South Asian group focuses on domestic violence issue

By Nilanga S. Jayasinghe Special to the Daily Planet
Friday November 02, 2001

Among the more light-hearted fashion and Mehndi tattoo stands and the cultural events of this week’s South Asian Awareness program on the UC Berkeley campus, stood a booth dealing with one of the most serious issues facing South Asian women – domestic violence.  

Lining Upper Sproul Plaza at lunchtime, the booths were set up as part of a week of events geared to inform the public about South Asian culture. 

A domestic violence booth was sponsored by campus volunteers from Narika, a community based nonprofit organization dealing that with issue in South Asian communities in the Bay Area. Located in Berkeley, the group supports women who come from South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.  

Fliers at the booth included information on both domestic violence and hate crime awareness.  

“We decided to combine the topics because they both have the underlying theme of violence, especially against South Asians,” said Leena Kamat, a student volunteer for Narika and a senior at UC Berkeley. 

Kamat has been volunteering for Narika for more than a year now, and had joined the group with a desire to help other women.  

“Fortunately I have not been in a situation of domestic violence and I think others shouldn’t be either,” she said. 

She went on to explain the importance of recognizing that domestic violence goes beyond issues of country, race and ethnicity. South Asian women are especially at risk because of cultural attitudes about gender roles. Women are traditionally expected to be submissive and not struggle, especially with a husband. 

“We need to learn more about gender roles and how we’re socialized into believing a certain way,” Kamat said.  

She added that communication is important between partners. 

According to Narika’s experience with domestic violence in the South Asian community, women living in the United States with immigrant visas have been mostly at risk. These women are doubly jeopardized if they report incidents of domestic violence – they may be deported if their husbands abandon them and may not be accepted back into their own families after separation from their husbands.  

Because of the legal and social issues involved in such a situation, most women are reluctant to put an end to the violence, Kamat said.  

The issue of domestic violence is also not generally addressed in the South Asian community. “I think there is a lot of shame and denial surrounding this issue because sexuality and dating violence is something that is not talked about,” she said. 

The number of students, especially South Asians, stopping by the booth was limited, although many passed by and paused to either watch the dancers or to get a Mehndi tattoo.  

Kamat said this may be because there is still a lot of wariness in the South Asian community about domestic violence. 

Arti Agarwal, a third year UC Berkeley graduate student of South Asian origins, came by the booth interested in finding out more about the organization. She said she had not realized there were Narika student representatives on campus. 

“I think it’s great to have such a booth during South Asian Awareness week because it draws people and provides inspiration,” Agarwal said. She also expressed an interest in becoming involved with volunteering for the group. 

Jennifer Yin, a third-year student, commented on the importance of having such booths. This type of information is very necessary because Asian women in general don’t have many resources to deal with domestic violence, she said. She added that some communities make women feel that domestic violence is their fault.  

While there is more of an emphasis on fun during South Asian Awareness week, Kamat underscored that it is also important to let people know of the more serious issues facing the South Asian community.