A Loss of Life, A Community’s Responsibility

Please read this op-ed writ­ten by mem­bers of the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions (Rak­sha, Nari­ka, Man­avi, Maitri) on the recent mur­der of Resh­ma James in New Jer­sey

A Loss of Life, A Community’s Responsibility

As rep­re­sen­ta­tives of South Asian com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions work­ing to end vio­lence against women, we are sad­dened by the recent mur­der of Resh­ma James, a 24-year old South Asian woman, just days before Thanks­giv­ing.  The trag­ic shoot­ing death of Resh­ma James at the St. Thomas Syr­i­an Ortho­dox Knanaya Church in Clifton by her estranged hus­band has stunned the entire South Asian com­mu­ni­ty. In addi­tion to Ms. James, two oth­er indi­vid­u­als were injured, one of whom also died.

This act of vio­lence — the last in a his­to­ry of abuse per­pe­trat­ed by Ms. James’ estranged hus­band — has affect­ed indi­vid­u­als and the jus­tice sys­tems of three states: Cal­i­for­nia (where the abuse occurred); New Jer­sey (where the mur­der occurred); and Geor­gia (where the mur­der­er was appre­hend­ed).    

As com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers deal with the trau­ma and grief of this inci­dent, it is impor­tant to broad­en our lens to under­stand the epi­dem­ic of domes­tic vio­lence that affects fam­i­lies around the coun­try from all back­grounds.   

The mur­der of Resh­ma James is one inci­dent among many that affect South Asians and oth­er women in the Unit­ed States.  In fact, accord­ing to the Nation­al Net­work to End Domes­tic Vio­lence (NNEDV), inti­mate part­ner vio­lence claims the lives of three women each day in the U.S., and guns are the weapon of choice.    

Through our direct ser­vice and advo­ca­cy work with South Asian sur­vivors of vio­lence, we know all too well that domes­tic vio­lence can affect all fam­i­lies regard­less of reli­gion, race, socio-eco­nom­ic sta­tus, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, age, or immi­gra­tion sta­tus.  Maitri, Man­avi, Nari­ka and Rak­sha are orga­ni­za­tions that address domes­tic vio­lence in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area, New Jer­sey and Atlanta.  Col­lec­tive­ly our agen­cies receive over 4,000 calls annu­al­ly from women seek­ing legal and health assis­tance, social ser­vices, basic infor­ma­tion about their rights, and refer­rals.  

Yet, the mes­sages that we often hear from with­in the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty are the same: that domes­tic vio­lence does not hap­pen in our com­mu­ni­ty; that it does not hap­pen with­in edu­cat­ed fam­i­lies; and that it is not an impor­tant issue for an entire com­mu­ni­ty to address.   From non-South Asians, we often hear that domes­tic vio­lence must some­how be unique to South Asian com­mu­ni­ties, giv­en our cus­toms, beliefs, and famil­ial rela­tion­ships, or that it does not occur based on false stereo­types they have about South Asians.

Women are bat­tered in every cul­ture, and the com­mon fac­tor is the social sanc­tion of vio­lence against women, across cul­tures. Our col­lec­tive work as a soci­ety then is to build safe com­mu­ni­ties where every­one can live free of fear.   We must bear the col­lec­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty of keep­ing every­one safe.  And that work can­not be done in iso­la­tion, by a few com­mu­ni­ty based orga­ni­za­tions such as ours. It has to be done by all of us, work­ing togeth­er.   

We ask you to sup­port the work of end­ing vio­lence against women and chil­dren in our com­mu­ni­ties.   We ask that you lis­ten to and empow­er sur­vivors in your com­mu­ni­ty.  We ask that you look at leg­is­la­tion that com­pro­mis­es sur­vivor safe­ty and speak out against it and to advo­cate for laws and poli­cies that pro­tect sur­vivors and pro­vide them with lin­guis­tic and cul­tur­al access to the jus­tice sys­tem, law enforce­ment, and shel­ters.

 The entire com­mu­ni­ty must be pre­pared to speak out against vio­lence and address it in our homes, places of wor­ship, cul­tur­al cen­ters, and social ser­vice orga­ni­za­tions.  We ask you to reach out to some­one who needs your sup­port.  Only as a com­mu­ni­ty can we pre­vent the mur­ders of women like Resh­ma James. 

Maitri, Man­avi, Nari­ka, Rak­sha – com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions work­ing to end vio­lence against South Asian women – are all mem­bers of the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions.  

