Sinda concerned over family violence in Indian community

Sinda concerned over family violence in Indian community

Family violence, already pervasive in the Indian community here, seems to be on the rise, and self-help group Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda) is worried.

About one in five reported abuse cases and personal protection order applications are made against Indians, said organisations approached. This outweighs their 9.1 per cent representation in the Singapore population.

Worse, this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, since many cases go unreported due to stigma.

Dysfunctional families, low education levels and alcohol abuse are some reasons behind the rising figures, said Sinda, which is going all out to get Indian families to talk aboutviolence in the community, rather than letting problems fester behind closed doors.

Ms Renjala Balachandran, head of Sinda's Family Service Centre, said 60 per cent of the 1,000 families it helped last year suffered from at least one form of abuse. Five years ago, it was fewer than one in four families. Most cases involve husbands beating wives.

Said Mr R. Ganesan, a trained counsellor engaged by Sinda for its roadshows: "There is a sub-culture among Indians. We accept violence as part of daily life and physical abuse as a form of punishment."

Ms Devi (not her real name), 45, whose husband beat her daily for 20 years, agreed. "This (violence) has been going on since my mother's time. This is what we grew up seeing," she said.

The final straw came when she saw her adult son hitting his elder sister, and she divorced her husband. "I was afraid that my son would turn out like his father."

Other figures back Sinda's findings. Pave, the leading agency dealing with family violence here, found that Indians made up 21 per cent of the thousands of cases it handled between 2002 and 2012. Victims from minority ethnic groups such as Indians and Malays are over-represented, it said.

And for the last five years, Indians accounted for 22 per cent of new applications filed for personal protection orders, making them the second-largest group after the Chinese, at 48 per cent, figures from the State Courts show.

Better awareness of what constitutes abuse and how to get help could account for some of the cases, and it is difficult to confirm that the problem is truly worsening, said Sinda.

But Ms Renjala said the growing number of single-parent and blended families (where parents with children remarry) could be a reason too. Such families tend to face complex social problems.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Indians may be more predisposed to domestic violence due to their drinking habit, she said. Sinda has found that alcohol abuse increases the odds of a man lashing out at his family.

"Those prone to domestic violence also tend to have low levels of education which may lead to them acting out because they may be unemployed or have poorer communication skills," she said.

While there are family violence centres at the national level that provide counselling and help for victims, Sinda said it has stepped up its efforts as some behaviours are influenced by culture and the people addressing them need to be sensitive to such issues.

Over the next two months, the group will hold roadshows in the heartland and go on radio and television to raise awareness about domestic violence and how victims can seek help.

jantai@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Aug 4 in The Straits Times.

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