CW: Domestic violence, suicide, descriptions of abuse
Just days ago, the Punjabi community awoke to news that a woman by the name of Mandeep Kaur died by suicide.
The Kaur Movement had been chronicling the harrowing account of Mandeep Kaur, a 30-year-old Punjabi woman living in Richmond Hill, New York, who was the victim of ongoing domestic violence and abuse that spanned over the course of eight years.
Her husband, Ranjodhbeer Singh Sandhu had been abusing her for years, in part to punish her for giving him and his family two daughters instead of a son.
Videos of Mandeep explaining her abuse in gruesome detail, along with footage of the abuse itself, went viral on social media.
When I see videos of intimate partner violence online, I tend to avoid them for my own emotional safety.
But something drew me to watch them and I—like so many others—broke down in tears as Mandeep tried to stand up to her husband.
In the video, she put her foot down, telling him that she wasn’t going to be abused anymore to which he responded by lurching at her, all while their two young daughters screeched in the background, begging for the abuse to stop.
Mandeep also explained how her in-laws were complicit in the abuse over the years. They pressured her to have a son and shamed her when she had daughters. They enabled Ranjodhbeer by failing to hold him accountable for his behaviour.
According to the videos Mandeep recorded in her final days, her in-laws stood idly by as he had multiple affairs, attacked and tormented Mandeep and often came home drunk and incoherent.
Mandeep endured it all for years until her tragic and heartbreaking death.
All that’s left is the hope that Ranjodhbeer Singh is held adequately to account, and that his two daughters are able to find a safe home.
But this story, though chilling, isn’t unfamiliar.
There are so many more people who will continue to suffer in our homes and in our places of worship. This suffering happens not only at the hands of the abusers themselves, but at the hands of the family members and the community that look away and refuse to take meaningful action.
There is so much I can say about domestic violence in the Punjabi community.
I can talk about how it stems from the way we raise and condition our sons. How they’re coddled and brought up in an environment that encourages them to do whatever they want, despite the harm it causes. How it’s the mothers, sisters and children who most often endure the brute effects of that harm—who pick up the pieces after our men inevitably act out.
I can talk about how this comes from the disease of son-preference in our community and how so many of us grew up listening to stories about how families were disappointed at the birth of their daughters. Instead of celebrating, many of our parents received expressions of regret, or even apologies at our very existence.
I can talk about how when abuse inevitably occurs, our families ignore the signs, enable and even encourage the abuse to continue.
But I can’t begin to explain how tired I am of talking about the cycle of abuse in our community.
I’m tired of seeing more and more names fall victim to the institution of abuse in the Punjabi community.
In the past few days, I’ve seen so many people take to social media to express their grief, outrage, and frustration at the loss of Mandeep Kaur. This story feels different from a lot of others that we’ve read about in the past—in part because the abuse was documented through videos.
It struck a chord with so many because we saw it, so we can’t deny that it happened—which our community often does when people come forward about abuse.
Regardless of how the family’s fate turns out, nothing we do or say will bring Mandeep Kaur back. It won’t bring back Maple Batalia or Manjit Panghali or Jassi Sidhu or any of the other women our community has lost either.
Abuse is a spectrum and occurs at various iterations, but it feels like the vast majority of our community only feels compelled to speak up when the abuse is physically violent and hyper visible.
To me, it feels like the only time a vast majority of our community really cares about domestic violence is in death.
Abusive behaviour is a seed that is planted and nurtured by our community in our sons. It starts small. It starts with careless behaviour and a lack of responsibility and empathy in the home.
It extends out into how we accept the way our men treat and speak about women.
It comes from every comment where a man speaks inappropriately to a woman, every time he tests the boundary of what is acceptable in this community and faces no consequence.
While the cycle of abuse is alive and well in our community, so is our consistent and devastating failure to protect our women.
When we’re not able to raise men who value the lives of women, we’re not able to support women when those very men become abusive.
With each soul that is snuffed out—whether through death, or through the silent endurance of ongoing abuse—it becomes clear that the cycle of failure in the Punjabi community persists.
My heart is heavy. I want so desperately to believe that our community is better than this. I believe that we can be, but in order to do this, we need brown men to care about our safety as much as we do.
Not simply because we’re their sisters or daughters or mothers but because we’re human beings worthy of safe, loving lives.
We need to look into our homes, our families, and our social circles as the first place where we can stop abusive behaviour in its tracks before it spirals out of control and claims more lives.
We need to destigmatize divorce and encourage women to be outspoken about their safety, rather than stifling their cries. We’ve let this cycle go on for far too long and we each have a personal responsibility to break it.
The cycle of failure in our community must end. It truly is a matter of life and death.
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