This episode features Sujata Warrier where we talk about patriarchy and the cultural norms that are specific to the South Asian diaspora. We discuss how these play an underlying role in domestic violence and other forms of gender based violence. We discuss how these have changed over the decades and how some norms have evolved in current times.
Welcome to episode # two of the Halt, Help. Heal from Domestic violence podcast. This podcast is from Saathi of Rochester, a nonprofit organization for helping south asian victims of domestic violence. I am Deepthi Rao your host today, we’re going to talk about how cultural issues and patriarchy form an underlying role in domestic violence.
Halt,Help and heal from domestic violence is a podcast where we will be talking about issues related to domestic violence and adverse childhood experiences.
[Deepthi] Welcome welcome. Welcome. A very warm welcome to all of you listening to this show. If this is your first time listening to this show,
If you have listened to our other episodes, we are so glad you’re back and welcome back
Today. I have Sujata Warrier on our show. Sujata Warrier is the chief strategy officer for the Battered Women’s Justice Project. She trains and provides technical assistance to professionals in various criminal justice systems. She received her PhD from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She has written and published numerous articles on violence against women in the international context. She has worked in many international settings, including Iraq Bangladesh, Egypt Russia India, many others. She has also served after being appointed by the attorney general to the Federal Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women’s Advisory Board.
So Sujata, you have a very impressive bio.
How did you get involved in helping domestic violence victims?
[Sujata] Thank you Deepthi and thank you Saathi for inviting me to be part of this podcast. It’s really exciting given Saathi’s long history on doing the work and my long history with Saathi. And so this is an exciting opportunity to share with you some ideas on, you know what it looks like, what domestic violence looks like in South Asia and in particular with immigrants from South Asia in the U. S. So it it’s interesting when I think about how I came into this work, I didn’t quite.. I came into it fairly tangentially because growing up in India which is where I grew up in Kolkata to be particular. Although I am from Kerala. Um you know you are as a young girl as a young woman, exposed to a lot of discrimination because you’re a girl or a woman and then tremendous sexual harassment. Whether you’re using public transportation, you’re walking on the street in many other venues. Although you recognize that as being a terrible practice, you probably one doesn’t have words to really describe what that is. And when I came to the U. S. To pursue my graduate work and then I went back to India for about two years to do my PhD dissertation research. And I was looking really very specifically at the neglect of female Children in Bengal because by then it has been fairly well recognized that the indian sex ratio was tilted towards men. And young girls are either being deliberately killed off through infanticide and or neglected, leading to early death because girls are basically unwanted. Of course, the pattern is fairly different all over India, the Gangetic belt being actually the worst, and those sex ratios have actually gotten worse for women over time. I was doing my research in the 90s, But what became very clear to me in doing the research was it was in rural Bengal is that in order to understand the lives of daughters, you have to understand the lives of mothers and generally women over all in that particular context, and to improve the life of girls, you have to improve the lives of adult women. And then when I came back to complete my dissertation, you also began to see certain patterns among the immigrant population here at that time. So this was in the 80s, basically, I then before completing my PhD, I moved to New Jersey and became part of this organization called Manavi, which had just started maybe a couple of years before that, Manavi is the first South asian women’s organization in the U. S. Uh and it was dedicated to improving the lives of South asian immigrant women and by South Asia, I really mean we made, you know, the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka Nepal Bhutan and sometimes Afghanistan and the diaspora of South Asia, scattered in many different parts of the world, such as Guyana Trinidad and parts of Africa. So we were really looking at ways in which to address specific issues for south asian immigrant women. And it turns out that one of the biggest issues confronting immigrant women was the issue of domestic violence. And so, moving from being an organization in a space for thinking about these issues, uh, many of the women who were part of Manavi at that time shifted focus to really figuring out how do you directly help survivors of domestic violence? And it’s important to remember that in the mid eighties, our community because quote we were successful in appearing to be uh part of the American dream. It was hard for the community to then acknowledged there was issues such as violence against women in particular, domestic violence at that point. So, in some sense, the work I started in India researching, kind of came full circle to really looking at how do we improve the lives of women and how do we improve the lives of immigrant women, in this country. And that’s sort of how I come into this work to give it to you in a nutshell,
[Deepthi] Wow, that’s very impressive even to hear that you have been involved for so many years now. Thank you.
But you know, you were talking about the 80s and I’m sure at that time we were just beginning to acknowledge that domestic violence actually exists among the, educated middle income class, the American dream immigrants from South Asia.
You have been working as a domestic violence counselor or trainer for many years now. Do you see changes in reported domestic violence among recently immigrated women from South Asia and the second or third generation women of South asian heritage? Do you think there’s a difference between the generational immigrants from South Asia?