Aparna Bhat­tacharyya, Rak­sha (Atlanta)       1.866.725.7423          www.raksha.org

Atashi Chakravar­ty, Nari­ka (Bay Area)         1.800.215.7308           www.narika.org

Manee­sha Kelkar, Man­avi    (New Jer­sey)     732. 435.1414             www.manavi.org

Sarah Khan, Maitri               (Bay Area)         1.800.799.SAFE         www.maitri.org

SAALT and Community Partners Issue Statement Regarding Recent Bias Crimes Targeting South Asians in New Jersey

You may be sur­prised to learn that near­ly 200,000 South Asians reside in the state of New Jer­sey.  SAALT’s New Jer­sey Com­mu­ni­ty Empow­er­ment Project devel­oped from a series of meet­ings in 2004 with South Asian orga­ni­za­tions in New Jer­sey, allies, and con­cerned South Asian indi­vid­u­als.  Through these dia­logues, it became clear that South Asian com­mu­ni­ties in New Jer­sey are under­served and large­ly voice­less in pol­i­cy debates. To learn more about the New Jer­sey Com­mu­ni­ty Empow­er­ment Project, or to read our report high­light­ing key issues affect­ing the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty in New Jer­sey, “A Com­mu­ni­ty of Con­trasts: South Asians in New Jer­sey,” please check out SAALT’s local ini­tia­tives page.

In response to recent bias-crimes tar­get­ed towards the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty in New Jer­sey, SAALT, along with sev­er­al South Asian com­mu­ni­ty part­ners — Man­avi; South Asian Men­tal Health Aware­ness in Jer­sey (SAMHAJ); the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can Islam­ic Rela­tions (CAIR-NJ); UNITED SIKHS; and the Sikh Coali­tion issued a joint state­ment con­demn­ing all bias crimes.  Read the state­ment below:

“We come togeth­er, as orga­ni­za­tions serv­ing South Asian com­mu­ni­ties here in New Jer­sey, to denounce the recent hate crimes and bias inci­dents that have tak­en place in our state.  The South Asian com­mu­ni­ty in New Jer­sey, with a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of 200,000, has long con­front­ed bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion, begin­ning in the 1980’s with the attacks per­pe­trat­ed by the ‘Dot­busters’ and the post‑9/11 back­lash.  In addi­tion, our orga­ni­za­tions — Man­avi; the Sikh Coali­tion; the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can Islam­ic Rela­tions (CAIR-NJ); South Asian Men­tal Health Aware­ness in Jer­sey (SAMHAJ); and UNITED SIKHS — have observed a rise in New Jer­sey, which we believe has fos­tered an envi­ron­ment where bias inci­dents and hate crimes can occur.

Today, we stand in sol­i­dar­i­ty not only with the Gre­w­al fam­i­ly — vic­tims of a cross-burn­ing out­side their home; Mr. Ajit Singh Chi­ma — an elder­ly Sikh man who, on Octo­ber 30th, in Wayne, New Jer­sey, was vio­lent­ly punched and kicked in the face sev­er­al times by an uniden­ti­fied man, and as a result suf­fered sev­er­al frac­tures around his eyes and jaw; Gan­gadeep Singh — a fifth grade stu­dent who, on Octo­ber 8th, was attacked in Carteret, New Jer­sey while walk­ing home from school by an uniden­ti­fied masked assailant that threw him on the ground and cut off his hair — but with all sur­vivors of bias and hate crimes.

We stand togeth­er now because we must say no to any act of bias and intol­er­ance when it hap­pens.  We stand togeth­er to ask our elect­ed offi­cials and law enforce­ment agen­cies to pro­tect sur­vivors of hate crimes and to join us in con­demn­ing them.  As a vibrant seg­ment of New Jer­sey’s neigh­bor­hoods, schools, busi­ness­es, and non-prof­it sec­tors, South Asians raise our voic­es to call for jus­tice and equal­i­ty for all.”

Please join us for a march and ral­ly in sup­port of the Gre­w­al fam­i­ly on Sat­ur­day, Novem­ber 15th at 3PM in Hard­wick, New Jer­sey.  The ‘Uni­ty for the Com­mu­ni­ty’ March will start at the Munic­i­pal Build­ing and end at the Gre­w­al res­i­dence with a ral­ly. 

Satur­day, Novem­ber 5th, 3PM
Hard­wick Munic­i­pal Build­ing
40 Spring Val­ley Road
Hard­wick, NJ 07825
If you’d like to attend but do not have a ride, please con­tact Qudsia:
(qudsia@saalt.org) or call (201) 850‑3333.

Addi­tion­al­ly, if you’d like to learn more about bias and hate crimes, check out a new resource by SAALT:  “Know Your Rights Resource Address­ing Hate Crimes”