By Kamayani Bali-Mahabal, Womens Feature Service
“Before I got help from South Asian Network, I felt like a victim and everyone I asked help made me feel abnormal and sick….[Now] I feel like I have become an asset, not a liability.” – Domestic Violence Survivor,Los Angeles, USA
Many South Asians in the US lead lives of insecurity and fear. The reasons for this could vary from financial constraints, lack of clarity on immigration status and lack of proficiency in English. South Asians are the third largest Asian community in the United States. There are at least 1.9 million people of South Asian origin currently living in America.This survey is according to US Census 2000.
It is to address the specific needs of the South Asian community in California that the South Asian Network (SAN)was organized.It offers comprehensive and free services in South Asian languages on issues like access to health, education, immigration and civil rights.
According to Hamid Khan, one of the founding members, he explained that countless community members seek their services.They assist problems regarding health issues,health insurance,petition for their families coming to the US, understand a phone bills, or to know where to go to get a visa.
Khan is a first generation immigrant from Pakistan who came to the United States in 1979. He added SAN has established trust and credibility within the South Asian community. Its aim to inform and empower by acting as agents of change in eliminating biases, discrimination and injustices.
In March 2010, for instance, Los Angeles Superior Court’s Judge Solner certified a class action lawsuit against Ziba Beauty Center for violating California’s labor laws.Five workers at Ziba were fired for refusing to sign an employment contract that contained trade secret provisions. On January 15, 2008, the five workers partnered with SAN to protest in front of Ziba demanding an end to poor working conditions and severe harassment by the management.
The class action suit affected over 315 former and current workers who have been employed by Ziba since 2004. This certification sent a strong signal to workers that Ziba will be held accountable for its exploitation of immigrant women workers.
But apart from assisting South Asians, SAN has been able to assist women who have suffered domestic violence to get out of abusive relationships.
According to Saima Husain, Associate Coordinator of AWAZ (Voices Against Violence), a wing of SAN, domestic violence against women is not taken seriously especially in our South Asian American society. People believe it does not happen in their community, in their culture, in their religion and in their socio-economic status.
Husain points out that there is a lot of internalization of blame. Survivors are not able to address domestic violence because it would bring shame on the family and prevent a sister or cousin from contracting a good marriage
SAN has assisted 1,545 survivors of violence and their children.They provide case management, legal assistance, shelter placement, and mental health services.The have counselling, art workshops and support groups.
Husain explains that the survivors they help are dependent on their perpetrators financially, linguistically, and in terms of immigration status.Most of them also do not have any support in the US.
The difference between a survivor of domestic violence in the US and one from the South Asian community is that the latter does not have access to family and friends or other forms of support. But Husain tries to explain to these women that there is a way out for them.
Many survivors have reported that the legal assistance they received through SAN has proved a most valuable resource. For instance, it helped them to initiate restraining orders and address divorce and family law issues.
Khan stressed their efforts involves a lot of hard work.They do multi-tasking. They do prevention work and undertake community education on the prevalence of domestic violence in religious spaces and at community events. They also publicize their services through word of mouth and through newspaper ads.
There are other outreach activities too. Support groups are hosted.The women can eat together and learn from each other. It is important for the women to know that they are not alone. We work to change the system. We offer training to law enforcement institutions, fire fighters and domestic violence shelter staff.
Some community leaders have begun to recognize that domestic violence is truly a problem, they are now referring cases to SAN. Some religious leaders have even provided shelters for survivors in temples.
Link up and fight back is the strong motto of SAN.