[Sujata] So, to answer your question Deepthi, which is a very good question. So in the 80s, when we first started sort of working on these issues because actually, somebody who had been in almost a 20 year abusive relationship called us Manavi for help because the New York times had written up a little um expose of the organization because we were the first of its kind right at that time and she thought we were going to help her. But when she called us, we were really floundering because we were like, okay, what are we supposed to do now? Like, you know, we had to do a lot of work with other organizations that were in the area in New York city because we were in New Jersey to figure out, you know, what’s the best way we can assist this person now. And then of course in the earlier, you know, we have like one call one year and then nothing the next year and then the following year and we have five calls. But you know, we sort of struggle to figure out what’s the best response is it? You know, are the responses designed for, you know, average Americans will they work for, you know, women from our community? Some of the stuff worked and some of it didn’t work because much of uh the way the work was set up here is for women to go call the police or go to court to get a restraining order or you know, figure out ways to leave the person and go to a shelter. None of which were seen as really legitimate options that they could take. So we’d have to figure we have to work with them to figure out how could they continue to live in those relationships, but figure out ways to keep themselves and their Children safe. Some of course did leave and we would assist them in getting orders, but we also knew that even if they got a restraining order, in the end, they would go back. The other big issue, of course, for some of them was because they were reliant on their husbands and spouses for immigration, that became a big issue, because without immigration status, you couldn’t work here. That that was a huge issue. So over time. And as that generation began, sort of aging out and their kids, you know, got into the sort of gotten to sort of dating marriageable age. There were a lot of issues there, but over and then, of course, you have the newer, um, you know, immigrants coming in on very different visas right there, coming in on some of the temporary immigrant visas, such as the Hs, you know, which makes abused women, uh, you know, puts them in a much more vulnerable position than probably the previous generation had. So what, what over the years have seen as trends is that the very first group of cohort of women that we worked with, it took them a long time, I would say average 10, 15 years before they could actually make a decision that they could leave the relationship. And the connection of that was really their children coming of age. It was unlikely that they were going to get out completely of the relationship if the kids were really little. But once they got sort of older kind of coming closer to the time they were 18, I think they felt okay. You know, now I’m I don’t have to be tied to this person right. Now with the 2nd and 3rd generation. What we’ve seen is on an average kids who grew up here because they know the system, They understand how to um you know, sort of move within that system. You know, language is not an issue. They, it’s a lot easier for them to say, you know, enough is enough. I don’t have to put up with this. So I think on an average the 2nd and 3rd generation abused, you know, basically survivors get out within like 3 to 4 years. Uh Now the newer group of women who are coming in who are either on any, you know like on a H a J. I think it becomes very difficult because of the way the visa system is set up. You know, even if you were to apply for the U, uh you know the waiting period is very long. Even after you get certified, you still have to wait to get your green card. You know, um, you have to wait to get work authorization. It just makes the process that much harder. Uh, so those are the trends that have actually really seen over time. Also, you know, the early group of South Asians that came here came really from the very sort of upper strata of society from South Asia, right? These are the people who are very highly educated who came in to fill certain slot that immigration made available at that time after the passage of the Family Reunification Act. Right? So, you know, they could, even if they had language concerns and issues, they could still navigate the system right Now, you do have a bifurcation in the immigration because of that group, then applying for their siblings who may or may not be that educated. So you have this sort of very high, you know, strata and then one that isn’t and the first strata tends to play, I remember in the early years when we used to talk about domestic violence in the community, people would say, oh, it’s not us because we are all very highly educated. So this cannot be an issue for us. It’s those people who are not highly educated and we know from the work
[Deepthi] That’s a misconception
[Sujata] totally, it’s a complete misconception because many of the early survivors that I have worked with all our MD,. PhDs engineers and you’re like, okay, that that bust that myth. Right. So I think the difference of course, is when you have resources, you have a job, there are ways in which you can access money and get out and you know, get a lawyer if you have to, which of course if you don’t have those resources, you cannot do that. Right? So there is that. But I have to say that in the last however many years, um, the community has; does recognize that domestic violence is a very serious issue for the community. And that is not uh, you know, we can do, we can take action and make a difference. So when you look at the time that Manavi started to now where there are so many South asian women’s organizations across the nation, you know that the community does acknowledge that this is a serious problem. And there are other issues around gender based violence the community is not yet ready to tackle, but we’ll get there. That’s what we see as changes.
[Deepthi] So you did touch upon language. But language barrier is an issue for some immigrants from South Asia. But do you think if the woman starts to learn english, it may actually exasperate the abusive behavior since the husband’s control in the relationship and the orthodox gender roles that he holds may be contested. The husband may think that women should not talk to an outsider. They should only have the man of the house interact with the outsiders. So even for instance, if a cable guy comes in, they don’t want the women to talk to him. So does this play a role?
