Shamita Das Dasgupta, Ph.D., DVS
The slapping, pinching my skin until bruises appeared, and twisting my arms behind my back began three days after my wedding. I thought this was the strain of the wedding and will pass when we start living together. But it never stopped. In a new country who would I talk to, who would listen to me? He kept saying no one would believe me, I don’t even speak English! He kept saying he will kick me out of the home in this country. My parents don’t want me back, they will be ashamed. They gave me a big wedding and expect me to be with my husband forever. My relatives will say ‘she hasn’t been able to satisfy her husband; she must have done something . . . My husband says, “You have nowhere to go, you are my naukrani, and that’s how you will stay.” I have no choice.
As an advocate, I have heard some variation of the above lament in numerous South Asian languages since 1985, when I was fortunate enough to be a part of a six women team to co-found Manavi in New Jersey. Organizing around intimate partner violence against women in a community that took overt pride in being a ‘model minority’ was difficult to say the least. While the South Asian community denied the existence of all social ills, the mainstream anti-domestic violence agencies of the time disregarded South Asian women’s distinct needs under the argument, ‘you are in this country now, therefore…’ Yet, South Asian women’s experiences of abuse in the home were palpable enough to warrant an organized community based response that was linguistically appropriate and sensitive to cultural nuances. Manavi’s birth was based on this premise.