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Less talk, more action

When attorney-general Wally Oppal talked about creating a battered women’s shelter specifically for the South Asian community, he did more than ignite a war of words between himself and NDP leader Carole James.

He helped keep an important issue in the spotlight.

“If I thought the establishment of a South Asian transition house would stop the violence, we would immediately put one up,” Oppal said last week in a daily newspaper. “But I don’t know if that is the problem. The problem appears to be of women coming out and talking about it. Period.”

James accused the A-G of blaming the victim, saying the issue is more complex than women simply speaking out.

They’re both right.

The fact is, following a pair of disturbing murders in Surrey – that of pregnant mom Manjit Panghali, whose body was found burned on the side of the highway in Delta, and Navreet Waraich, whose husband is accused of stabbing and killing her – women did speak out, tearfully and courageously.

At a forum late last year organized by Radio India, many in the audience wept as women detailed being punched, slapped, choked and taunted for decades by their partners.

This is by no means a problem exclusive to Indo-Canadians. But the revelations were particularly poignant coming from members of the ethnic community, who traditionally keep familial problems to themselves.

For these women, walking away from an oppressive husband would mean leaving an extended family network, and an entire way of life. How would they raise children in conjunction with not only a father, but in-laws, uncles and aunts? How to shop or go to temple when they would be shunned for breaking up the family and turning their back on tradition?

This is where James’ and Oppal’s crossroads intersect.

Speaking out is not enough. A combination of increased and specialized services for battered women, particularly those in the South Asian sector, is needed.

Writer-director Nadia Deol knows this. As founder of ACT (Apna Community Theatre), she has included a drama called How To Be Safe, a practical play outlining the steps a woman can take to protect herself and her children from domestic abuse, in her current production at the Surrey Arts Centre. In addition to English (Feb. 24), the play is being performed in Hindi and Punjabi (Feb. 25).

Deol was inspired by the flurry of talk – but little action – generated by the Radio India public forum.

“There was all this discussion,” she recalls, “but then no information for women. What to do?”

The creation of a South Asian transition house, staffed by Punjabi women, is one good idea. So is an increase of ethnic members in law enforcement, a source of mistrust for many immigrants.

And aside from placing the onus on women to speak out, how about getting the men involved?

How about workshops in Sikh temples, or early age discussions at Khalsa schools?

Maybe male-only forums, organized and run by respected and progressive South Asian men, tackling the difficult topics of changing marital roles, the fusion of Indian tradition with Canadian values, and the skewed preference for the boys in the family that comes at the expense of the girls?

Now we’re talking.

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