Domestic Violence In Elderly Couples

A couple of months ago, maybe it was many weeks, I saw on the TV show, “Cops” with utter disgust a Bapuji and Biji, being a form of “entertainment” for a domestic violence assault. Along with my disgust, anger, and sorrow I had a well yea it happens you think its that shocking attitude. I wasnt shaken or shocked by the show because I knew this story was a reflection of what happens in many Punjabi Sikh homes in America. The only shock I had was that it was an elderly couple whose situation I was seeing aired on television. As the Bibiji cried and the camera focused on the knife and their small-living quarters (I think it was a labor camp in the Central Valley in California), while Bapuji was drunk, his hair and/or parnaa (i.e. casual turban) all ruffled, and handcuffed, I thought this never ends its not just an issue affecting young or mid-age couples, but also older ones too you never just grow-out of it and become sayanna (i.e. wise). I also thought about them living at what looked like a labor camp and how hard they must work, probably after many years in Punjab, to better their economic lives for themselves and/or their children. Then I thought Bapuji will come back home and probably do the samehand.jpg thing again what if Bibiji needs to leave him, permanently or just for a while, but has no family in the United States are close to the Central Valley where she may be working where will she go? Plus, just the utter embarrassment she may feel because in their budhaphaa (i.e. older age) they are still facing this issue and she has to ask for help.

Im wondering what anti-domestic violence advocacy campaigns and shelters are doing to address the issues faced by elderly women. The advocacy and services they offer save lives and offer hope to help women escape a cycle of violence. It think they tend to be geared more towards meeting the needs of younger women and their children. They may not explicitly state that or have policies restricting elderly women from receiving their much-needed services, but I have a feeling younger women frequent them more often not because more younger women may face the issue of domestic violence or live in the Diaspora. I think its because elderly women may just be more hesitant to reach out for their services at their age. I wonder what services these womens organizations have to meet the needs of elderly South Asian, specifically Punjabi Sikh, women who are primarily of immigrant background? The circumstances of elderly Punjabi Sikh women are similar but also very different compared to those who are younger. Factors leading to these differences range from length of marriage to having grandchildren as well as son and daughter-in-laws. The reasons and circumstances for immigration may be different as well. Some elderly couples immigrate, at times, to help build an economic base and U.S. residency status to resettle their single and married children back in Punjab. Others immigrate after being sponsored by their U.S.-based children and work to add to the family-income.

Any ideas about domestic abuse in South Asian elderly couples, specifically those of Punjabi Sikh background? How about available resources?


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26 Responses to “Domestic Violence In Elderly Couples”

  1. Simran says:

    This story is quite sad. I think your reaction to this is probably similar to my reaction when Dateline NBC 'Catching a Predator' showed someone from our community trying to meet an underage girl. It was shocking to say the least.. not shocking because I'm so naive and think people from our community don't do such things, but rather shocking because it's always difficult to see a Pugh highlighted in association with such dismaying acts.

    I think we're doing a great disservice by not providing the social services that are needed by people in our community, whether it be domestic violence, alcoholism, or mental health. I also think that we could do a much better job at creating a social network for Punjabi Sikh women to be able find the support system they need to navigate through these issues. Perhaps this should be a grassroots level supported by the Gurudwaras? It is unfortunate that the fear of someone else in the community 'finding out' about your troubles at home is much greater than seeking out the help that is needed to overcome them. So programs need to be developed that are aware of the cultural obstacles that prevent people in our community seeking out those services.

    I can imagine that domestic abuse in elderly couples in the South Asian community will be much higher than any data you find (if you find any) because keeping quiet and being silenced is likely to be more prevalent in this age group. So i wonder, if we did have these resources, how would we ensure this population is captured and encouraged to seek help…

  2. Simran says:

    This story is quite sad. I think your reaction to this is probably similar to my reaction when Dateline NBC ‘Catching a Predator’ showed someone from our community trying to meet an underage girl. It was shocking to say the least.. not shocking because I’m so naive and think people from our community don’t do such things, but rather shocking because it’s always difficult to see a Pugh highlighted in association with such dismaying acts.

