In 2012, the Nirbhaya rape case shook the world with its barbarity and left Indians, both in India and abroad, reeling. However, almost half a decade after the incident, even as #metoo dominates social media and news, gender-based violence continues to affect women not only in India but also in the Indian communities abroad.
According to a report published by the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, 54% of Asian women in the US (including immigrants) have experienced some form of sexual violence. The report also cites a study of 143 survivors of domestic violence in the United States, in which 64% of Indian and Pakistani women reported experiencing sexual violence by an intimate partner. However, these numbers may not accurately represent the true extent of gender-based violence. Some women and men may not report domestic and sexual violence because of cultural norms, social stigma, lack of financial support and even their visa status.
Domestic violence, in particular, is a well- known secret in many Indian households regardless of their prosperity. In April 2017, the Indian American community in the Silicon Valley was shocked when a prominent member of the community was accused and proved guilty of charges of domestic abuse. In January 2018, a woman of Indian – Caribbean origin was found murdered in New York, she was a victim of domestic abuse as well.
In addition to domestic and sexual abuse, some Non-Resident Indians have been accused of deserting their Indian wives. Many of these “abandoned wives” have had to face social humiliation in their villages and hometowns. Furthermore, lack of proper paperwork, insufficient finances, and social pressure does not allow these women to take actions against the “husbands” who have abandoned them and may already have families abroad. However, gender-based violence against women often manifests itself even before a child is born. In India and amongst different Indian communities abroad, the preference for a son has continued. In India, sex-selective abortions and female infanticides are a big problem, especially in states like Haryana and Punjab. There is also fear that sex-selective abortions and female foeticides may be occurring amongst Indian communities abroad.
The impact of gender-based violence can be long-lasting and does not only affect women, but also entire communities. For example, female foeticides and sex-selective abortions in communities may create shortages in the labor force and even lead to a “shortage” of brides in the community. This, in turn, may create a hostile environment for the surviving women, and may even increase the risk of human trafficking and forced marriages to fulfill the demands of society with the gender imbalance. The women in such environments may then also face other forms of gender-based violence such as domestic and sexual violence.
However, efforts have been made both in India as well as amongst Indian communities abroad to create avenues for women to seek help and report crimes committed against them. The Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi recently announced that all NRI marriages solemnized in India would have to be registered within 48 hours, to ensure the safety of women who marry NRIs and reduce the chances of their abandonment.
USINPAC had the pleasure of hosting a diverse delegation of experts and advocates in the field of combating gender-based violence in India and abroad. Not only did that delegation provide insight into the vile and disparaging issues that arise from gender violence and harassment, it showed that more needs to be done, both in India and outside of it. USINPAC looks forward to raising awareness of this issue.
For Indian women abroad, language barriers, racism, and visa status may create additional hurdles to getting proper help. There are several South Asian women’s help groups and NGOs, such as ASHA for Women, Sakhi, and Manavi that can assist Indian women in the United States.
Other resources available include:
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Sexual Assault Hotline of the Rape, Abuse
and Incest National Network (RAINN)
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
The National Center for Victims of Crime