Indian American doctors raise awareness about domestic violence

Indian American doctors raise awareness about domestic violence

The discussion, initiated by the women doctors of AAPI, focussed on trying to increase awareness on the age-old problem that can affect any gender, race, region & socio-economic strata.

The women’s committee of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) is campaigning to raise awareness on the issue of domestic violence, a problem that is faced not just by women in India but often by those who have immigrated to the US and other countries, especially after marriage. 

In a web conference organised last week, because October is domestic violence awareness month, several members of AAPI and others, both from the US and India discussed the issue and possible solutions. Dr Anupama Gotimukula, president of AAPI, described domestic violence as “a serious public health concern” and highlighted that nearly one in four women and one in seven men in the US have experienced physical violence at the hands of their domestic partners, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The discussion, initiated by the women doctors of AAPI, focussed on trying to increase awareness on the age-old problem that can affect any gender, race, region & socio-economic strata.

Lata Rao, a domestic violence survivor who is now a strong voice against it, referring briefly to her life in the past, focused more on her prevention efforts. Describing her past and the “most dreadful events” she had experienced in her life, impacting her physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, she said, “I wanted to do something for myself” starting her own business which was resented by her ex-spouse. “I encourage women not to be what I went through” but to be more independent. She told the audience how meeting with mentors and having a support system gradually changed her life, while forgiving and staying positive helped her start a new phase in her life. “Today, I use my experiences as a tool to support and educate other women,” Rao said.

Dr Preeti Saran, domestic violence survivor who currently practices family medicine and is an obesity specialist at RNJ Barnabas Hospital, New Jersey, pointed out that domestic violence is prevalent in all parts of the world. Sharing her own challenges, Dr Saran said, “Coming from very traditional society back in India, initially I thought it was happening to me because of my background.” Married to a dominating person, who was demanding, but suspicious and with trust issues, she had suffered immensely from insecurity in her marriage and faced intimidation and was fearful for her life. But she was able to turn her life around and has made a positive impact. “Now, I am reaching out to other women who need support,” she said.

Dr. Manju Sheth, an internist, practicing medicine at Beth Israel Lahey, Massachusetts, and also chair and advisory board member of Saheli, an organisation known for its work providing psychiatric and other services to victims of domestic violence in the Boston region, urged fellow physicians “to stay vigilant and collaborate” and look for signs and red flags to identify violence “as the patients can show a multitude of unrelated symptoms that only compassionate questions can reveal clearly.” “Women are very reluctant to speak to you and we often notice PTSD, trauma, depression and anxiety,” she said and urged women physicians to be prepared to collaborate with other medical and psychological professionals.

Dr. Udhaya Shivangi, AAPI Mississippi chapter president, felt that the best way to fight this issue is to talk about it, create awareness and share resources to recognise the signs and take steps for prevention and protection. “Ashiana is an organisation that helps empower South Asian domestic violence survivors in the US to achieve self-sufficiency with a culturally sensitive approach, for the past 25 years,” she said. Jaya Nelliot, a board member and outreach director of Ashiana, who has been working on the issue since 2009, felt that domestic violence is a pandemic among South Asians in North America and needs to be tackled through a broad spectrum of measures. “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.”

Navneet Bhalla, international human rights lawyer in the UK and the executive director of Manavi, a women’s organisation, shared information about legal support which her organisation provided to victims of domestic violence through in-house staff attorneys. She pointed out that often abusers frame and falsely charge victims as criminals and threaten deportation. “Manavi supports such victims and helps them gain justice and the services that they need. We have a survivor-centric approach to understand and to provide support holistically,” she said.

Indian American doctors raise awareness about domestic violence