Daily Buzz 7.21.2009

1.) Pak­istani Amer­i­can Elders Urged To Pre­pare For Reces­sion Chal­lenges

2.) Sec­re­tary of State Clin­ton Urges Stronger U.S.-India Ties

3.) Op-Ed: Arab Amer­i­cans and the Upcom­ing Cen­sus

4.) Think­ing About Domes­tic Abuse: Chris Brown Apol­o­gizes, But Wont Say For What…

5.) Mindy Kaling of The Office: “Liv­ing Alone Is Hard”

Interview With Shamita Das Dasgupta

Hel­lo, SAALT Spot read­ers! My name is Viraj, and it’s more like­ly you know me as the “Blog Intern”. I am a recent grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Urbana-Cham­paign, and I earned my degree in Eng­lish with a minor in Asian Amer­i­can Stud­ies. This past semes­ter, I com­plet­ed a the­sis regard­ing “hon­or” killings. While I will save that dis­cus­sion for (hope­ful­ly) anoth­er time, this research real­ly opened my eyes to domes­tic vio­lence among women of col­or.


     In April, I was lucky enough to meet Shami­ta Das Das­gup­ta, who spoke at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Urbana-Cham­paign for the annu­al Bal­go­pal Lec­ture on Human Rights and Asian Amer­i­cans . Dr. Das­gup­ta is the cofounder of Man­avi (New Jer­sey), the first orga­ni­za­tion in the U.S. to focus on vio­lence against South Asian immi­grant women. She is cur­rent­ly teach­ing as an adjunct pro­fes­sor at NYU Law School.

Dr. Das­gup­ta told me that, out of 160 South Asian women sur­veyed in the Unit­ed States:

-35% claim cur­rent male part­ner phys­i­cal­ly abused them at least once

-32.5% claim such abuse has hap­pened with­in the last year
‑19% claim their cur­rent male part­ner has sex­u­al­ly abused them at least once dur­ing their time togeth­er
‑15% claim at this abuse hap­pened with­in the past year 

While I was­n’t able to attend her actu­al lec­ture (inter­view­ing for grad­u­ate schools demands sac­ri­fices), Dr. Das­gup­ta was gra­cious enough to speak with me the fol­low­ing morn­ing. We spoke about a range of top­ics, from sex­u­al vio­lence among dif­fer­ent socioe­co­nom­ic class­es as well as con­nec­tions with reli­gion and the issues dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions of South Asian Amer­i­can women face:

“In the upper class, when a woman is raped out­side of the home, it is assumed that it is because she is expos­ing her­self. Women still feel as if the home is a safe place, and that sex­u­al vio­lence can only occur out­side of the home. On the oth­er hand, the poor­er class­es know that women must trav­el out­side of the home. Also, often­times, their “homes” are shan­ty­towns and are very exposed spaces. The poor­er class­es under­stand that sex­u­al and domes­tic vio­lence can occur any­where. The whole issue is of a woman being iso­lat­ed- upper class­es feel that if a woman is iso­lat­ed, she can­not be harmed.”  

Returning to her work in the United States, Dr. Dasgupta spoke to me about some of the narratives she has heard from the women she has worked with regarding religion and domestic abuse:

“There is this con­cept called sar­wan saha which many peo­ple abide by. The con­cept is often inter­pret­ed as “You’re the one who can change bad men into good men. Your respon­si­bil­i­ty, as a woman, is to endure”, is how it is read. Women think that reli­gious cul­ture is to endure- “My hus­band is beat­ing me because I am fail­ing and he is teach­ing me what I need to know.”  

After hearing these narratives from many women, Dr. Dasgupta said that:  

“I have actu­al­ly found pas­sages in Mus­lim and Hin­du texts that real­ly cel­e­brate the strength of women. One par­tic­u­lar Hin­du text says “God is not in the home where the woman is not cel­e­brat­ed”. When I find these empow­er­ing texts and show them to women, it is like they are awak­en­ing. I ask them- “Why is this pas­sage invis­i­ble? Is it not also a part of your faith back­ground? I real­ly ask the women to chal­lenge how and why tra­di­tion is cre­at­ed. ”

As a second generation Indian American woman, I was curious to see what sort of advice she has for me and other second generation South Asian American women: 

“For a lot of sec­ond gen­er­a­tion women, I see that their par­ents are push­ing them into mar­riages they don’t want-often with men from South Asia, and often with men who are South Asian Amer­i­can. If they choose to rebel, divorce, etc., their par­ents tell them that “you are not our daugh­ter any­more.”. These women are told that they are betray­ing our com­mu­ni­ty, [and that they are a] trai­tor to our cul­ture. It often dri­ves women away from iden­ti­fy­ing as Indi­an Amer­i­can or engag­ing with the com­mu­ni­ty”   

I wish they would not reject the cul­ture but rather claim a space with­in the com­mu­ni­ty. We are incum­bent on the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion to change us, and I would advise them to not let oth­er peo­ple define what your gen­er­a­tion con­sists of.”  

And, finally, as a bookworm, I asked her for a book recommendation- specifically, a book that has changed her life:  

It is a Ben­gali book. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I do not think that they have trans­lat­ed it into Eng­lish. It is called The First Promise by Asha­pur­na Devi. It is a won­der­ful sto­ry that dis­cuss­es many issues women face- I read it when I was a young girl and still hold it very close to my heart. “


Dr. Das­gup­ta’s words real­ly opened my eyes to the com­pli­cat­ed, and often con­flict­ing, chal­lenges South Asian Amer­i­can women face, and her words about “betray­ing the com­mu­ni­ty” is some­thing I have seen come up in my research about “hon­or” killings as well. All in all, Dr. Das­gup­ta’s pas­sion for her com­mu­ni­ty is some­thing I found inspir­ing and her pas­sion as an edu­ca­tor is some­thing I am very grate­ful for.