    I think we’re doing a great disservice by not providing the social services that are needed by people in our community, whether it be domestic violence, alcoholism, or mental health. I also think that we could do a much better job at creating a social network for Punjabi Sikh women to be able find the support system they need to navigate through these issues. Perhaps this should be a grassroots level supported by the Gurudwaras? It is unfortunate that the fear of someone else in the community ‘finding out’ about your troubles at home is much greater than seeking out the help that is needed to overcome them. So programs need to be developed that are aware of the cultural obstacles that prevent people in our community seeking out those services.

    I can imagine that domestic abuse in elderly couples in the South Asian community will be much higher than any data you find (if you find any) because keeping quiet and being silenced is likely to be more prevalent in this age group. So i wonder, if we did have these resources, how would we ensure this population is captured and encouraged to seek help…

  3. Camille says:

    There are a few organizations that specialize in services and shelters for desi women (Maitri, in the South Bay, comes to mind), however very few cater to services for the elderly, and I don't know any in California that offer Punjabi-language translation services and culturally relevant/appropriate shelters. This is actually something the women in my family have been talking about for a long time — starting a network of households, kind of like an "underground railroad" — that takes in women in a family-setting so that they feel comforted. Then these households would coordinate with medical/counseling services, etc., to help folks with child care, transportation, getting to therapy/visits. Kind of like a more pro-active foster care. I don't know if it would work, but it it's frustrating to see the number of women, particularly older and immigrant women, who are unable to access shelter by virtue of their regionality or vulnerability in society. :(

  4. Camille says:

    There are a few organizations that specialize in services and shelters for desi women (Maitri, in the South Bay, comes to mind), however very few cater to services for the elderly, and I don’t know any in California that offer Punjabi-language translation services and culturally relevant/appropriate shelters. This is actually something the women in my family have been talking about for a long time — starting a network of households, kind of like an “underground railroad” — that takes in women in a family-setting so that they feel comforted. Then these households would coordinate with medical/counseling services, etc., to help folks with child care, transportation, getting to therapy/visits. Kind of like a more pro-active foster care. I don’t know if it would work, but it it’s frustrating to see the number of women, particularly older and immigrant women, who are unable to access shelter by virtue of their regionality or vulnerability in society. :(

  5. Phulkari says:

    Excellent point Simran, “So I wonder, if we did have these resources, how would we ensure this population is captured and encouraged to seek help…”.

    I would say it would be very difficult and complex because when people don’t want to talk and the fear of other’s is stronger than your need to ask for help, the obstacles are tremendously larger and the process of capturing that population is longer. I would suggest one starting point would be by targeting the elderly Punjabi Sikh population with social activities and other services as they do in Canada. Through these activities and services you could share what resources are available and ensure confidentiality.

  6. Phulkari says:

    Excellent point Simran, So I wonder, if we did have these resources, how would we ensure this population is captured and encouraged to seek help.

    I would say it would be very difficult and complex because when people dont want to talk and the fear of others is stronger than your need to ask for help, the obstacles are tremendously larger and the process of capturing that population is longer. I would suggest one starting point would be by targeting the elderly Punjabi Sikh population with social activities and other services as they do in Canada. Through these activities and services you could share what resources are available and ensure confidentiality.

  7. Phulkari says:

    Camille,

    It's an option and a start. :)

    I think the women in your family should give it a try.

  8. Phulkari says:

    Camille,

    It’s an option and a start. :)

    I think the women in your family should give it a try.

  9. Simran says:

    Camille, I think the concept of creating an underground network of households that take in women in trouble would be an important solution for our community. I know that this is something that is relied upon by many women in the UK but it wasn't an idea that was immediately supported or developed. I really believe we can learn from the lessons that our community has undergone in the UK and prevent those issues from soaring here in North America. Granted, the communities are different because of the environment in which they exist, but somehow i think much of the cultural obstacles we incur are the same and lead to the same adverse consequences.