[Sujata] I mean, I think knowing and understanding english and the capacity to express yourself in the language that is, you know, the language of this country is critical, right? Because that’s what gives you access to information to understanding what that information means when you’re interacting with people from systems, whether that be the legal system or the medical system or whichever system you’re interacting with, understanding what is being expressed as important, right? Because otherwise, essentially you have to get an interpreter which I will just touch on in a little bit. But without knowing the language, it is very difficult to navigate systems and talk to people who are speaking to you in english. Um now the other piece of it is that even if you were well versed in english, you know, when it’s an emotional issue, you tend to revert back to your mother tongue because that’s the best way you can express what is actually going on. And english may not be the choice language to communicate those very deep seated emotions. So um that becomes one of these things that abusers can leverage, right? The fact that if you don’t know english or you know, you have minimal understanding of english, but you’re not very fluent, right? Because there’s a whole set of gradations on this and then, you know, coming from South Asia, it’s Queen’s english versus american english is different, idioms are different the way it gets.. So there’s a whole series of things around language, right? One of the ways we know in immigrant communities, whether that be South Asia or any of the other immigrant communities denying access to either learning the language or not being able to communicate in the language is one way you control information. So then it’s easy for the abusers to say that this is what will happen to you if you call the police or you do this or you do that. And because the survivor or the victim is not getting that information in the language she understands or um she has been given access to the language, it makes it that much harder and easier for the abuser to control. So understanding and knowing the language is very, very crucial if you have to get the correct information to be able to then navigate systems and make different choices for your life. So language becomes this big thing similar to immigration that often leverage to control, the woman. You know, we’ve had cases where she spoke minimal english. I mean just enough to do very, very simple things. And I remember a couple of cases where I think the neighbors had called the police and then when the police came in because she didn’t speak english and he did every, the police just talked to him and got all of the information as to what was going on from him. And so the question is, why is he going to tell the cops what exactly is going on? And we’ve had cases where she’s gotten arrested because he said, you know, he said okay. She scratched me. She may very well have scratched, but nobody else knows what was going on. And then she gets arrested with changes in the law and she can communicate or speak because technically when you have somebody who doesn’t communicate in the language, you’re supposed to get an interpreter, but you know, interpreters are not, you know, you may get somebody for hindi or bangla or even Gujrati. Uh, we find that, you know, getting some of the other languages such as even, you know, Punjabi, it depends on where you are like, you know, Tamil or Kannada. It’s hard to get them. So systems folks also find the path of least resistance, which is, you know, well, you know, he can speak english, he can convey even though we teach them that please don’t do that or don’t use Children to interpret on adult issues because it puts the kids in positions of jeopardy, right? Because which parent are you going to be talking about? So it is a big issue. And so, you know, we always encourage women that you learn english as much as possible. So at least you can communicate some basic stuff, right? So language becomes this big thing that you can control. And also, you know, the idioms of um american english become important to understand. Because the other thing is even if you know, english legalese is very different, right? So if you’re using the legal system, you have to understand what is being said, right and what is actually being conveyed by legal language. And so if you don’t have the appropriate interpreter, the interpreter is also not interpreting. You know, I’ve been in cases in court where I’ve had to stop proceeding and saying the interpreter is interpreting it all wrong. That is really not what she said. You know, the judges get got upset because there was a court uh, you know, certified interpreters and they’re not interpreting because some the other thing is, you know, there may be certain words that don’t have the exact translation in the language and even domestic violence. And even in hindi it sounds really bizarre. You know, you know, Gharelu.
[Deepthi] So there may be transliterating.
[Sujata] Right, right.
I think having advocates of the domestic violence organizations as support for translating languages becomes very critical for a domestic violence victim Saathi has advocates who speak many languages. So I think that’s a really good thing to have. So the stress on the women is minimized and she is well represented as you said when the cops come.
Absolutely, you know, one of them, I would say one of the best programs that exist in the nation is actually uh, was designed in san Francisco. The asian women’s shelter. It’s called multi language access model mlam. Uh, and what they, because, you know, you know, asians have so many different languages. Right? So they had trained a whole cadre of volunteers in different languages and some basic things that they could interpret if called in and they would be on this sort of rotation. And if cops were going to go into a specific situation, you know, they could call, they could call them to at least come and sort of interpret in that situation. They couldn’t go to court because they were not court certified, but you know, cops could use them at least to, you know, broker that initial conversations that they were having with cops. So that was, that was a really good model. I think it’s still available, uh, to people in san Francisco.
[Deepthi] So that might help I we’ll add the resource to the show notes.
[Sujata] So on the same lines as this, an immigrant who may be raised in a, like a big family with lot of extended relatives. So at times it feels like they’re too nosy or they want to dissect your every move. But when you’re in need, you want somebody to listen to you, somebody to support you. When an immigrant comes here, they are in isolation and their calls may be restricted with what they can say because the abuser might be listening to them in the other room. Whereas back home, they have had a strong support system. Your second cousin might be your best supporter. That family network may not be as accessible to an immigrant woman. So how do they react to being isolated in that way?
