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Body Evidence

Body Evidence: Intimate Violence against South Asian Women in America

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Body Evidence
    Book Description:

    When South Asians immigrated to the United States in great numbers in the 1970s, they were passionately driven to achieve economic stability and socialize the next generation to retain the traditions of their home culture. During these years, the immigrant community went to great lengths to project an impeccable public image by denying the existence of social problems such as domestic violence, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, mental illness, racism, and intergenerational conflict. It was not until recently that activist groups have worked to bring these issues out into the open.In Body Evidence, more than twenty scholars and public health professionals uncover the unique challenges faced by victims of violence in intimate spaces . . . within families, communities and trusted relationships in South Asian American communities. Topics include cultural obsession with women's chastity and virginity; the continued silence surrounding intimate violence among women who identify themselves as lesbian, bisexual, or transgender; the consequences of refusing marriage proposals or failing to meet dowry demands; and, ultimately, the ways in which the United States courts often confuse and exacerbate the plights of these women.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4127-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    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...

  5. PART ONE The Body Chart:: Mapping Domestic Violence in South Asian Communities

    • 1 Understanding South Asian Immigrant Womenʹs Experiences of Violence
      (pp. 11-23)

      The story above brings together many facets of abuse in the South Asian community. Domestic violence, while it is not unique to South Asians, takes on new and complex dimensions within the South Asian context. Due to various cultural factors, abuse and its effects in the South Asian community become complicated, and the problem continues to fester.

      Ayyub (2000) defines domestic violence as a situation in which one partner uses various forms of abuse to systematically persecute the other. The threat of domestic violence to a community is apparent when we consider the evidence that untreated domestic abuse in the...

    • 2 The Many Faces of Domestic Violence in the South Asian American Muslim Community
      (pp. 24-37)

      Since September 11, 2001, Muslims have been thrust into the limelight in America. There is a great deal of interest in trying to understand the Muslim psyche. Muslims themselves feel scrutinized and under siege. Fear and suspicions are easily raised on both sides. In such an atmosphere, while Muslim religious and community leaders continue to point out the message of peace in Islam, others try to cover up and hide internal problems. In order to distance us from terrorism and violence in the world, many have started denying the violence that exists in our homes. As our outside world became...

    • 3 Minority within a Minority: Reflecting on Marital Violence in the Nepali American Community
      (pp. 38-52)

      Compared to many other groups of Asian origin, Nepali Americans have remained below the radar in regards to both scholarly and activist interests about their lives in the United States. The lack of systematic governmental data on this community as well as the tendency of outsiders to consider Nepali Americans as no different from Indians contributes to their veritable invisibility. There are very few and scattered descriptions of the history, socioeconomic profile, numbers, and concentration of Nepali immigrants in the United States. Accounts of domestic violence in the Nepali American community, a subject that is often shrouded by cultures of...

    • 4 “Virginity Is Everything”: Sexuality in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence in the South Asian Community
      (pp. 53-67)

      Although violence against women by their intimate partners and family members is a global phenomenon (Levinson 1989), there is a great deal of cultural variation in the patterns and manifestations of domestic violence (e.g., Ellsberg et al. 1999; Heise et al. 1994; Sorenson 1996; Walker 1999). Triggers for, responses to, and consequences of intimate partner violence may differ across cultural groups. As Vandello and Cohen (2003) put it, some of the reasons for domestic abuse may reside within the abusive male, but culture also plays a causal role by providing the scripts for the ways in which males and females...

    • 5 The Aftermath of September 11: An Anti–Domestic Violence Perspective
      (pp. 68-78)

      The attacks of September 11, 2001, temporarily paralyzed the United States, as Americans attempted to make sense of the tragedy and deal with personal issues of hate, fear, and sadness. In many ways, the entire nation seemed to form a support group and individuals shouldered the burdens of their neighbors, friends, and families. However, this collective support group was not always welcoming to members of the South Asian, Arab, and Muslim communities. These communities were victimized by the attacks of September 11, and many returned to their daily lives only to be revictimized by their neighbors and friends (Iyer 2003;...

  6. PART TWO The Wounded Body:: Emerging Issues in Domestic Violence Work

    • 6 Mental and Emotional Wounds of Domestic Violence in South Asian Women
      (pp. 81-93)

      Despite the growing literature on domestic violence in the South Asian immigrant community, research has not yet focused on the psychological outcomes of family violence on women of South Asian origin in the United States. Mainstream literature indicates that the psychological corollaries of being a survivor of domestic violence are extremely severe and long lasting, and cites depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide as the most significant of these outcomes (e.g., Jones, Hughes and Unterstaller 2001). Given the lack of research in this area, however, it remains a theoretical and empirical question whether such diagnoses and attempts at traditional...

    • 7 Fragmented Self: Violence and Body Image among South Asian American Women
      (pp. 94-106)

      Eating disorders are one of the least visible and thereby least examined forms of violence experienced by women in the South Asian American community. However, the invisibility of eating disorders does not indicate its absence among South Asians. As more women of the South Asian diaspora are willing to discuss openly their challenges with body images and food, they are helping to raise the community’s consciousness about eating disorders and the ways in which these disorders reflect the exacerbation of existing and initiation of new forms of gender violence in the community. Through a cultural and theoretical framework, this chapter...

    • 8 Silences That Prevail When the Perpetrators Are Our Own
      (pp. 107-125)

      Although the termincestis frequently preferred by criminal, legal, mental health, and media professionals, in my work, I opt for the termsincestuous sexual abuse(ISA) andincestuous child sexual abuse(ICSA). Both labels grew out of the movement Ato prevent child sexual abuse in the United States. In the early 1970s rape survivors and their allies drew powerful parallels between child sexual abuse and rape and made it a public issue. They pointed out that rape, like child sexual abuse, is not a “singular act of sexuality but rather an expression of power and violence” (Berrick and Gilbert...