    Phulkari, I like the idea that in Canada there are places for the elderly to congregate. I think this social network is extremely important for the health and well-being of any individual. In communities with large Punjabis you may occasionally find community centers where all ages of Punjabis have a place to go. I think developing more of these community centers would be a solution to many of the problems we see increasing in our community (whether that be gang/drug-related, healh-related, or social services-related). In addition, this would allow for organizations to develop relationships with individuals at these community centers and target their services to their specific needs.

  10. Simran says:

    Camille, I think the concept of creating an underground network of households that take in women in trouble would be an important solution for our community. I know that this is something that is relied upon by many women in the UK but it wasn’t an idea that was immediately supported or developed. I really believe we can learn from the lessons that our community has undergone in the UK and prevent those issues from soaring here in North America. Granted, the communities are different because of the environment in which they exist, but somehow i think much of the cultural obstacles we incur are the same and lead to the same adverse consequences.

    Phulkari, I like the idea that in Canada there are places for the elderly to congregate. I think this social network is extremely important for the health and well-being of any individual. In communities with large Punjabis you may occasionally find community centers where all ages of Punjabis have a place to go. I think developing more of these community centers would be a solution to many of the problems we see increasing in our community (whether that be gang/drug-related, healh-related, or social services-related). In addition, this would allow for organizations to develop relationships with individuals at these community centers and target their services to their specific needs.

  11. singh_a says:

    I would like to make a request for a post. One issue that is hardly ever discussed in the family room, let alone the langar hall. Sexual abuse of Sikh women by people in positions of authority. This is a frighteningly regular occurence. When I say people of authority I mean either parents or relatives that sponsor their neices, or religious scholars or preachers who teach kids, or people who lead Sikhs and have many followers. All of these people of authority have a chance of falling from grace, but there are some that not only fell – but remained in their lowly activities and try to cover up and sabotage the efforts of people to reveal the truth. This type of problem is horrific in the Sikh community particularly, which prides itself on a heritage of defending the defenseless.

  12. singh_a says:

    I would like to make a request for a post. One issue that is hardly ever discussed in the family room, let alone the langar hall. Sexual abuse of Sikh women by people in positions of authority. This is a frighteningly regular occurence. When I say people of authority I mean either parents or relatives that sponsor their neices, or religious scholars or preachers who teach kids, or people who lead Sikhs and have many followers. All of these people of authority have a chance of falling from grace, but there are some that not only fell – but remained in their lowly activities and try to cover up and sabotage the efforts of people to reveal the truth. This type of problem is horrific in the Sikh community particularly, which prides itself on a heritage of defending the defenseless.

  13. Nicole says:

    "which prides itself on a heritage of defending the defenseless" – A Singh this comment is along the lines of what I had said to someone while discussing the topic of sexual abuse among Sikh women the other night. Thinking of how proud we are of ourselves often leaves me frustrated and thinking that such bravery was not just so that these individuals could be praised, but instead it is something we should emulate.

    We have many times heard news of the Catholics and look down upon them for the actions of their religious leaders but this is something thats not mentioned too much among our own people. Yes, I have heard of family member, relatives, etc being sexually abusive towards Sikh women but religious scholars is hardly mentioned.

    I remember when I was a child our Gurdwara had a new Gani who was eventually kicked out because a little girl came screaming down the stairs about what he was doing to her. He had been doing this to many children but it was not until this brave little girl spoke that something was done about it.

    It angers me so much that someone could do this in the house of God! I mean this was a Gani ji who probably lectured to the entire sangat about how to follow the word of God and this is what he was doing behind their backs? These people must not have souls and therefore must not fear God.