I actually think that it’s it’s really, really hard. I mean, I think the first in my experience was the first cohort that was here, right? It was very hard because communications was very different. You had to make an international call and those calls restricted to three minutes and then you have to ask for an extension. You know, those were the days, Right? So you you think 100 times before you made a call, because it’s like, you know, should I spend all this money making an international call to disturb parents who are in India, what are they going to do? Right? I mean, travel wasn’t that easy who was going to, you know, so there was a lot of things that went into consideration before even, you know, survivors and they even reached out to their parents, right? Because the logistics of that was just difficult. Now, of course, it’s a lot easier You have WhatsApp, you have this and that. Now you can call and talk to parents and or you know, whoever is your, you know, source of support in your extended family. So I think for the first cohort, it was very, very difficult because they remember, you know, and letters took a longer time to come. So there was all this miscommunication that went on. And so if if you are in a household that’s abusive, you know, your husband may not even allow you to make that three minute call. Uh, and then the thing becomes you make that three minute call, you, you know, like, okay, it’s going to upset them. So connecting with extended family was very, very difficult. And that extended family, uh, you know, maybe the only source of support, I mean, I’ve actually worked with many women who say, you know what, I’m going to just ask him to buy me a ticket and I am going to go back because at least I have my family there and my family will be supportive no matter what All families are not. But but then we have to say, if you have kids, you can’t just take your kids and go, uh, there are all kinds of issues. You kind of have to stay and fight it out here. That’s what you’re gonna do. And, you know, as an organization, even if we are there for them and provide support, it’s not the same as family, right? Because the big thing is you don’t disclose your personal stories to technically outsiders and we are all outsiders, right? Even though at some point you become, you know, I think the way they, in my experience how they break it is by calling you a sister. On auntie, your mother depends upon the age category you belong to. I mean, I had a woman who I worked with who finally decided I’m like her mother, so I should tell her what to do it. I’d be like, no, I’m sorry, I can’t. You have to make your own decisions, right? So, so that is there. But we never, we don’t replace family. I think nowadays it’s a lot easier to connect with your family and share what’s going on because there’s a lot more modalities, right? That you can actually see the person you can talk to, the person if you have the wherewithal that you have access. That’s the number one thing. But it is true that because of extended families, even if your own parents are not supportive, you know, you may have an aunt, you may have a grandmother who’s supportive of you. Like, you know, that’s what matters, even if your parents feel they cannot really support because you have siblings who are waiting to get married. So there’s a there’s a bunch of things that go on, right, And I think that’s the that’s the big missing piece when you don’t have, but it’s also with a deal of caution, because all the time your own family, that’s your natal family may not be supportive. In fact, a lot of the research in India really points to the fact that when your own family is truly supportive, it makes the whole, it makes a lot of difference in how you navigate the issue if your family is not supportive because they fundamentally feel, you know, we married you off, you need to figure this out, don’t come to us. And there’s a lot of things around that, right, then it makes it very difficult for, you know, it’s it’s the same connection, right? That is often made to the fact that the reason that lots of families don’t want daughters is because, you know, sons are the ones at least for Hindus who perform all the rites. Daughters are expensive, you have to get them married. There’s a whole litany of reasons, right? But oftentimes the grassroots people who work in India say if your family, if your native family takes a different stand, then daughters are not put into precarious positions that deprive them of their liberty, right? In many ways. So it is important for families to support, you know, like when daughters are disclosing, it is difficult, nobody’s saying it’s easy but to provide the utmost support makes a big difference. I mean, I’ve had a woman who I worked with and I remember this so clearly because he had tried to murder her by setting her on fire, she recovered and all of that. But I remember her parents were like, you know, whatever you want, we’re going to support you all of that, but don’t go back to him. Because at one point she was like really torn. She was like, oh, you know, he said he’s sorry. We were like, seriously, you had like second and third degree burns, like what, sorry? And I remember her parents calling and telling us, please please convince her that she is not to go back to him. We are here to support. So you get, you know, like this whole mixture of things. So yeah,
[Deepthi] So I think as you correctly said with the newer modalities where you can keep in touch, maybe it’s not that big an isolation problem, but it’s still there and the support groups help them navigate it. Let’s say somebody approaches a support group and says, I’m being abused and I want to leave. And the advocate also says, yes, it’s not good for you to stay in this relationship. What are the challenging cultural and social norms that hold her back so she continues in the abusive relationship?
[Sujata] So, uh, so I think definitely for, I think I will separate them out by sort of immigrants and then sort of the generation that sort of grew up here, whether they were born here or they came and they were very young, Right? Um, so the values, um, that when they work, they are really wonderful. Um, the very same values can really turn against you when you are trying to leave an abusive relationships. So for example, you know, the the value placed on family maintaining family at all costs. Making sure that family, quote honor is preserved. That uh, you know, marriage is forever. You know, all those ideas and that as a woman in particular, uh that it’s your job to make sure that your husband and his family are well taken care of. And you basically are listening to uh huh your husband’s family. Now the variations, there are tremendous variations in South Asia. Some parts of South Asia are much more entrenched than other parts. And usually those of us who study cultures will tell you the divide is really between the sort of gangetic plane and sort of the Narmada the river is the boundary between sort of what’s known as the north and the south. That the south tends to be a lot more egalitarian when it comes to. There are lots of indices you can look at right egalitarian when it comes to women um that women, you know, within certain constraints are allowed, you know, sort of levels of literacy working all those things, right? So there are some general patterns, but within that, the notion that you as a woman, first of all that your identity in the end comes through marriage and comes through your relationship to the husband’s side and that you kinda have to basically concede to the demands of your husband and his family. That is one of the fundamental sort of ideas which is linked to this notion of patriarchy, which is that men essentially or have more power and because they have more power in society, they then control a lot of aspects, including the lives of women and Children. I mean, that’s generally what patriarchy is, it’s sort of um but there’s a lot of variations within that, of how the idea is embedded within it then get sort of uh accepted, right? So that I think the way to understand is that you may have an individual and two individuals who are in a relationship and then you have the family, but you also have the community in