Indian-American Women Tackling Problems



Manavi, a women’s support organization established in 1985, to help Indian and South Asian victims of domestic violence, sports this symbol on its website. (Photo:

Despite the signal achievements of some Indian-American women and gains secured within the community and in the mainstream, some problems persist.

“There are unfortunate sectors of the (Indian-origin) people who bring their caste, dowry and other practices here,” says attorney Harmeet Dhillon, National Committeewoman from California on the Republican National Committee. As a lawyer who has done pro-bono work, Dhillon says she has handled cases of asylum for Indian women who were oppressed by dowry, sex trafficking, or other crimes.

“As a lawyer, I am not unaware of the fact that Indian women suffer because of domestic violence,” says Suhag Shukla, founder and executive director of the Hindu American Foundation. “But more and more women are stepping up and more men are willing to acknowledge the problem exists,” Shukla added.

“We’ve come a long way,” since the late 1980s when organizations like Manavi, Sakhi, Asha, and myriad others around the country, were formed to deal with domestic violence,” says Sujata Warrier, one of the early women’s activists with Manavi in New Jersey.

Today, many more women take steps to get out of abusive relationships and many call existing services for help. But the  constraint to save even an abusive relationship persists, not just among earlier or more conservative women, but also among the 2nd generation, says Warrier, who is the training and technical assistance director at the Battered Women’s Justice Program in Minneapolis, Minnesota..

That such organizations continue to exist, means the need for them continues, however. Warrier is most critical of “progressive women” because “they have not done enough about sexual violence and child sexual abuse,” in the community, she asserts. “There is a tremendous denial that these problems exist,” Warrier contends, adding, “For progressives this is a big issue and we have not gone far enough as we have with domestic violence.” And this is the time to do it with the momentum created by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

Suhag Shukla, founder of the Hindu American Foundation, also points to an inequality in gender roles. “Like in the general public, the bulk of the domestic responsibility falls on Indian women and the 50-50 split that the society is striving for in workplaces, is not achieved inside the four walls of the home,” Shukla noted.

Whether it is a highly qualified Indian-American physician, or a woman working in a blue collar job, – they continue to negotiate the balance, often second-guessing whether they are doing the right thing by their children and the elderly, or feeling the need to inculcate family values and traditions in their offspring. “That adds another layer of responsibility on Indian-American women,” Shukla says.

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