Domestic Worker Abuse
Domestic Worker Abuse Creative Common

The recent arrest of Kashif Parvaiz in connection with the murder of his wife Nazish Noorani in New Jersey highlights what is largely an unreported phenomenon in immigrant America: rampant domestic violence among South Asians.

Accurate data is hard to come by, partially for cultural reasons – many women who are of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Afghan background are reluctant to notify strangers about their husbands’ violence – or are forbidden to do so by other family members for fear of brining shame onto the broader family. Moreover, the taboo on divorce means many of these women are trapped.

The notion of South Asian husbands beating (or, in extreme cases, killing) their wives would seem to be at odds with this ethnic group’s labeling as an otherwise peaceful and prosperous ‘model minority.’

A study several years ago by researchers Anita Raj and Jay Silverman revealed that an estimated 40 percent of South Asian women living in the Greater Boston area had been victimized by violence by their husbands or boyfriends.

Daya, a domestic violence organization based in Houston, Texas, also estimated that two in five South Asian women have endured some kind of partner violence.

Aisha Ishtiaq, an advocate with the South Asian Network near Los Angeles, Calif. told reporters: Domestic violence has always been high within this specific demographic [South Asians].

Raj and Silverman wrote in their report: “Findings from the current study indicate that immigrant-related factors may be predictive of more severe intimate partner violence for South Asian women residing in the United States. Social isolation, in particular, was associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing severe intimate partner violence; women reporting no family in the United States were three times more likely than those with family in the United States to have been physically injured by their current partner.”

Similarly, Kiran, an anti-domestic violence organization in the U.S., said on its website: “For many South Asian women, the Western model of intervention does not work. They often come from backgrounds very different than what is standard for the U.S. Ideas of family, authority, independence, and disclosure can be very different. Because of these differences, these women have a variety of cultural, personal, and institutional barriers that must be overcome.”

A blog on lamented: “The media does not speak about [domestic violence among South Asians] and the [Non-Resident Indian] NRI community refuses to accept it. The middle class of the Indian society, which is the ‘pool’ for NRI students and professionals, and also where there is a practice of women marrying NRIs, remains in deliberate and blissful ignorance of this violence.”

However, a number of organizations have sprung up in recent years to help battered South Asian women, including Daya in Houston, Sakhi in New York, Asha for women in Maryland, Saheli in Austin and Apna Ghar in Chicago, among others.

Studies by these groups also reveal that income and class cannot predict incidences of domestic violence -- indeed; many abused South Asian women are wives of highly paid engineers, bankers and software specialists.

Madhuri Patel, a 28-year-old Indian immigrant woman in Edison, N.J., spoke of her ordeal with the Asbury Park Press.

“The in-laws knew what he [my husband] was doing to me the whole time, and they never did anything about it,” she said. “They told me to keep silent. When my father met with them, he said, ‘This must not continue.’ They said I had to return to their home or they would have me deported. I never went back. I’m very lucky that I have such supportive parents and a brother who have a sacrificed so much for me.”

Debjani Ray, program and development manager of Manavi, a New Jersey-based group that helps South Asian women, told the paper: “A life of domestic violence is a life of hell. We can show [abused women] there is a different life to lead. We will never tell a victim of domestic abuse what to do, but we can provide roots. Even if they choose to continue to live with the abuser, we can provide the next steps. We can open doors.”

Ray added that often the precarious immigration status of South Asian couples leads to worse pressures for women in abusive marriages.

“With an H4 visa, you’re not allowed to work in this country,” Ray said. “You can’t have a driver’s license. You need permission from your spouse for many things, so life is limited in many ways. In a situation of domestic violence, a woman with an H4 visa has few options to leave the situation unless they return to their country.”