the larger society. But all values are not accepted by everybody in in all communities or in all families. So there is a whole sort of set of shades and gradients that make it different. Right? So many of those values because those are the values you’re socialized in, Right? So for example, who does what in the house? So yes, you know, overall women are going to cook and clean and take care of the kids. You know, those are the gender roles, How the gender roles are defined depends upon how conservative and traditional specific family is. You cannot go out side without covering your head, but that, you know, for for Hindus you have to also cover inside the house because of how patriarchy structures relationships between men and women. So there are all of these different things, right? So, now, when you come here, it’s harder for one to adhere to that because there aren’t those same social constraints, Right? So in South Asia, it’s very easy to tell a girl you are not to go there. It doesn’t take much. You know, the consequences if you were to break that rule and you have to be ready to accept those consequences. Those same constraints in the same way don’t exist here, right? Because suddenly you’re removed. I mean, your in laws may in the early days in laws are not here. They come in a little bit later into the picture. So then it becomes the husband’s role to control to make sure that your wife is adhering to quote, you know, South asian value. So which means yes, it’s a good thing for you to work. Uh and so when you go to work you have to be quote Western, whatever that means. Yeah, yeah. You can cut your hair short, you can wear Western clothes. But the minute you come home and your shoes are left outside, you have to revert back into the traditional role. Which means you take care of your husband, you cook and you clean and you do all the household work, right? That’s a that’s a very sort of generalized way of saying things right? And then if you have your in-laws then the in-laws also control, right? So for example if he came here and his parents came here, then he went back to India and got married. Then you’re coming into a household with your in-laws there. And you know, there can be lots of ways in which your life becomes very, very constrained in terms of not only taking care of things in the house, but also where you can work, what happens to your salary, Who keeps that, what decisions are made and how you raise Children. There’s a whole bunch of things that come in because you’re trying to maintain that sort of traditional values when you’re buffeted on all sides with what is seen as a very sort of permissive, you know, cultural values, right? Men and women hanging together. Boys and girls going to school. So there’s a bunch of things that many of us went to single sex schools anyway. Uh, so there are all those kinds of values that have been shaped by this, you know, sort of overarching understanding of what patriarchy is and how that defines gender roles and what they expect. The other piece of it is expectations, right? That’s what it sets up. So then of course, um those ideas and social norms, you’re going to come, but they’re also challenged by you know what’s happening here and how you have to adjust to things here to people maybe working, but then who controls the salary? What happens to the salary? Are you as a woman allowed to do things like you know, you I want to buy a pair of very expensive shoes. Can I do that? Most probably not. And if you’re in an abusive relationship, all those things get controlled, right? That that’s usually what happens the other and then so you raise the kids the same way. But the kids get caught between the values you are promoting at home and the values that they are seeing outside and how they have to then straddle two worlds. And depending upon how you are as parents, it’s a very traditional, very conservative or you cannot do this, you cannot do that. Kids end up really. Some kids, especially the more sensitive ones, end up really suffering others decided to defy parents all kinds of things happen, right. However, I think the newer immigrants coming in right with internet and with sort of the ways in which, you know, sort of cultural values have spread across the board, um, are exposed to things slightly differently, but sometimes in the house, those values still remain sort of the very patriarchal gender values. I mean, what ends up often happening though, is that the, you know, sort of the more modern abusers use more modern techniques like the internet to do certain kinds of things, marrying, then taking women back to the country’s abandoning them there, um, not wanting them to come back, keeping the kids here and sending her back. There are all kinds of things that also happened on the transnational level that makes it often difficult for women. But it is really uh this idea that men are the sort of upholders of everything. Uh they are the ones with the power. They are the ones who can control, you know, that it shifts and changes, right? So for some families, it’s easier if you have a value that women cannot work, right? Or women should not be quote working. It’s all very well if you don’t need the money, but if you need the money, that’s not a value you can adhere to because you need the money. So you have to go to work, right? So, so there are ways in which those things shift, but the fundamental thing is the minute you can the women come back and you know, okay, you don’t have to go to work, you have to be inside, because that’s the that’s the value, right? So it’s just sort of funny mix that goes on. But it doesn’t mean that people don’t adhere to that because in some ways, you know, the other thing, um, particularly in South Asia because of the way family is structured, right? Um, in my work with women, women have always said, you know, it’s really not my husband who’s abusive person is my mother-in-law. Why don’t you just send my mother in law back. Buy her a ticket and send her back? And, you know, it’s very difficult to explain patriarchy in that situation that, you know, the mother-in-law is making sure that those values are uh, you know, sort of conveyed to the next generation. It’s not that she, It’s not that she doesn’t have power and authority but power and authorities to lies with the sort of older male in the house. And it’s difficult to explain that. And it’s a sort of a theoretical understanding to somebody who’s emotionally saying that, look, this is what my mother-in-law is doing and my husband is, you know, just sort of going on with her. So sometimes you have to talk to them and say wait a minute. So when the mother is doing that, what is he doing? He you know, he can tell his mother, no, you cannot treat my wife that way right? Um, but does he do that? So if he doesn’t, then he’s siding right? Whether openly siding, or not, it’s still saying that, oh, you know, my mother is right, mothers are not always the right, they knew it. So I do think those ideas are there, they get conveyed, but they also shift and change because, you know, the context is different, right? You can I mean, which is also why we say for immigrants, right? The cultural context freezes for them when you leave the country. And it’s true of almost all for all immigrants, they will say, well, this is the way it was when we were kids, but south Asia has changed a lot too, but some of it I would say is fairly sort of superficial, like, you know, Yeah, you wear western clothes, but that is not an indication that you don’t think traditionally, right? So that’s just the facade. You can wear, you can have somebody who wears traditional clothes, but don’t actually paint that way at all. So it’s a sort of funny mix of stuff that goes on.
[Deepthi] So when I am think about patriarchy, patriarchal ideologies maybe general and may even be universal, but their local expression, varies across the south asian region, I’m thinking there may be even differences in Pakistan versus sri Lanka. It may be different based on whether they are from an urban or rural area. There are many layers of patriarchy based on several factors. How are these patriarchal ideas conveyed? And how do you think the immigrants bring in different forms of their patriarchal ideals?
