A Call to Action to Address and End Domestic Violence

Please read this state­ment released by the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions in response to recent domes­tic vio­lence inci­dents includ­ing the trag­ic mur­der of Aasiya Has­san in New York.

February 26th, 2009- As com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide ser­vices to, advo­cate for, and orga­nize South Asians in the Unit­ed States, we are deeply sad­dened by recent trag­ic inci­dents of domes­tic vio­lence that have affect­ed South Asian fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties over the past six months.

The trag­ic mur­der of Aasiya Has­san, a 37-year-old moth­er, who was bru­tal­ly behead­ed in Buf­fa­lo, New York, is the lat­est in a series of recent vio­lent inci­dents that has received com­mu­ni­ty-wide and pub­lic atten­tion.  Ms. Has­san had obtained an order of pro­tec­tion against her hus­band and filed for divorce before the mur­der, which occurred on Feb­ru­ary 12, 2009.

This inci­dent comes on the heels of anoth­er tragedy that occurred in Clifton, New Jer­sey last Novem­ber, when 24-year old Resh­ma James was mur­dered by her estranged hus­band at the church she attend­ed.  And, it fol­lows two mur­ders of fam­i­ly mem­bers, includ­ing chil­dren: one occur­ring in Novi, Michi­gan, where the bod­ies of 37-year-old Jay­alak­sh­mi Rao and her two chil­dren were found, and the oth­er occur­ring in Sor­rente Pointe, Cal­i­for­nia, where the entire Rajaram fam­i­ly (moth­er-in-law, wife,  three chil­dren, and the sui­cide of the hus­band) was found dead last Octo­ber.

Beyond speak­ing out and con­demn­ing these tragedies, we as com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and orga­ni­za­tions must strive to do even more.  As mem­bers of the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, each of us has a role to play in end­ing vio­lence.

Most impor­tant­ly, we must move beyond the ten­den­cy to reduce acts of domes­tic vio­lence to cul­ture or reli­gion, or any such char­ac­ter­is­tic. The epi­dem­ic of domes­tic vio­lence affects fam­i­lies from all back­grounds and reli­gious faiths; in fact, the inci­dents we describe here occurred in Chris­t­ian, Hin­du and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties.  We must call domes­tic vio­lence what it is, and work both with­in our com­mu­ni­ty and exter­nal­ly, to cre­ate safe spaces and envi­ron­ments.

And, we must under­stand and empathize with vic­tims and sur­vivors of domes­tic vio­lence.  All vic­tims and sur­vivors of domes­tic vio­lence face sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers in seek­ing and obtain­ing assis­tance, jus­tice, and sup­port. For South Asians, these bar­ri­ers become even more exac­er­bat­ed.  Many South Asians feel uncom­fort­able reach­ing out to those with­in their own com­mu­ni­ty for fear of being judged, ques­tioned, iso­lat­ed, blamed and stig­ma­tized.  When abuse occurs in non-mar­i­tal or same-sex rela­tion­ships, it can become an even more dif­fi­cult top­ic to broach.  More­over, a lack of cul­tur­al and lin­guis­tic sen­si­tiv­i­ty and tan­gi­ble legal pro­tec­tions can make sur­vivors feel that they have lit­tle recourse in exist­ing laws, the jus­tice sys­tem, law enforce­ment and social ser­vice agen­cies.

Final­ly, we must be ready to address domes­tic vio­lence pub­licly.  Around the coun­try, com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, reli­gious lead­ers and social ser­vice agen­cies must take sig­nif­i­cant steps each day to ensure that vic­tims and sur­vivors of domes­tic vio­lence receive the sup­port and assis­tance they need.  Our 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.

In light of the recent trag­ic inci­dents of domes­tic vio­lence, we offer three con­crete steps that you can take:  first, cre­ate a safe space to talk about domes­tic vio­lence with your fam­i­ly, friends, and sup­port net­works; sec­ond, encour­age your reli­gious, cul­tur­al and civic lead­ers to address the impact of domes­tic vio­lence in pub­lic state­ments, remarks, prayers and ser­mons, and set­tings; and third, sup­port orga­ni­za­tions that strive to end domes­tic vio­lence in our com­mu­ni­ties.

We send this call to action with the hope that com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, reli­gious, cul­tur­al and civic orga­ni­za­tions, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, allies and media will all take on the task of end­ing domes­tic vio­lence. For our part, we remain com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing our efforts to advo­cate against vio­lence in any form, to cre­ate safe spaces for all com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, and to press for poli­cies that sup­port and empow­er vic­tims and sur­vivors of vio­lence.

The Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions (NCSO), a net­work of com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions in 12 regions around the Unit­ed States, seeks to ampli­fy a pro­gres­sive voice on pol­i­cy issues affect­ing South Asian com­mu­ni­ties.  For more infor­ma­tion about the NCSO, please con­tact South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) at 301–270-1855 or via email at saalt@saalt.org

Endorsed by:

Adhikaar- New York, NY
Andolan — New York, NY
Apna Ghar - Chica­go, IL
ASHA for Women — Wash­ing­ton DC Area
Chaya - Seat­tle, WA
Chhaya CDC — New York, NY
Coun­cil of Peo­ples Orga­ni­za­tion — New York, NY

Coun­selors Help­ing (South) Asian/Indians — Wash­ing­ton DC Area
Daya — Hous­ton, TX

Ham­dard Cen­ter — Chica­go, IL
Indo-Amer­i­can Cen­ter — Chica­go, IL
Maitri — San Jose, CA
Man­avi — New Brunswick, NJ
Michi­gan Asian Indi­an Fam­i­ly Ser­vices — Livo­nia, MI
Nari­ka — Berke­ley, CA
Rak­sha — Atlanta, GA
Saathi of Rochester — Rochester, NY
Sakhi for South Asian Women — New York, NY
Satrang — Los Ange­les, CA
Sne­ha - West Hart­ford, CT
South Asian Health Ini­tia­tive — New York, NY
Sikh Amer­i­can Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund — Wash­ing­ton DC
South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er - Wash­ing­ton DC Area

South Asian Youth Action — New York, NY
Trikone NW - Seat­tle, WA
Turn­ing Point for Women and Fam­i­lies — New York, NY

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