Tuesday, May 22

South Asians' sad secret uncovered

Simmering issue of violence against wives explored in new play written by social workers

Getting a divorce is worse than being hit by your husband.

So says a line of dialogue penned by two Toronto social workers. Because of their powerful new play Meri Kahani, as well as a new film Provoked that dramatizes a murder trial of an abused Punjabi wife in Britain, the sad reality of domestic violence in South Asian homes is emerging from the shadows.

While the problem is not new, Toronto's first generation of South Asian immigrants were focused more on finding jobs and housing, educating their children and trying to fit in than on tackling such a contentious issue openly.

Now a younger generation of women, like Umbereen Inayet and Mehreen Poonja, are leading the crusade.

Both 26 years old and of Pakistani origin, the two met as students in the Master's of Social Work program at University of Toronto. Due to graduate this fall, they want to "eradicate the pervasive culture of shame" that prevents mistreated South Asian women from seeking help.

Meri Kahani: My Story,” is an new innovative play addressing the challenges faced by South Asian survivors of abuse in the North American context. Focusing on abuse, the play will serve to educate and inspire audiences in resisting ongoing violence and overcoming the barriers that women face in seeking support services. Using theatre and dance, the stories are told through the varied perspectives of South Asian survivors of abuse—domestic violence, incest and sexual assault—to capture the diversity of experiences among South Asian women.

Domestic violence also hit the big screen last week with the local release of Provoked. Made in London, the film has Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai in the lead role, based on the true story of Kiran Ahluwalia who emigrated to Britain from India following an arranged marriage.

In 1989, after 10 years of abuse, she set her husband on fire as he lay in bed. Ahluwalia was sentenced to life in prison but appealed and was released after three years in a landmark ruling that recognized the abuse as a mitigating factor.

The adjustment process that newcomers face in Canada – underemployment and juggling several menial jobs to make ends meet – also heightens the risk of violence.

LINK: Toronto Star
LINK: Film Provoked
LINK: Play Meri Kahani: My Story

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