[Sujata] So, you know, patriarchy, I mean sometimes when you think about it, right, Because it’s a it’s a structural system that you can’t cut a pattern and say, okay, this is what it is, right? It’s the way it’s um, it shows up in so many different ways of how our social and cultural life is sort of structured, so in in South Asia in particular. Right? So there are whole areas of regional variation, right? But also in South Asia, it’s sort of intersects with religion, caste, class and region and sort of, yeah, you know, your socioeconomic strata makes a difference. But that’s what I was saying that you may have a value that if you are really high up in the social strata, your women do not work outside the house. That’s easy for people who have a lot of money and wealth to say that. But that is not feasible for the a large swath of the population. Right. So patriarchy does not exist by itself. It really interacts with all of these other structures in society. So depending upon where you’re coming from in South Asia, whether that be Bangladesh or sort of Nepal or sri lanka or even from the southern part of India. So there are certain basic patriarchal values such as yes, men are more important than women. You know, that kind of notion is there fairly consistently across the board, but how important are they varies a lot or what they can do in terms of gender varies a lot, right? But when. So those ideas they may bring here, but then you have specific patriarchal ideas in this country, right? This country is also very patriarchal because we know that house this society is structured, how law is structured how medicine structured all of that. You know, like one of the ideas that I found really absurd when I came to this country is this notion that somehow women cannot do math. And I was like, what is, what is this crap you’re talking about? What they think about, You know, in India, how women are doing math. Like we have no problem with the like. So it’s clearly not women who are having the problem, right? It’s the way you have understood that women here cannot. Right? So that’s a silly example, but that’s the kind of thing, right? Like women can women cannot. And then when you look at it across the board, you see all women over here are doing that, but women over here are not doing that. So the idea is kind of comes from the same thing, but it’s expressed very differently. So then when you come from from bringing these ideas here, especially in the earlier generations, right? It was a lot and partly also because, you know, people stayed kind of mostly as much as possible within their own communities and the creation of, you know, however, the community structure was created. So some of those same values continue to be sort of adhered to, right? Like if, you know, if you notice a lot of the cultural traditions, you know, such as the religious ritual, sort of traditional uh, festivals, whatever that be for whatever religion, all of that gets preserved by women. So if you look at these are very interesting things you watch, if you go to community events, right? All the women in these events will be dressed in traditional, all their fancy sarees and stuff will come out. Some men dress in the traditional cause of most of them are in jeans, right? You go to traditional weddings. It’s yeah, western clothes, you know, you go to weddings and I’ve been to plenty of them all the way. I just, I just know I’m just completely and thoroughly amused by it. It’s somehow those traditions have to be preserved by women and men are in, you know, their western suits. And I’m like, why can’t you wear like, you know, your dhoti the or whatever, you know, in the south, it is ‘mundu’. It’s very rare. So, you know, that’s how those traditions get preserved and that’s why oftentimes preserving the tradition falls on the shoulders of women, but they are often also guided by the men who are there, they’re not anywhere else, Right? So that’s the way this sort of issues get set in families and who is going to preserve what uh and then when you come here, of course you have to deal with how patriarchy is structured here, right? What jobs women get whether they move up or not, all kinds of things work here too. So the two ways of thinking sort of shift and change and some of the shifts you see in the generations, the 2nd and 3rd generation, you know, for example, whether you are allowed to date what parental understanding of dating is. You know, the idea of dating is to explore, but I have come across South asian parents were like, if you date, you have to marry that person and I’d be like, no, then you don’t understand what dating is, right? The idea of dating is exploring and the assumption that if you’re dating your almost always having sex and you’d be like, no, they’re not. How do you know that? No, I mean those kinds of fears, right? That those are the fears that come out of the south asian context, right? That if your girl is seen going out with somebody, then that person is tainted and that person can never ever get married again. And not only she cannot get married and sister cannot get married. It’s this whole litany of things that come out, right? Because suddenly the family or the patriarchal honor has just been sort of decimated, Right? So I think those are the kinds of ideas that then they try to transmit it to this generation, the generation that’s growing up here, which is very difficult for them because they are seeing their friends operating quite differently. And so it’s that’s when the clashes sort of begin to happen between that generation. But I think with some of the newer immigrants is a little bit different because they have grown up in a world where they have been exposed to a lot more through sort of this global culture. I always say, why do we pick up all the things in this country that are not very good? But we don’t pick up things that may be better for us, but that’s a that’s a whole different conversation. But those are the kinds of values, right values about getting married, getting married, having kids, you’re having family, you know, all of that. So then what happens is this? So then you get Children who have a different sexual orientation, um, who if the kids have been sexually assaulted it, it creates serious trouble with, within the community, right? Because now suddenly we have this vision that our community treats, you know, our Children in a certain way. And now everything gets topsy turvy, right? Uh, I’ve had parents say, oh, you know, there are no such issues as, uh, homosexuality in South Asia. And I’d be like, you’d be completely wrong because that’s not true. It’s always been there because Sanskrit is like one of the one languages that has a word for homosexuality, which is samarkami, right? That is in the language. So clearly it’s a practice and an orientation that has been understood way back when I was sounds great, You know, so that is the kind of thing. Those are the values, because When you leave the country in your 20’s, right? The country essentially freezes for you. And those are the values you try to transmit to your own Children. But they can’t, that’s that’s where the clash begins to happen. Because you haven’t been exposed to all of that, all the different variations of this, right? In in South Asia, like the whole area of transgender, right? You know, South Asia is a lot more accepting of that. Uh, then even this country is actually, I would say like, you know, in Chennai, there is this wonderful young woman called Ippadikku Rose who has a whole um, a television show, she’s amazing. She really, really is. Pakistan has, I forget her name. So, you know, that’s the thing, right? People here will say all these things don’t happen in South Asia and you’re like, wait a minute. You have not been exposed to. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. So, you know, these ideas, right? This kind of notion pricing women’s virginity as ideals, right? Which is not true. But those are also very, very patriarchal ideals, right? Like why are we so hell bent on honor being on the heads of women? Why not the same thing on men? Right. I mean, the notion of shame, right? That if you do this, you’re going to bring shame not just on yourself, but your whole family. If it’s true for women, why isn’t it true for men too, right? You’re treating your mistreating your wife, you’re abusing your wife. That that fact is going to spread in the community, but, you know, men are not held to the same standards as women. So that’s also those pipe patriarchal ideals that slipped through. So it’s a it’s it’s fascinating what what what we bring from there, what we discard what we keep, why do we keep this versus that?
