ABC 730 Report
15th May 2015
India's government recently confirmed a law allowing rape within marriage wouldn't be changed and the community in Australia isn't immune from domestic violence but now many in the community are fighting back.
JOE O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: There've been some appalling cases of violence against women in India recently that have drawn international condemnation.
What's not so widely known are the cases in the Indian community here in Australia.
The violence is being linked in part by some to traditions like arranged marriages and dowries, and in India, marital rape is still not a criminal offence.
Here, many in the community are now fighting back.
Jessica Longbottom reports.
ASHOK GODARA, FATHER: Nobody should be given this type of agony, this type of anguish. It's very difficult for me to live. It's very difficult.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM, REPORTER: Eight years ago, Indian physiotherapist Deepshikha Godara migrated to Australia from New Delhi.
ASHOK GODARA: She was a very brilliant student and she was very obedient to her parents. And she was very polite. She was very kind-hearted.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: Deepshikha's family had arranged her marriage to Sunil Beniwal, who lived in Melbourne, and believed it was a good match. But before long, they clashed over the dowry that had been paid by Deepshikha's family to Sunil's and he started to hit her.
In December last year, Sunil Beniwal slit his wife's throat.
He then killed himself.
The couple's three-year-old son was found crying next to her lifeless body a few hours later.
The death has left Deepshikha's family distraught.
ASHOK GODARA: I remember everyday my daughter. I can't forget my daughter.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: Deepshikha was the ninth person killed as a result of male domestic violence in Melbourne's Indian community since 2012, when in a wave of domestic killings, three families were wiped out.
RELATIVE (2012): It's a mystery. There's no answer to it.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: Two of the perpetrators were known to Jasvinder Sidhu.
JASVINDER SIDHU, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CAMPAIGNER: There had been different reasons in different families, but there's - one theme that comes back is social pride. In many cases where the couples are married, they basically can't separate because there's a big social pride and people don't want to separate so that back home in India, it will be a taboo and it will be seen as bad that somebody's son or somebody's daughter is now separated.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: It was eight years ago when he was working as an accounting lecturer in Melbourne that Jasvinder Sidhu noticed many of his female Indian students were falling behind. He asked why and they told him they were being subjected to mental or physical abuse by their husbands.
JASVINDER SIDHU: In many cases the marriages are basically convenience marriages where people marry with the purpose to migrate.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: And permanent residency is used as a bit of a bargaining chip - would that be correct?
JASVINDER SIDHU: It is. It is quite an attractive reason for marriage.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: Since he first noticed the problem, word has spread in the community that Jasvinder Sidhu can help.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: How many of these emails do you think you've received?
JASVINDER SIDHU: So, around 30 emails I've received from strangers and most of them were very desperate situations.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: Nayana Bandari and her friends run a group helping new Indian migrants.
NAYANA BANDARI: They thought they are permanent resident, they can bring a girl, and on behalf of being permanent here, they can ask a girl's family any amount, any amount. So basically, it's more like a marketing strategy instead of relationship.
'SAANVI', DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIM: So I was thinking that we will start over married life happily, but it's totally different from that. I never think that this will happen to me.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: 'Saanvi' came close to becoming another murder statistic. Her family in India answered an ad in a local newspaper calling for potential wives for an Indian man with permanent Australian residency. 'Saanvi' was chosen and the couple married in India. Her family paid the agreed dowry.
But when she arrived in Australia, her husband demanded more. She refused.
'SAANVI': He put so many restriction on me, like not to take bath, not to make food, not to come out of your room. It's like a prison. First three month I didn't get the permission to come from my house, from my room.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: So you - for three months you couldn't leave the house?
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: And you had to ask permission to leave your room?
'SAANVI': Yeah. He tried to control me in every way he can. Then he started beating me.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: When did you realise that you had to change your situation?
'SAANVI': When he put knife on my throat
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: Fearing her husband might kill her, 'Saanvi' fled the house and called police. She's now living in a safe house.
MANJULA O'CONNOR, PHYCHIATRIST: The cases that we see are the tip of the iceberg. There is lot more going on at the bottom and the violence that the women do suffer is more severe.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: Psychiatrist Manjula O'Connor treats more than 15 Indian women each week who are victims of domestic violence. She says the prevalence of patriarchal beliefs in Indian culture contributes to the abuse.
MANJULA O'CONNOR: When a woman gets married in India, the daughter is effectively handed over as a gift to the groom's family. That is a system in which the woman is completely at the - she's vulnerable and at the mercy of the groom and his family.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: On a chilly night in Melbourne's north-east, eight South Asian men who have been found by the courts to have been violent towards women gather at a run-down Uniting Care office.
Most have been ordered to attend this men's behaviour change program, which addresses a range of factors, including the participants' cultural background.
FAYE WOLFE, GROUP FACILITATOR: If you breach your intervention order, it becomes a criminal offence. And so you need to understand that sometimes you've got to be brave enough as a man and love your children enough to walk away. Because you don't want your children exposed to violence.
GROUP PARTICIPANT: My weakness is my kids.
MAHESH RAM BHANDARY, GROUP FACILITATOR, KILDONAN: These men are very qualified. A lot of them have bachelors or masters degrees when they come here. And when they come here, the resettlement process is very difficult. A lot of them are driving taxis or being truck drivers. And when they bring their families over, that's the people who face the brunt of that, of that frustration, of that anger.
JESSICA LONGBOTTOM: Jasvinder Sidhu has formed a roundtable group involving state politicians, police and members of the Indian Australian community to increase awareness about domestic violence and to increase protection for victims.
JASVINDER SIDHU: My message would be that there's always a choice and the choice can be the choice of leaving. But in difficult situations where you are a victim of physical and mental stress, you should seek help.
ASHOK GODARA: Women should be protected and boys should be raised against this menace. Such type of crimes are horrible. They must be prevented.
JOE O'BRIEN: Jessica Longbottom reporting there.