  14. Nicole says:

    “which prides itself on a heritage of defending the defenseless” – A Singh this comment is along the lines of what I had said to someone while discussing the topic of sexual abuse among Sikh women the other night. Thinking of how proud we are of ourselves often leaves me frustrated and thinking that such bravery was not just so that these individuals could be praised, but instead it is something we should emulate.

    We have many times heard news of the Catholics and look down upon them for the actions of their religious leaders but this is something thats not mentioned too much among our own people. Yes, I have heard of family member, relatives, etc being sexually abusive towards Sikh women but religious scholars is hardly mentioned.

    I remember when I was a child our Gurdwara had a new Gani who was eventually kicked out because a little girl came screaming down the stairs about what he was doing to her. He had been doing this to many children but it was not until this brave little girl spoke that something was done about it.

    It angers me so much that someone could do this in the house of God! I mean this was a Gani ji who probably lectured to the entire sangat about how to follow the word of God and this is what he was doing behind their backs? These people must not have souls and therefore must not fear God.

  15. cali-boy says:

    Growing up, I remember a similar instance to what Nicole is referring to, except the Giani had been at the Gurdwara for about two years. There was a brave little girl that informed some adults (and me) what had happened. The response was pretty swift from the sangat to call an emergency meeting and figure out what to do. What surprised me was just as soon as people started demanding something be done, there was an immediate group that started saying that the girl made it up and that that giani was right. I’m sorry to say that I got pretty enraged and wouldn’t let any adults (except for the kids parents) go near any of the kids.

    I’m thankful that she brought it to my attention, but feel bad that the only thing that was done was that the giani was allowed to quietly retire without any legal ramifications. The parents did not want to have their families exposed to any ramifications from the Sikh community. There are two problems as I see it – 1) understanding how big the problem in our community is not well understood, if we continually choose to not expose it; and 2) fear of repercussions is doing the kids/adults impacted a dis-service.

  16. cali-boy says:

    Growing up, I remember a similar instance to what Nicole is referring to, except the Giani had been at the Gurdwara for about two years. There was a brave little girl that informed some adults (and me) what had happened. The response was pretty swift from the sangat to call an emergency meeting and figure out what to do. What surprised me was just as soon as people started demanding something be done, there was an immediate group that started saying that the girl made it up and that that giani was right. I’m sorry to say that I got pretty enraged and wouldn’t let any adults (except for the kids parents) go near any of the kids.

    I’m thankful that she brought it to my attention, but feel bad that the only thing that was done was that the giani was allowed to quietly retire without any legal ramifications. The parents did not want to have their families exposed to any ramifications from the Sikh community. There are two problems as I see it – 1) understanding how big the problem in our community is not well understood, if we continually choose to not expose it; and 2) fear of repercussions is doing the kids/adults impacted a dis-service.

  17. Nicole says:

    Honestly, I used to believe the problem was as simple as lack of understanding about how big the problem is in our community but it is not this simple.

    Through many different events I have seen that sometimes even when people have the information in front of their face they want to deny it is occurring and its severity. For example, I remember when the information from the Jakara 2006 sponsored survey was released I was approached at a Sacramento Gurdwara about it. The two males knew I was Jakara affiliated and so they asked me where we got the information from and of course to ensure its validity I gave them an explanation. Then, they basically told me that this survey could not be real, that 1 out of 4 Sikh women could not have been sexually abused, that there was no way relatives and family members were doing this to Sikh women. I was outraged, which is an under statement, by their disrespect towards the women who have suffered from abuse.

    So, I don't really think it's just that they do not know its occurring; there is also a population that is in denial. So what can we do about this? How do we get them to see how bad this problem really is? I'm not too sure about the answer but I have some thoughts about it.

    I think not only do we need to spread awareness about sexual/physical abuse occurring, but we need to make sure that the Sikh population is understanding what happens to the victims of this abuse. There needs to be so much more information about the psychological effects these events have on their victims. Sikhs need to understand that the psychological issues that abuse causes carry over into many aspects of the victim's life. Maybe then, they will start believing how real sexual abuse is within our community.