[Deepthi] I recently read about the issue that’s happening in UK where this woman was walking home and she was murdered and the patriarchal comment made by men where they apparently said, oh women should not go out after 6 30 PM. Why was she walking at 9:30? So a female M. P. Which is the member of Parliament in UK said, okay, men from now on, you have a curfew from 6 30 to 5 a.m. The men immediately loudly reacted against it and the M. P. Said, see when we said, men have to do it, how quickly you all stood up and said, what are you doing? Whereas for women, you can say whatever you want, Like saying, you can’t go out after 6:30. So this is a form of patriarchy that is showing up. Women are so restricted and okay, you can’t do that. If something happened to you it’s because you did that because you put yourself out there, Why were you walking? We don’t question men, why did you do that to a woman? If a man was walking, nobody would sexually abuse or kill him. But women, just because she was walking like, oh, it’s because you’re walking late at night. So you invited that. So we might still be adapting additional norms of patriarchy and we have created this new melting pot where we have taken our patriarchal norms from South Asia and added Western patriarchal norms and we are perpetuating this. So there are different kinds as we just talked about about patriarchy, the different norms? And are there different sets of constraints based on socio cultural and economical standing? Is there a generalization of of how different forms apply, at least in the South asian context?
[Sujata] I mean, I think there are some constraints. I think there are fairly, I would say worldwide, right? Like women occupying public space, right? Which is what the whole example you were giving earlier, right? Like occupying public space after a certain time of the day, Right? Which is what the whole question in Britain was like why was she out there at whatever, 9:00 or whatever at night that she was out there, like she should not have been out there. So, you know, the issue about public in the public arena, what space are you occupying? What time are you occupying it? I mean, I think it’s a fairly common worldwide phenomenon about women in public spaces, especially in the evening. Uh and the degree to which that is um sort of adhered to really vary, I don’t even remember, the Nirbhaya case that happened in Delhi, the young woman who was raped in a Delhi bus, right? So when the case actually was in India at that time, and when the case hit the news media, of course, you know, you know, there’s no doubt it was a horrifying case, but you know, having worked on this issue, I was just waiting to see when the tenor of the conversation would change. And sure enough, like two days later, slowly, people started asking like Why was she out there at 9:00 PM? Um why was she in a public bus? You know, it’s like you kind of look at them and you go, why shouldn’t she be? But she’s a woman and like and so why why suddenly can women not be in the public arena? Right, Well, nobody is saying that they would make an argument and nobody is saying she cannot be in the public arena, but definitely not in the evening, but at no point were people saying like, why did these men do this, right? What gave them the authority and the right to basically brutalize a woman? And there have been similar stories all over the place. So patriarchy across the globe, I would say restricting women’s access and restricting women’s access to the public sphere is very common now, how and where that gets restricted. There are variations to that, right? So which family does what? Really vary so there were all kinds of things. But restricting women To to the public arena is a fairly common one. But how we’re really vary. So you get into very traditional very conservative cultures like you go into the Heartland of U. P. In some places like that. You know, there are places women cannot go, they go to the fields but it’s monitored in a certain way. Uh you know this is the same thing, right? You go to Mumbai, Mumbai is fairly like you will see women on the street but you go to some place like you know even Chennai I think to a large degree it’s more restricted. So I think that’s the way in which access is different and you know what spaces can women be in like, you know, what kind of jobs are okay for women? You know, school teachers are fine doctors are fine, engineers eeenh. And you know, there are all kinds of things like that, that patriarchy restricts women definitely public space is one big area. You go to certain parts of the world. You know, in main public spaces, you see very few women, one or 2 here and there. You just don’t. And then there are places, you know, you’ll see lots of women, but after dark you probably won’t see too many of them. But you know, I will also say one thing Growing up in what the 60s, 70s, right? In India the use of public space by women was quite different. I think there is a qualitative change now. Yes, there was sexual harassment even then on the street like, you know, cat calling, men exposing themselves, all kinds of things. And if you use public transportation, all kinds of things happen on buses. Um, but women also resisted. Okay. And what was fascinating to me is when you resisted, some men would come to your side and then, you know, they’ll beat up the person or whatever it is. That to me has changed a lot. Um, in South Asia, if you resist now, you run the risk of getting beaten up yourself. Like all the men go onto one side, which was historically not true. I’ve used public transportation all my life. Now what that shift is, some people will argue there aren’t enough women, which is true. Uh, the adult population women has gone down tremendously because of, you know, the either outright infanticide feticide, abortion, all those things have led to it. So there is a qualitative difference, but also there is a qualitative difference between different cities.
