Reflections: Verbal Abuse in South Asian Communities

Abuse She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails – Elizabeth Edwards
For years, there’s been a consolidated effort to veil a certain type of abuse – verbal abuse. It is pervasive among the South Asian communities in the United States, yet not widely discussed or dealt with.
What is verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse is a type of domestic abuse where the perpetrator attempts to dominate, control, or exert force over his/her partner. There appears to be a large number of South Asian women who are victimized by verbal abuse. Some of the traits of verbal abuse are:

  • Degradation of the victim in the presence of family and/or friends
  • Expressing hurtful jokes despite the victim’s requests to stop
  • Humiliation and disdain
  • Criticizing
  • Questioning one’s sanity
Why is verbal abuse so rampant in South Asian communities?
South Asian societies have followed marked gender discrimination as a norm for centuries. This has led to the second class status of women in society. Most women in South Asian communities are raised to be demure and meek, with the belief that they are expected to uphold moral and cultural values. Where South Asian girls are taught to be tolerant, any rude behavior by boys has a nonchalant connotation to it – “boys will be boys”. Society is comfortable when boys are demanding and unruly, while girls are submissive. When a girl expresses her opinions, she is criticized for not behaving like a girl.

While the South Asian culture trains its women to acquiesce, it also grooms its men to be less compassionate. Women are taught to bear. They are taught not to respond, but to tolerate. They are taught not to retaliate, but to be docile. From some South Asian films to cultural discourses, much of this community’s focus is on depicting its women as people who need to look after and controlled.

A girl growing up in a South Asian household learns that tolerance is a virtue. One may learn to tolerate harsh weather, long hours, and financial struggle. However, tolerance has never been meant to endure verbal or physical abuse in a relationship. Over centuries, tolerance has become synonymous with bearing just about anything, even abuse. This distorted concept of tolerance is so ingrained in girls by society that by the time they reach adulthood, they become attuned to responding to commands rather than requests. The South Asian community is also particularly guilty of emotional suppression as a technique to show strength. Even in the current day, a girl is groomed to obey the commands of her future husband. In society’s eyes, a quiet woman is a woman who was raised well by her parents.

What can the South Asian community do as a whole to right its wrongdoings?

Although things have changed in the South Asian community in regards to the position of women, it hasn’t changed at the pace as it should. Society as a whole must work hard to teach the importance of having an open dialogue with boys and girls in their formative years. By instilling the doctrine of gender quality in boys and girls, we can bring about change. Parents must train boys and girls to be considerate of others’ feelings. South Asian films must start depicting women as strong and independent, while portraying men as sensitive considerate, and respectful to women. 

This article was written by me for Manavi – An organization for South Asian Women.  Manavi Newsletter

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