CW: domestic violence, abuse 

The prevalence of domestic violence in the South Asian community remains a hushed secret. Very rarely do we acknowledge and talk about it in our homes, communities and media platforms.

In our continued efforts to break the silence and create a much needed discussion around this issue, 5X Press reached out to B.C.-based writer and family therapist Surjeet Kalsey.

 Having worked with almost 20 to 25 thousand Indo-Canadian families in the last 40 years, Kalsey has borne witness to countless instances of emotional, physical, economic, and mental violence against women and children that go unseen, unheard, unacknowledged in our community. Acutely aware of the gravity of this issue, Kalsey has spent her entire life fighting against domestic violence by writing poems, plays and short stories, engaging with the community members and providing therapy services. 

Reflecting on why our community has consistently failed to perceive this looming menace, Kalsey emphasized how our social upbringing keeps our women from speaking out against their home and family members. “Anything which happens in a house is considered a private matter not to be disclosed outside. Women often feel ashamed and fearful of seeking out the help of public services, like transition houses and 911. Consequently, their suffering remains invisible, unacknowledged, unreported.”  

Along with the social stigma, the lack of a serious and culturally sensitive response from RCMP also discourages women of the community from speaking out against their families.    

Kalsey also narrated how when she goes into the community to raise awareness about this issue, people with their uncritical belief in the goodness of religion refuse to believe her. “Our community likes to feel proud of how women are honored in Gurbani,” she mentioned. “They don't find it believable that a Sikh can go against Gurbani and commit violence against women.”

The sensationalization of domestic violence in ethnic media further perpetuates apathy towards this issue. Kalsey explained how, “in order to capitalize and earn views on the news of a woman’s murder, our radios and T.V. channels host live debates and invite callers to participate. Some of the participants go so far as to put the blame on the murdered women.” 

Lost in these sensational, insensitive debates about who was right and who was wrong, many fail to see these killings as reflective of a deeply rooted issue of domestic violence in the community.

The failure of our community to take the issue of domestic violence seriously has kept our men from actively unlearning our patriarchal upbringing. 

Talking about her experiences of working with the affectees, Kalsey observed how, “one of the major reasons for domestic violence is the anger issues of our men. Growing up watching violent, angry men in the family, school, public spaces and popular media, our men lack emotional and communication skills to express themselves healthily.” 

Kalsey goes on to mention how over time, “patriarchy can numb the emotions of men and desensitize them to the pains and sufferings of women around them.”       

By connecting domestic violence with broader structures of patriarchal masculinity, Kalsey implicates every man in the community. The continued prevalence of this issue is reflective of how we men have failed to cultivate healthy masculinity in our homes as well as our institutions. 

The experiences of survivors of domestic violence are more than just a private, family matter—they remind us men yet again of not having done enough. Despite all the social, cultural and economic progress our community has made in the last few decades, there is still something lacking. 

We cannot continue to stay apathetic, silent, ignorant in the face of these issues. I compiled this short list to highlight where we as men can begin the process of understanding how we can support survivors of domestic violence, both within our homes and in the broader community.  These are some of the commitments and concrete steps we, as men, must take. This list, created by a man who is a work in progress, is in no way exhaustive—this is just the beginning. 

So, where do we start? 

  • Critically evaluate the ideas of masculinity fed to us through movies, songs and social media
  • Read and educate ourselves through the works of feminist authors 
  • Listen to and believe in the stories of women
  • Accept that we have benefitted from patriarchal structures of our family and society, and ask women around us how we can create a more equitable space for them
  • Develop an awareness of our own emotions
  • Create safe and nourishing space for other men to unlearn masculinity
  • Respectfully call out any gender based discrimination in our homes, schools, workplaces and sexist behaviour and remarks of “boys” in the hopes of creating a meaningful discussion
  • Stay brave in the face of all the bullying and discouragement in this life long journey
About the author

Hammad Abdullah

Hamad came from Pakistan to Canada as an international student and recently completed his masters in history from UBC. He is interested in issues related to South Asian cultures, histories, and colonialism. When not reading and writing (or thinking about reading and writing), he can be seen playing cricket.

More by Hammad Abdullah
5X Press is a forum for opinions, conversations, & experiences, powered by South Asian youth. The views expressed here are not representative of those of 5X Festival.