So yes, I would say patriarchy gets expressed in public space.
[Deepthi] Yeah. So growing up in India, I used to travel in trains. I remember once I was in the general compartment for people who don’t know, there’s a special compartment only for women. But I was in the general compartment and I was traveling with a cousin. And there was this guy who was just staring at me and I told my cousin, hey, look at him. He’s just looking at me. And you know what my cousin’s response was, Don’t look at him. You just look somewhere else. I said to my cousin who was a guy by the way that he was just making me so uncomfortable and he was not doing anything to help me. Eventually, I had to stand up and say, hey, you’re looking at me, you’re making me so uncomfortable. And I don’t know if that kind of shifted even more where men, you’re saying men just get onto one side and the women have to stand up for themselves, or did I get it the other way?
[Sujata] No. You know, the thing is now, if you stand up for your self. In the past, if you stood up for yourself, right, and you made a big fuss, you know, there are other men who would come to your rescue and say, no, this is terrible, who’s doing that? You know, we’ll beat you up and stuff like that. Now, that does not happen. It’s the other way around. Like if you stand up, you run the risk of all the men saying, you know, well, you chose to come here, We have eyes, we can look at you, they will say other things. So, I think that’s that to me is a that’s what, you know, women have always said that, that that’s the qualitative shift now, why that shift is, you know, happened, I think, you know, uh social scientists have a whole host of explanations as to why that has happened. But uh, you know, the thing is like, you know, you may have a particular tradition that people resist, but I think when you keep resisting that, you know, people who buy into that, I’m going to push back against it. Right? So there’s this constant push against these traditions that are very detrimental to women.
[Deepthi] So, I was I was hoping the patriarchy, at least in the south asian context, was kind of diluting how do we educate ourselves about this, especially those of us working in the support arena for domestic violence victims, or how do we make sure that because of the shift that you’re conveying, it doesn’t trickle down into more abuse in the next generation? How do we prevent it? What can we do proactively?
[Sujata] I think proactively it’s really how we raise our kids, right? Because that’s the generation that can do things differently, you know, to really hold, you know, uh, sons accountable for their behavior and not to just say that just because he’s a man, he’s always right uh, to raise, if you have sons and daughters to raise them in in an equitable fashion, so that, you know, if the daughter is the brighter person then and she gets admission in Harvard, she should go to Harvard. It’s not just the boy, you know, there’s a lot of ways in which these things play out in families. So I think it behooves us to transmit certain ideas of equity to the next generation, so that they don’t mean to some degree, people will repeat, but to a large degree you can begin to change it, right? But it’s also educating parents in our community. Um, you know, the issue that now we are having to deal with fairly seriously in South Asia, it’s a very serious problem is the whole area of incest and child sexual abuse, right? Our community doesn’t talk about sexual violence at all, both in domestic violence relationships and in just generally, so it behooves us to really educate not only people in our generation that this is a serious problem, we have to contend with it, but also, you know, create an atmosphere where Children can come to you and say this is what’s happened and you will support them. It’s very hard. I think it’s a very, very hard issue, But I think that you know, it’s when we take a stand and we teach our kids that you can take a stand on an issue. I think yeah, you begin to make changes. I mean I do think when I do a lot of work in India in particular, right? And in Bangladesh there there has been a lot of change. People are committed to making a difference. But I also think there are bigger forces that push against it. But you have to keep, you have to keep at it. I remember when I first started this work, I said oh yeah, in 10 years we will make a difference. I can quit and I can get a million dollar job and I’ll be very happy, you know, 30 plus years later I’m still doing this work. So it is, it behooves us to keep keep pushing at it, that’s that’s the reality of it. So it’s good news and bad news.
[Deepthi] So, any thoughts you have before we conclude?
[Sujata] I thank you for doing this and for making this issue available to lots of people across the nation. That’s an important thing because podcasts have a way of reaching people, you know, in a lot of different settings. So that’s that’s very, very critical. But as I would say to most people, you know, engage with the issue, learn about it and see in what ways you can be of support to survivors and bring the issue to the fore in the community. You know, it doesn’t mean you have to there are lots of little things you can do to make a difference and that’s what’s critical. So, but thank you Deepthi for having this interview and to Saathi too.
[Deepthi] Thank you Sujata for sharing your thoughts about patriarchy and the cultural norms that are specific to the south asian diaspora. We need to have these conversations about social norms and patriarchy so we can bring some balance between men and women, which hopefully will reduce and eliminate domestic violence. We may not be talking about the old issues, but there are other issues that we need to bring up and make sure we give victims an avenue to express themselves to be trusted and to also be a support for them.
This has been the Halt, Help and Heal from domestic violence podcast brought to you by Saathi of Rochester a nonprofit organization for helping South asian victims of domestic violence. We hope you enjoyed this episode. Please be sure to leave a review on ITunes or any other podcast platform you’re listening to this episode on. If you want to know more about the topics we discussed today, visit saathiofrochester.org/podcast, where you’ll find the show notes and the references discussed in the episode.