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Project seeks to lift South Asian domestic violence survivors out of legal limbo

Project seeks to lift South Asian domestic violence survivors out of legal limbo

(Circle of Trust by Tanya Momi)
(Circle of Trust by Tanya Momi)

While the success of South Asians in the Silicon Valley tech sector gets a lot of ink in the mainstream media, not much is written or known about transnational abandonment, a form of violence against women that began to manifest in South Asian immigrant communities as domestic violence (DV) spiked during the pandemic. 

One DV advocate called transnational abandonment “one of the most sinister and damaging forms of abuse” they had witnessed.

Transnational abandonment happens when abused immigrant women are abandoned in their country of origin by their husbands. It is particularly prevalent in arranged marriages within the South Asian community, which views domestic violence as a taboo subject. Last June, we launched the DesiDost Project with a grant from the USC Center for Health Journalism to explore the impact of this phenomenon.

Our investigation revealed gaps in knowledge among DV survivors that made it extremely challenging for them to find a resolution or move ahead in their lives, because they did not understand the law or where to find support. They faced domestic violence, emotional abuse, cultural alienation, or financial exploitation from their husbands and in-laws. Once they were deliberately removed from the United States, they lost legal protections, rights to their homes, finances and even their children. 

These “disposable” women were living in legal limbo, at the mercy of an unfamiliar U.S. legal system.

As our project rolled out, the community started reaching out to us. Survivors wanted to share their stories and have conversations on a secure platform with fellow survivors who understood the South Asian perspective. They asked for advice on job interviews, housing and child care. Advocates wanted us to share resources with the community so vulnerable women could access help. Our investigation also uncovered a possible solution to help some DV survivors maintain temporary legal status in the United States, which gives them time to gather resources and get their lives back on track. 

Our initial project uncovered more information than we could justifiably cover or deliver to mainstream policy audiences. Our new project, The Pathway to Parity, intends to expand that reach. 

We want to make more survivors aware of their options and how to navigate existing law, while reaching mainstream policy audiences to maximize our impact. 

We’ll seek to elevate this issue in spaces inside and outside our ethnic community. Through social media storytelling, community engagement, and collaborating with women rights organizations, we want to increase understanding of transnational abandonment and possible solutions, so that survivors, advocates, and allies can have a more meaningful impact. 

Our plan is to produce bite-size versions of our audio stories, interviews with experts, and information on resources, to promote on social media channels. We will create conversational spaces where survivors can ask for advice or share stories, and experts can explain how to navigate the legal limbo that traps them.

Through a community outreach effort on radio and a digital roundtable, we will seek to reach larger audiences to amplify information and resources. We will share our content with other South Asian DV groups across the U.S. to help them build collateral. All of the stories, information and resources from the projects will be available via a link on the Desi Collective website to share with survivor social groups. 

In traditional South Asian families, women trapped in abusive situations don’t leave for fear of societal scorn — “log kya kahenge,” or, what will people say? When their husbands abuse, abandon and divorce them, and then withdraw every available safety net, Indian women living in the US as dependents face unimaginable trauma, losing status in their community and the country.  

The fact that over 24 DV agencies operate in the U.S. to support South Asian survivors is a telling reminder that domestic violence taints our community, and that women continue to stay in abusive situations. 

Survivors deserve their human rights as women. We want to empower these women to get the help and resources they need to fight for their rights and to make decisions about their path forward.

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