Culture clash hinders help for Indian domestic violence victims

Increased domestic violence in Melbourne’s Indian communities, sparked by migration and money pressures, has prompted new research, writes Krish Soorkia.

Social worker Jasvinder Sidhu and researcher Professor Supriya Singh are conducting new research into domestic violence within the Indian community in Australia. They say that domestic violence within Melbourne’s Indian communities has risen and they believe the increase can be linked to settlement pressures and issues about household finances.

The January murder of West Brunswick woman Nikita Chawla, whose husband has been charged with her murder, was one of the catalysts for more research to be undertaken.

The research will undertaken at RMIT University where Professor Singh is a Professor in the Sociology of Communications. Sidhu is the founder of Jagriti: A Social Awakening, a network of agencies and individuals who aim to provide appropriate responses to family violence in the Australian-Indian community.

Jasvinder Sidhu
Jasvinder Sidhu

Founded three years ago, Jagriti’s network includes police, lawyers, doctors, academics, politicians and health and community groups. It’s activities include education and awareness raising.

Sidhu and Singh want this new research project to give Australian counsellors a better understanding of the culture, thus allowing for better assistance to be given to women.

“Very little research has been done on the issue in Australia, many Australian counsellors are unaware of the culture, this makes it hard for them to help,” says Sidhu.

Sidhu has done a great deal of work with Indians and domestic violence and says the issue is very serious.

He says, “In the past month I have received seven emails from different Indian women seeking my help and advice.”

Settlement and income pressures are behind much of the domestic violence in Melbourne’s Indian community, the two researchers say.

“Men often feel the pressure coming to a new country, it’s hard for them to settle, this creates frustration, anger, and can lead to violence,” says Sidhu.

Pressures stem from expectations in Indian culture. Couples must buy a house and send money back to the family in India. This is a challenge, he says.

Singh, a migration and money researcher, has found that defined gender roles and money may be leading to the violence.

“In India money is earned and controlled by men, when couples come here, both of them often have to work,” he says. “This can then create friction due to men feeling emasculated, taking out the pressure and frustration on the wife”.

Sidhu says Indian women rarely come forward for help, which stems from a fear of shaming families. The lack of many support networks that understand the culture is also an issue.

Sidhu says women are not likely to call the police in Australia. In India this is considered to be bad, due to both police corruption and the idea that notifying the police means something’s wrong.