Domestic Abuse in the Indo-Caribbean Community: Lets Talk About It
Written by: Stephanie Rambharos
DISCLAIMER: This article is written based on my personal experience and the experiences of the Indo-Caribbean women around me. It does not in any way reflect every experience with intimate partner abuse.
From the age of 18-22 I was in an abusive relationship. I was taught by someone I loved and who I thought loved me that I would never be good enough, and I certainly couldn’t be better than him. I watched myself change from being bright and spirited to being silent and depressed. I didn’t recognize who I was when I looked in the mirror anymore.
When we think of the word “abuse” a lot of us picture only physical violence, but the emotional and psychological manipulation that took place during those 4 years hurt more and lasted longer than any bruise I’ve ever received. It’s a story I’ve seen too many times in my own community. Indo-Caribbean women often face situations like these in silence with partners they feel they have to stay with due to familial pressure.
After the demise of that relationship I realized that my family was a big reason I stayed so long.
I knew after the first few months of the relationship that it wasn’t a good or healthy situation but as bad as it sounds, it was still an escape compared to how I felt about my home life. Referencing an article posted on the BGD website about body image and body shaming; “Self-confidence is the foundation of success. When women are not empowered and have low self-esteem, it can lead to abusive relationships and unfulfilled potential. This is why we need to assure that young girls are growing up confident in themselves. One way to do so is to encourage healthy body image” (Brown Girl Diary, 2020)
I grew up being picked at by family day in and day out about my weight, my overall appearance, and things that felt more sensitive like my intelligence and personality.
When I look back at it, I never felt good about myself. In comes this person who paraded me around like a trophy and made me feel like the prettiest and most accomplished girl in the world, who promised me marriage and a house and a family I could raise to be my own. It made it very difficult to say no. Soon after I began to surpass him in my life pursuits, he ripped the pedestal he put me on right from under me and started to treat me more and more like my family members did. Picking at the most sensitive parts of me until there was nothing left. Out of my own stubbornness, I stayed.
I desperately wanted to trade one unhealthy situation for another.
When my family found out about all of this, they didn’t ask if I was okay, or if I needed help. They immediately went to the default—“what would the rest of the family think?” The perceptions of the abuse felt more important to them than my recovery.
Indo-Caribbean perceptions of abuse vary depending on age, gender, and geographic location. A study done by Nelesh Singh analyzed the perspectives on dating abuse and offered some interesting and disappointing insights into what our community thinks about this sensitive topic ranging from un-acceptance to acceptance through conducting interviews.
Kapil stated: “I don’t think it’s right, in any community… don’t think that it’s accepted. I have not seen it in my friends or family, especially the younger generations. Personally I don’t see it, and I don’t agree with it occurring.”
He highlights the difference age may have to do with the acceptance of dating violence and the younger generation being less likely to tolerate it.
Accepted to an Extent
Justin stated: “It depends how assimilated you are, It has to do with education, the people who are more assimilated to Western civilization. They understand how a relationship is supposed to work, for Indo-Caribbean’s it’s a natural normal thing… the guys to be in charge of their girls. It’s in chutney music like the song you don’t have a man you have a manager, back in the day you have a song about sticking to one guy. As ladies become more educated, they are less ignorant about how relationships are going on, they are changing.”
He believes that as women have grown and had more access to education, they are less tolerant to being abused than those who have not had the same freedom and privilege.
Anita stated: “I think they think its ok for a man to be in control of the relationship, man to hit a woman, but this is more back home in a sense.”
Asha stated: “In Canada, we may accept it more in our community than the rest of Canadians.”
Shamila stated: “I don’t think (dating violence) is something that’s really talked about, relatives and friends don’t really bring it up. It’s swept under the rug, if we don’t talk about it we cant address it. I don’t know the prevalence because we try to hide it. If there is an issue in general you swipe it under the rug, just like mental illness and Indian families.”
All three of these women claim they feel that it is accepted in your community OR ignored entirely. This is one I personally relate to. (Singh, 4.6.1)
It’s been a year and my family still pretends it never happened.
How you choose to recover from the trauma of an abusive relationship is an important and personal choice especially if you feel you don’t have the support of your family. I’m fortunate enough to have a handful of very close and caring friends who carried me through my highs and my lows. I started seeing a therapist for a while to process my grief and challenge my views on romantic relationships, rediscovered my hobbies, and went on dates with new people and learned that I am worthy of being treated well.
My biggest achievement last year was participating in the Miss West Indian Canadian Pageant. I wanted to speak about my experience to a room full of Indo-Caribbean men and women. I worried about the judgement that would follow but it was important to me that someone addressed our community.
I went in fully aware that speaking on Indo-Caribbean domestic violence to a judging panel primarily made up of men would probably not work in my favour to win, but that was okay with me.
I wanted to get through to just one person in the audience. After I made my speech, I walked off the stage and was met by a woman with two young girls who asked me to take a photo with them. She said she related and was glad someone addressed it in a community that sweeps issues under the rug. That was all I wanted to accomplish.
Sharing and addressing our experiences as a community without shame are an important part of removing the stigma and educating our girls. Through bringing these stories to light, they’ll be able to recognize what real love and healthy relationships look like so the future of Indo-Caribbean households are those that foster confidence, safety, and love.
Singh, Nelesh. Indo-Caribbean Immigrants Perceptions of Dating Abuse . University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Apr. 2016, ir.library.dc-uoit.ca/bitstream/10155/709/1/Singh_Nelesh.pdf.
Rampersad, Suhana. “Body Image/Body Shaming in the Indo-Caribbean Community.” The Brown Girl Diary, The Brown Girl Diary, 14 May 2020, www.browngirldiary.com/post/body-image-body-shaming-in-the-indo-caribbean-community.