    • 9 The Violence That Dares Not Speak Its Name: Invisibility in the Lives of Lesbian and Bisexual South Asian American Women
      (pp. 126-138)

      In embarking upon writing this essay, I feel a great responsibility knowing that mine is the only representation of lesbian and bisexual women’s experiences in an anthology on South Asian American women. Initially, I tried to assuage this pressure of representing my community accurately by soliciting the input and feedback of two other queer South Asian women working in the antiviolence movement.¹ The impossibility of incorporating the views and experiences of all queer South Asian women into one chapter soon became apparent, and my collaborators encouraged me to stay with one perspective. As with any sole representation of a minority...

    • 10 The Trap of Multiculturalism: Battered South Asian Women and Health Care
      (pp. 139-151)

      Despite increasing scholarly attention to the social underpinnings of domestic violence in the diasporic South Asian community, there is a paucity of research on how medical treatment of battered South Asian women is informed by both politically grounded misconceptions about South Asian immigrants and a problematic version of cultural sensitivity in medical practice. The philosophy of multiculturalism links historically grounded stereotypes about South Asians with the medical treatment they receive, thereby politicizing health care in dangerous ways that result in unequal treatment of battered South Asian women.

      In the health care sector, multiculturalism translates into cultural sensitivity in medical practice,...

    • 11 Ahimsa and the Contextual Realities of Woman Abuse in the Jain Community
      (pp. 152-163)

      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...

    • 12 A Communicative Perspective on Assisting Battered Asian Indian Immigrant Women
      (pp. 164-178)

      Much has been said and written about the need to include constituents’ voices in designing and implementing services and programs for victims of domestic violence. To ensure effective service provision, policy making, and planning, it is important to obtain input from the target population during decision-making processes (Flyvbjerg 2001).¹ Constituents’ voices, however, can only be heard or taken into account when planners, policy makers, and service providers are able to correctly interpret their language use and communication patterns. In this essay, I argue that both understanding and taking into account ethnocultural communication differences is essential for effective policy making and...

  7. PART THREE The Body Evidence:: Law and South Asian Battered Women

    • 13 Lawʹs Culture and Cultural Difference
      (pp. 181-194)

      Feminist activists and scholars have deep ambivalence about the use of culture in legal cases when seeking state intervention in domestic violence (Coleman 1996; Volpp 2000a). We understand that violence is a gendered phenomenon—that is, inflected by culture (Bhattacharjee 1997; Dasgupta 2002; Rudrappa 2004b), yet we are profoundly uncertain about how the state should arbitrate on matters of culture with regard to domestic violence. My own ambivalence regarding culture’s use in courtrooms arose when I served as an expert witness in Austin, Texas, in 2002, in the defense of a South Asian American woman, Sailaja Hathaway, who had tried...

    • 14 Middle Class, Documented, and Helpless: The H-4 Visa Bind
      (pp. 195-210)

      Unfortunately, Janice’s situation is not unique. Well-educated, English-speaking South Asian women who come to the United States to join their H-1B visa holding husbands find that the American women’s movement has no place for them. The legal strides that have been made on behalf of battered immigrant women in the United States have primarily favored those married to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. However, an unnoticed, yet substantial segment of battered immigrant women are dependent spouses of foreign nationals working in specialty occupations such as computer technology, health care, and academics. These foreign nationals are granted a temporary work...

    • 15 Battered South Asian Women in U.S. Courts
      (pp. 211-226)

      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...

  8. PART FOUR The Body in Action:: Activism and Transnational Anti-Domestic Violence Work

    • 16 Navigating Gender, Immigration, and Domestic Violence: Advocacy with Work Visa Holders
      (pp. 229-242)

      The topic of domestic violence advocacy with South Asian immigrants on temporary visas raises more questions than answers. In general, women who seek support from domestic violence agencies have a complex set of needs when responding to the abuse in their lives. Many immigrant women further contend with limited access to services due to language barriers, institutional racism within domestic violence and other social services, and pressure not to seek help outside their cultural community (Acevedo 2000; Bui and Morash 1999; Raj and Silverman 2002a). In addition, immigration history and residency status powerfully shape an immigrant woman’s responses to abuse,...

    • 17 Local and Global Undivided: Transnational Exploitation and Violence against South Asian Women
      (pp. 243-257)

      The story of Lakireddy Bali Reddy, a Berkeley, California, landlord from India who was sentenced to eight years in prison for trafficking and immigration fraud, is resplendent in thefilmidrama of more than a couple of Hindi movies combined. There is sex, money, death, fraud, fake parents, a dead fetus, smuggling, and a huge media scandal around a multimillionaire landlord and his two sons exploiting and sexually assaulting vulnerable, lower caste girls. And all this takes place in two exotic locales—Berkeley, California, U.S.A., and Velvadum, Andhra Pradesh, India. All the drama notwithstanding, this is a case of many...

    • 18 From Dhaka to Cincinnati: Tracing the Trajectory of a Transnational Violence against Women Campaign
      (pp. 258-274)

      In September 2000, I received a phone call from Bina inviting me to an event honoring television journalist Connie Chung and her ABC20/20team for the Amnesty International Media Spotlight Award.¹ Chung and her team were receiving this award for the report “Faces of Hope,” which had aired nationally in the United States in November 1999 and featured the experiences of two young Bangladeshi women, Bina Akhter and Jharna Akhter. The event was hosted by ABC producers and would take place at the Yale Club in New York. A number of Bina’s friends had been invited. “It would be...

    (pp. 275-294)
    (pp. 295-298)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 299-306)