By Ram Khatry, Sydney
‘’He went overseas and came back after a month. He did not drink whole time and also met my parents. I went back to him thinking he has changed. But the violence continued.’’
This real-life testimony of a patient given to Dr Ghana Shyam Chapagain speaks volumes about the way the scourge of domestic violence is slowly eating into Australia’s young Nepalese community. But then this is also the country where a victim receives enough support to rise above the darkness and become a celebrated champion of domestic violence campaign, such as the 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty. As psychiatrists complain of a rising number of domestic violence cases among Australia’s Nepalese diaspora, a concerted effort is also undergoing to nip the problem in the bud.
Nari Nikunja Australia (NNA) is one such diasporic organisation committed to stop violence against women. At the heart of the not-for profit organisation’s somewhat silent campaign is the message that world-class help from the government is readily available and that you must speak up if you are being abused in any form and manner – not just physical.
Participating at an interaction programme organised by NNA, the Sydney-based psychiatrist Dr Chapagain spoke at length about ‘the cycle of abuse’ that entraps potential victims of domestic violence simply because they think the behaviour of their abusive partners would pass or is caused by certain temporary factors.
The cycle of abuse becomes much more complex in context of the Australian Nepalese community as young women who emigrate here are often on their own. Once they begin to experience ‘disharmony’ with their partners, a tension between them starts to build and eventually escalate. Factors such as immigration status and personal finances determine how vulnerable women cope with their abusive partners. Consideration for family’s honour further contributes to the ‘traumatic bonding’ of the victims, the psychiatrist of Nepalese origin remarked. Expatriate women usually do not have many options other than to put up with the perpetrators as they are the main providers of the victims’ basic needs, he said.
Presenting a paper on the anomaly of domestic violence which costs Australia a whopping $13.6 billion annually, Dr Chapagain had a very clear message for at-risk women of the diaspora, ”If you are afraid at home, leave immediately. That’s not the place for you.”
Nari Nikunja, which is a women’s forum under Non-Resident Nepali Association Australia, organised the event to mark the International Women’s Day 2016. NNA has a number of programmes both in Australia and in Nepal which are aimed at women empowerment, promotion of Nepalese culture in Australia and medical assistance to needy women back in the Himalayan nation.
Host of the interaction, NNA’s Pratigya Adhikari, announced the launch of the ‘Dollar of the Month’ project wherein participants are expected to contribute just one dollar a month which will be used to fund various philanthropic projects of the group.
NSW Shadow Minister for Women, Ageing and Disability Sophie Costis and NRNA’s president Surendra Sigdel also spoke on the occasion with the former also honouring activists with traditional scarves.
The damage caused by domestic violence came alive when a senior detective from NSW Police Force shared his first-hand experience in dealing with the problem. ‘’Unfortunately, I see the cycle of domestic violence almost every shift,” Acting Inspector Karl Leis from Auburn Police said during the evening. The father of five children told the participants how he has had to deal with the extreme actions of perpetrators of domestic violence and had arrested men who have gone to the length of killing their partners. He assured the audience that his department would do anything and everything within the confines of law to protect and safeguard victims of domestic violence. Senior Constable Amanda Hollins assisted Mr Leis by explaining the processes involved in reporting cases of domestic violence including apprehended violence order (AVO).
Detective Lees highlighted the importance of community events like NNA’s gala dinner to promote awareness against domestic violence in Australia. He also reminded that there was no cultural boundaries to domestic violence and may occur across wide range of ages.
Lawyer, speaker and writer Pallavi Sinha pointed out that migrant women constitute a major at-risk group as they settle down in Australia amid a wide range of challenges. Moreover, they do not have many friends in the country and are generally afraid to speak up. ”Domestic violence continues to be a problem both in Australia and Nepal,” she lamented. Sharing the challenges she has faced over the years, the vocal human rights advocate vowed that come what may she would keep going in her crusade against domestic violence adding that no matter how much she is attacked on ‘Facebook and Twitter’, she would continue her mission (of fighting violence against women).
”Don’t be a passive observer, take control,” she urged the participants of the programme held at a party palace in Auburn. Ms Sinha said those who have been through the traumatic experience of domestic violence are ‘survivors’ not ‘victims’.
Indra Ban OA became the first person to contribute to NNA’s dollar one project by signing the commitment form.