    I'm not too sure this will work. Jakara was able to do a lot just by informing the population of the sexual and physical abuse that occurs within our community. This would be taking another step towards helping victims.

  18. Nicole says:

    Honestly, I used to believe the problem was as simple as lack of understanding about how big the problem is in our community but it is not this simple.

    Through many different events I have seen that sometimes even when people have the information in front of their face they want to deny it is occurring and its severity. For example, I remember when the information from the Jakara 2006 sponsored survey was released I was approached at a Sacramento Gurdwara about it. The two males knew I was Jakara affiliated and so they asked me where we got the information from and of course to ensure its validity I gave them an explanation. Then, they basically told me that this survey could not be real, that 1 out of 4 Sikh women could not have been sexually abused, that there was no way relatives and family members were doing this to Sikh women. I was outraged, which is an under statement, by their disrespect towards the women who have suffered from abuse.

    So, I don’t really think it’s just that they do not know its occurring; there is also a population that is in denial. So what can we do about this? How do we get them to see how bad this problem really is? I’m not too sure about the answer but I have some thoughts about it.

    I think not only do we need to spread awareness about sexual/physical abuse occurring, but we need to make sure that the Sikh population is understanding what happens to the victims of this abuse. There needs to be so much more information about the psychological effects these events have on their victims. Sikhs need to understand that the psychological issues that abuse causes carry over into many aspects of the victim’s life. Maybe then, they will start believing how real sexual abuse is within our community.

    I’m not too sure this will work. Jakara was able to do a lot just by informing the population of the sexual and physical abuse that occurs within our community. This would be taking another step towards helping victims.

  19. bp says:

    I think places like Jakara and Jago and Sikh Research events could do more if they weren't focused on bhangra parties and socializing. At these events the only discussion or reflection on Sikh principles is done in a highly pompous intellectualized fashion rather than spiritually introspective. Nobody actually changes their lives after these events, or is actually mobilized to change the world – it is more a hookup place for young people, or a venue for pointless social chit chat.

  20. bp says:

    I think places like Jakara and Jago and Sikh Research events could do more if they weren’t focused on bhangra parties and socializing. At these events the only discussion or reflection on Sikh principles is done in a highly pompous intellectualized fashion rather than spiritually introspective. Nobody actually changes their lives after these events, or is actually mobilized to change the world – it is more a hookup place for young people, or a venue for pointless social chit chat.

  21. Harbeer says:

    There is a brand new book, Shout Out: Women of Color Respond to Violence which includes an essay by Laksmy Parameswaran titled “Voices of the Pioneers: The Origin of the South Asian Domestic Violence Movement in the United States.” Laksmy Parameswaran is the founder of Daya, a Houston-based South Asian agency that helps women and families in crisis. In addition to dealing with domestic violence, they also put on seminars about alcohol and drug abuse and the stigmas associated with mental health (like depression).

  22. Harbeer says:

    There is a brand new book, Shout Out: Women of Color Respond to Violence which includes an essay by Laksmy Parameswaran titled “Voices of the Pioneers: The Origin of the South Asian Domestic Violence Movement in the United States.” Laksmy Parameswaran is the founder of Daya, a Houston-based South Asian agency that helps women and families in crisis. In addition to dealing with domestic violence, they also put on seminars about alcohol and drug abuse and the stigmas associated with mental health (like depression).

  23. […] Along time ago, a fellow Langa(w)r-iter asked: Im wondering what anti-domestic violence advocacy campaigns and shelters are doing to address the issues faced by elderly women? [link] […]

  24. […] TLH we have addressed various issues effecting the South Asian elderly community. The recent news article in the the New York Times on […]

  25. iSingh says:

    Tragic plight of elderly immigrants from Punjab. Are there any good models out there on how to address this?

  26. iSingh says:

    Tragic plight of elderly immigrants from Punjab. Are there any good models out there on how to address this?

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