abuse is a cycle and over time the situation blinds you to the truth and you become emotionally and psychologically dependent on this person. No one chooses to be in an abusive situation. It happens over time and develops and then you are already buried deep into the ugly claws of abuse.
I feared my parent’s disapproval for not making my marriage work. After all, my cousins all had arranged marriages and according to them, “good South Asian girls listen to their parents and they work hard on having a successful marriage”. I was raised with these ideals, so I couldn’t disappoint them. I suffered internally and mentally, and endured the burden of living in this hell. I was hopeless and miserable in this tumultuous relationship and constantly thought of suicide. That was my only way out I thought, but I had one huge responsibility; I had a child now. I had a daughter with this man who I despised and loathed, yet I could not bear to leave her motherless. I had to live for her, I had to survive this hell for her, and I had to get her out so she could live without fear just like I needed to. We had to leave together so I could give my daughter the life she deserved.
My renewed vow to my daughter is the sole reason I am here today. That is the only motivation that gave me strength after he completely isolated me and he told me I didn’t deserve him. In his words, he deserved someone that was beautiful and tall and sophisticated and not awkward and ugly as he would call me. I lived only with him, the abuser and with my thoughts of guilt and conscience planning an escape the majority of the hours.
I finally called the police one day after I could not take anymore. I know in my heart that God gave me the strength that evening to make the decision I should have 3 years prior but did not have the courage. That was the beginning of my awakening in my new life. I left the old Y and searched within myself for many years.
I lost lots of extended family and friends and the community had much to gossip about at the local faith-places. I stayed away from the community for 7 months straight after my restraining order was put in place but I didn’t cry myself to sleep every night. It took years to finally come to a very important resolution; I finally could say with honesty that it wasn’t my fault for what happened. I harbored feelings of vengeance and hatred towards my ex-husband but I finally forgave him years later. I don’t think I will ever forget the horrid memories, but they are buried deep within my subconscious somewhere. Although, the pain has subsided the images remain clear.
As a survivor I have now become an activist for other women. I know too well the feelings and emotions that keep ruminating in an abused woman. Lack of self worth, mistrust, need for approval, and the shame. The shame in the situation, the shame in you as an educated woman who allowed herself to be put in a circumstance such as this. It’s possible because it has nothing to do with credentials but rather, with an unfortunate set of circumstances. But it’s not acceptable and should not be tolerated.
As a divorced South Asian woman with a child, life has not been easy, especially living in King County. South Asuians have been bluntly cruel in their comments and blaming me for allowing my daughter to be fatherless. It is difficult enough to raise a child, but to allow our community to engage in its self-righteous attitude and finger pointing makes it much harder.
I work for change, I advocate change, and I am here to ask all of you to help plant the seeds of change. We need the community to merge together and unite. We have this notion of “that’s a shame but oh well, that doesn’t affect me.” What if that was your sister or your daughter? We need positive guidance from our faith-houses and community organizations, organizations such as Chaya that embrace the gaps in our culture, the generations, and the genders. Unhealthy relationships breed unhealthy lives and communities.
I envision a Chaya that helps to bridge the shortfalls of our South Asian community.
We can no longer dictate our children live in duality. How can they expect peace in their life while simultaneously dwelling in confusion? It just doesn’t work that way. We have to emerge as leaders in our community and begin to shift our perspective in order for others to follow suit. We all deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.
Bottom line. Lets support each other, be proactive in our beliefs and stop allowing women and innocent people to be in situations that are harmful and endanger their emotional and physical well–being.
I ask all of you today to leave here tonight and question your purpose in life and have you fulfilled it? Be honest with yourself and really dig deep to find that inner voice. Once we all believe our greater purpose and come to realize it, I think our community and more specifically our South Asian community will benefit from the passion and heart you all embody. Someone like me, who years ago, was on the verge of ending her life, and now has become an activist. Lets plant the seeds of change together.
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