Categorized | Taboo

Domestic violence: traditional or current issue?

Posted on 02 June 2010 by .

If no one talks about, then no one knows about it. Such a statement echoes the ever hidden issue of domestic violence against women in South Asian communities.  Why is this issue kept hidden? Guilt, shame, and acceptance are three reasons why. A woman feels guilt at having brought upon her position of vulnerability, shameful to have her friends know, and has chosen to accept this domestic abuse as normal. If she does not challenge what it means to be domestically abused, then it is not a problem. Issues are defined by the connotations that we place on them, and excuses can always be made if we want to simplify societal issues.

One of these excuses is “tradition.” There is an unreasonable belief that South Asian culture has a tradition of placing women in such a downcast role. Traditions are the foundation of a community, which can be built upon by advancements and further diversification. When we demonize the tradition of a community, we demonize the community itself. It is not an innate South Asian belief that women are worthless, this is something that society has perpetuated. In fact, for arguments sake, South Asian tradition has a great emphasis on respecting one’s elders and on the pivotal role of the Mother as being most sacred and respected.  There is a spiritual respect for the “Matrabhumi”, or Motherland, and the respect of a family can be defined and portrayed by its daughters.  So how has it become, that South Asian culture is known to disrespect women? We know it is true statistically, because of what we see on the news and what is being explored in research. We cannot deny that high percentages of South Asian wives and daughters are beaten and emotionally abused by their husbands and fathers. The question is, why?

If we go to the root of the problem, we find ourselves in the midst of tradition. It is so easy to interpret aspects of a culture to fit into motivated agendas. If we are looking to find domestic violence against women in South Asian tradition, then surely we will find it. However if we consider the bigger picture, we will realize that it is much more complicated than this. Gender hierarchies exist cross-culturally.

South Asia is typically a patriarchal society, where women take their husband’s names and deal more closely with their husband’s side of the family. Many works have been written to blame this aspect of tradition on domestic violence. Yet realistically, there are also matriarchal organizations to South Asian society that see no variation in domestic violence against women. Statistics also show that the victims of domestic violence occupy varying levels of status in society. Domestic violence occurs from educated women in professional positions, to those who are in a “dependent visa status” situation.

In discussing this issue, we have two levels of analysis. We can choose to blame the foundation of the problem, or that which perpetuates it. One could say that without the foundation of an issue, the issue would not exist. In this case, the foundation of domestic violence in South Asian communities could potentially be considered tradition.  An example of a traditional practice that has been continued is the stigma attached to divorce. A women who is being physically abused may fear being judged if she were to divorce her husband. The fear of dishonouring her parents and ostracizing herself from her community causes a woman to ignore that she is being compromised.

However, another perspective conveys that without the current factor that perpetuates the problem, the issue could have disappeared. This is my problem with how this issue has been considered in the South Asian community. Blaming tradition makes things easier for us. It allows for us to believe that our current society is progressive and ideal in how different it is from our traditional past. Yet the reality is, there are newly found aspects of current society than only perpetuate the issues of the past.

What is it that is perpetuating domestic violence in South Asian communities?

There is no easy answer to this question, since it often varies by individual basis. However, we can find factors that influence South Asian communities to think a certain way about women, and how some people interpret this in a way that condones domestic violence against women.

A huge part of the issue, in my opinion, is media. For South Asian communities, a major tie to our “culture” is derived through media like Bollywood. If you have ever been exposed to Bollywood film before, you may have noted the reoccurring skimpy dresses and lack of personality that the heroine has.  She always bends her will to what the “hero” wants, and with romantic music and a dream-like ending, the reality of her vulnerability is overshadowed. So why wouldn’t South Asian men think that women are weak and can be pushed around? Bollywood focuses on a women’s aesthetic appeal and not on any other aspect of her.  This can account for the statistics that show the wide range of women who are abused, from professional to economically dependent. Either way men are shown by media, like Bollywood film, that women can bend to their will.  This belief can take the form of verbal abuse or even physical abuse.

Now we cannot make a causal relationship between beautifully empty heroines from Bollywood and domestic violence, but we can definitely consider it a major factor in shaping the belief systems of the current South Asian communities here. For those in Canada, movies are often the only tie left to their native land. This commercialized version of their culture is all they may have to hold on to, and this can be more deadly than those older generations that are holding onto their traditions.

While we analyze this issue through a consideration of both traditional beliefs and factors that are perpetuating gender hierarchies, the fact of the matter is that an open forum must be created. Domestic violence can continue, because abused women are not able to turn to anybody with their problems. This problem has been recognized, to a certain degree, and there have been some support systems created specifically for South Asian Women dealing with domestic violence here in Canada. Through humanity, education and increased communication, this problem can and will be dealt with.

Author:Myuri Komaragiri

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