Experiences from the field - Compiled by Gobardhan Niroula
“Domestic violence is not simply an argument. It is a pattern of coercive
control that one person exercises over another. Abusers use physical and
sexual violence, threats, emotional insults and economic deprivation as
a way to dominate their victims and get their way” (Scheter 2008).
Domestic Violence (DV) is a dilemma for many refugee women among the Bhutanese communities of Sanischare camp. In domestic violence, one person (usually the man) controls and dominates the other (usually the woman) precisely by virtue of a series of gender privileges (usually male privileges) which he has at a societal level. A specific characteristic of domestic violence is the victim’s fear of the abuser. Moreover, the abuser is often perceived as all-powerful and all-knowing.The result of DV is a clash, with reciprocal emotions and/or physical abuse, in a continuous fight for dominance among one another.
In the Bhutanese refugee community, women have faced the some form of different domestic violence in their life time. Some women despite facing domestic violence, do not consider violence seriously nor do they report to the authorities. This is mainly because some women think that if they bring their family issues to the public’s attention, it would mess up their social status because society might blame the victim along with the perpetrator. Similarly some women think that it is their destiny that brings violence in their lives and it is the result of their sins committed in their previous life.
Domestic violence also represents a hidden obstacle to economic and social development. By sapping women’s energy, undermining their confidence, and compromising their health, domestic violence deprives society of women’s full participation. Bhutanese women who experienced domestic violence in the family may develop serious emotional, behavioral and developmental problems. They are likely to: use violence at community in response to perceived threats, attempt suicide, to use drugs, commit crimes, especially sexual assault, use violence to enhance their reputation and self esteem, become abusers in later life, easily give up and have low self esteem.
The Main Causes of Domestic Violence Seen in the Sanischare Refugee Camp
Alcoholic family member: Majority of the Bhutanese refugees of Sanischare camp do not have work. Middle aged and school dropout refugee members remain idle inside the camp. Due to the alcoholic habit of a male member, refugee women of Sanischare camps are exposed to domestic violence. UNHCR protection unit and Bhutanese refugee women forum have several worse case scenarios on aforementioned issue. There is no proper monitoring for selling alchohol in Nepal. Due to the uncontrolled alchohalic habit of refugees of Sanischare camp there are several DV cases.
Mixed marriages: In Bhutanese refugee community of Saniscahre camp there are 7% cases of mix marriage. It is the marriage between Bhutanese refugee male and Nepali/Indian female. Resettlment option is pending for the people who did mix marriage after the resettlement program started. BRWF (Bhutanese Refugee Women Forum) Deputy Secretary states that there are couple of cases of domestic violence in mix marriages of sanischare camp where the family members beat and ignore the non refugee spouse because due to ‘her’ the cases of entire family members are on hold for RST process. The victim women does not want to report the DV to the protection unit because she is scared that this can result in divorce with her husband ad she may loose her children and resettlement opportunities.
Dowry related violence: Dowry has become an expected part of the marriage transaction in India and Nepal, with future husband demanding ever-increasing dowry both before and after marriage. Dowry demands can escalate into harassment, threat and abuse. Refugee community of the Sanischare camp is also effected by it. Family members of Nepali male married to the refugee girls is the most significant examples of such violence. Nepali family blames the daughter-in-law that she lacks the status quo and identity in society because she belongs from a refugee family. She cannot be a good mother because she lacks culture, tradition and customs. 40% of the refugee women who were divorced were married to a Nepal male and were victim of domestic violence in her life time due to dowry.
Sex workers: Due to the obligation and to adopt modern life style it is reported that some refugee women work as a sex worker. When she returns to camp she is harassed by her own family members and even sexually harassed by her own community male members.
Trafficking: Back in 2012, two refugee women (who were siblings) were rescued from Brothel from Mumbai, India with the help of local Indian NGO that has been working in human rights sector. When she was brought to the camp many local male men approached them and abused them verbally and sexually. Due to the help of protection unit and BRWF, those two siblings were able to establish their life.
Psychological violence: It is the repeated verbal abuse, harassment, confinement and deprivation of physical, financial and personal resources. Undermining an individual's sense of self esteem can have serious mental and physical health consequences and has been identified as a major reason for suicide. Head of the household giving small amount of money to the female members in order to run a family is the best example seen in the Bhutanese refugee community of Sanischare camp. Or Abusive husband limits the movement of wife inside the camp or imposing strict rule to the wife to make only recoomended friend is another cases seen in the Sanischare camp.
Polygamy: In Sanischare camp it is very common to see the practice of polygamy. During interviews we found both active and inactive polygamy cases. In active polygamy cases of Sanischare camp there are many cases of domestic violence.
Domestic violence has always been a challenge in the refugee community of Sanichare camp. The major issue in DV is the unwillingness of women to report incidents of violence. There were several reasons associated to this: this includes the assumption of masculinity in men. In the Bhutanese refugee context, where men have the provider role, can succumb to violence if this role is taken away. Alcohol use have contributed to domestic violence in Sanischare camps.
Ending domestic violence requires long-term commitment and strategy involving all parts of society. Community based strategies can focus on empowering women, reaching out to men and changing the beliefs and attitude that permit abusive behavior. Addressing the immediate practical needs of women experiencing abuse; providing long-term follow up and assistance; and focusing on changing those cultural norms, attitudes and legal provisions that promote the acceptance of and even encourage violence against women, and undermine women's enjoyment of their full human rights and freedoms.