Physicians of Indian origin explore ways to deal with global phenomenon of domestic violence

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Flyer announcing the AAPI domestic violence conference. Photo: AAPI

Physicians participating in a global meeting on domestic violence Oct. 17, 2021, got to hear the inspiring story of Lata Rao, a survivor of domestic violence and an advocate, who through the “most dreadful events” she experienced when she decided she “wanted to do something for myself,” is today a leading advocate.

Rao was speaking at the ‘Ways to Prevent Domestic Violence’ conference organized by the Women’s Committee of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) in which speakers from across the United States and India participated, a press release from AAPI said.

“I encourage women not to be what I went through” but to be more independent, Rao said. She told the audience how meeting with mentors and having a support system gradually changed her life, while forgiving and staying positive helped me start a new phase in her life. “Today, I use my experiences as a tool to support and educate other women.”

October is Domestic Violence Month in the U.S. and the conference was a part of that initiative.

Describing Domestic Violence as “a serious public health concern” Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, president of AAPI noted that nearly one in four women and one in seven men in the U.S. has experienced physical violence at the hands of their domestic partners, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The very important discussion today with an experts panel is aimed at helping AAPI members and the larger society to learn on (sic) ways to help promote healthy, respectful and nonviolent relationships,” Dr. Gotimukula said.

Dr. Seema Arora, chair of the AAPI Women’s Committee said the AAPI women-physicians committee is trying to increase awareness on the prevalence of domestic violence.

Other speakers included Dr. Preeti Saran, also a domestic violence survivor and currently a Family Medicine & Obesity Specialist at RNJ Barnabas Hospital, New Jersey.

“Coming from very traditional society back in India, initially I thought it was happening to me because of my background,” Dr. Saran said, of a marriage to a ‘dominant’ and ‘demanding, as well as ‘suspicious’ spouse with trust issues.  She was after much suffering, able to turn her life around and has made a positive impact in the society. “Now, I am to reach out to other women who need support,” she said.

Other speakers at the virtual conference included Deanne Mazzochi, Illinois State Representative, Attorney Life Science Law, who was introduced by Dr. Meher Medavaram, a member of AAPI’s Women’s Committee. Rep. Mazzochi shared her work as a state legislator and as an attorney focusing on women and families, dealt with domestic violence cases. She advocated that one should “ensure that you have a safe place to live,” if and when you want to leave an unhealthy relationship.

Dr. Manju Sheth, an Internist, practicing Medicine at Beth Israel Lahey, MA, Chair and Advisory Board Member at SAHELI, Member of Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence, President of “Women Who Win,” urged fellow physicians “to stay vigilant and collaborate” and look for signs/red flags to identify violence “as the patients can present with a multitude of unrelated symptoms that only compassionate questions can reveal clearly.”

Dr. Saraswati Muppana while introducing Dr. Eshita Chakrabarti wanted to know the role of media in supporting survivors of domestic violence. Dr. Eshita Chakrabarti, drawing from her own personal experiences described media as a powerful medium which has been instrumental and can be used as an effective tool to educate the public and work to eliminating domestic violence.

Dr. Nandita Palshetkar Chair of the Global Association of People of Indian Origin, and President of Federation of OB/GYN Society of India. Dr. Palshetkar shared her insights and offered a global perspective. She was introduced by Dr. Malti Mehta, who has worked with battered women groups.

“The best way to fight this issue is to talk about it, create awareness and share resources to recognize the signs and take steps for prevention and protection,” said Dr. Udhaya Shivangi, AAPI Mississippi Chapter president, describing the work of Ashiana, an organization for helping South Asian women over the past 25 years.

“The best way is to create awareness and provide resources and help lead the victims of domestic violence to be strong and independent and safe,” said Jaya Nelliot, a Board Member and Outreach Director of Ashiana, describing domestic vio9lence as a “pandemic.”

Navneet Bhalla, international human rights lawyer and  executive director of Manavi, one of the oldest women’s organizations based in New Jersey, spoke about the organization’s legal support to victims of domestic violence. She was introduced by Dr. Hetal Gor, a member of AAPI Women’s Committee .

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