Thursday, May 08, 2008
Recently, I had chance encounters with two acquaintances – both well-educated, competent Indian women, their only shortcoming being that they have been cursed with dependant visas – after they re-surfaced with horror stories of having endured excruciating belligerence from their allegedly intelligent, educated husbands. Their anger, anguish and helplessness are perhaps inveterate by now. Both are emotionally drained out, physically worn out, and while one has managed to live with an aunt to come to terms with her pain, take up a course to hone her skills, and think of brighter future options; the other is still struggling to get a hold of her miserable, financially tottering life as a young mother of a three-year-old toddler, with divorce proceedings taking forever to wrap up. What’s worse, her dependent visa is about to expire; but the fairly relieving part of her story is that she has sought legal help and will hopefully find a way out of her more immediate visa turmoil.
The travails of H-4 visa holders are never-ending, and appalling. Turn a corner and chances are you’ll run into dependant “wives” of H-1 Bs, who, more often than not, well qualify for a six-figure salary job, but are forced to squander their time and skills away doing nothing. The most they could get up to is volunteer at a local not-for-profit organization, or, in cases where it is financially viable, take up new hobbies. While there are some who up the ante a notch and take up higher education courses, some are left feeling wretched and lonely in their struggle to find independence and financial stability.
For most of these dependants, even as the whim of the good life in this land of golden opportunities begins to wane, the complications and distressing ramifications that arise out of this dreadful situation are multifold. Especially between couples that are hastily married off, thanks to new age Internet-alliances. It takes a toll on the partners’ emotional sides, sapping them out and leaving little of their ability to think and act rationally, wisely and maturely. The result – suicidal tendencies; often brought about by domestic violence; a blight not limited to any one class or creed, rather touching even the finer, educated, intelligent groups.
According to statistics presented by an assortment of volunteers with South Asian help groups, and media persons, as many as two out of five South Asian women are impacted by domestic violence every year. There are many help groups for victims of abuse; also, a Victim’s Visa Program that aims to help these victims. But owing to a strange set of reasons, immigrant victims of domestic abuse refrain from seeking help or even trying to find a way out of their horrendous situations. One unfortunate basis that repeats itself with alarming regularity in such situations is a lack of proper understanding of the laws and rules; while fear that stems out of taxing mores follows as a close second.
For the uninformed, the Violence Against Women Act, passed by the Congress in 1994, protects victims of domestic abuse by authorizing spouses and children of US citizens or lawful permanent residents to apply for a petition for their own lawful permanent residencies. Also, some of the abused immigrants are permitted to file for immigration relief without the abuser’s knowledge or assistance.
Shivali Shah, co-founder of KIRAN – a Domestic Violence and Crisis Services organization based in North Carolina, has launched an all-encompassing research project on H-1B, H-1C, and H-4 visa holders. The proposed “H Visa Survey” is set to record all information pertaining to the experiences of living the American life, while having been or being on any H visa. All former and current H visa holders are encouraged to participate in this survey, and it might just be the next best thing to actually lending a helping hand to a victim of abuse.
H4Help.org, a community of dependant visa holders, is aiming to raise awareness on the travails of H4 visa holders by, among other endeavors, seeking help and funds to make a documentary film on the topic.
Thus, a little research that was triggered by my unexpected trysts with two women contacts who are struggling to find their voice after a long spell of being abused and muted, has opened up many vistas to finding and helping provide relief and strength to battered young, South Asian women like them with ruinous fates. Perhaps, like the term “Awaz” connotes (a South Asian Network endeavor, aptly tag-lined “Voices against Violence”) it’s time to raise our voices to a decibel so intense that it shakes the putrefying hell out of domestic abuse.