Negotiating the immigration process starting from filing of application, interview, preparing for transplantation into an unknown country and the actual process of moving and settling down is often a difficult one. It involves many difficulties and unforeseen variables, such as delays, frustrations, and expenditure. Most immigrants go through a period of turmoil at home and work as they settle in their new country.
Recently I have been receiving calls from my military friends in India about their children or the children of their friends facing many immigration difficulties. It is mostly about spousal ill-treatment or domestic violence.
Like many immigrants, we went through three stages: Pre-migration, Transition to Canada and amalgamating with the Canadian society & culture (Acculturation) and Settling down.
Acculturation issues many immigrant families undergo are: –
1. Adjusting to a new climate, especially the Canadian winter.
2. Biological changes associated with changes in diet.
3. Social changes associated with disruption of social networks, sudden changes to the political, economic and religious contexts of the immigrants,
4. Psychological changes such as the need to adapt to Canadian values and attitudes, especially in parenting.
Traversing through the stages of immigration and acculturation brings with it stresses and tensions in family life. I’ve observed that women find jobs faster, mostly better paying than their husbands and this is very difficult for the patriarchal and egoistic Indian male to accept. Not many will accept this Canadian reality. That is why I quit my job as a supervisor at a call-center after six months as our children demanded that I be home when they were there. They did not want to live in an empty home. I quit my job to be a house husband. My wife who was doing a four-day week took to a five-day week as her 10 hours of extra work made up much more than what I earned in my 40-hour week and expenditure came down as I did not have to drive to work.
With the wife in a better position than the husband, the situation often leads to fights ending in domestic violence or abuse. The husband starts finding fault in trivial issues such as the dresses worn by the wife, her hair style, her spending too much money on pedicure & manicure, not taking adequate care of the husband & children – it’s an endless list. In such relationships the woman is capable of and often does walk out of such relationships to lead an independent life, sometimes with new partners.
There is also an entirely different situation where the plight of the immigrant woman is a whole lot worse. Some women move into the household of her husband after marriage (Mail Order Brides – Please click here.) These patriarchal households often have a strict hierarchy based on chronological age, and predefined traditional Indian gender roles. It is common for three or more generations to be living together in such households with the family income being contributed to primarily by the young male members. Typical of the Indian joint family, more often than not, the parents of the husband take many decisions concerning the married couple. Under such circumstances the girl’s life becomes miserable and intolerable.
In such households, the bride is expected to cook, clean, and take care of many people other than her husband. The hapless bride with a low language proficiency, inadequate knowledge about Canada and of her rights as a permanent resident/ immigrant, and lack of financial independence is forced to continue the relationship however unsatisfactory. The family never allows her to go out alone or even speak to her friends and acquaintances in Canada. She is denied access to the car and not allowed to drive – a need in Canada to be independent. She is sometimes denied a cellphone and even access to the internet.
The wife’s dependence on the husband and his family increases her vulnerability. She is unaware of Canadian immigration laws and policies that make it possible for abused immigrant women to leave their sponsors and apply to the state for financial help.
The birth of a child adds to her woes and often puts her into a state of bonded labour. If it is a girl child, her perils become multi-fold. Please click here to read my post on 4472 Missing Girls. She becomes enslaved to the household. Fear of the husband claiming custody of the child by declaring that she is unfit to take care of the child instills further fear. She is unaware of the support system that the Canadian Government provides for the single mother and for the children.
She feels helpless and powerless based on fear of losing custody of children to her husband if she leaves the abusive home, and later the fear of state intervention and apprehension of her children by Children’s Aid Society. Many Indian movies and TV debates have succeeded in implanting this fear in the immigrant woman’s mind.
Abuse and violence aimed at Indian immigrant women is a complex social problem in Canada determined by a wide range of contributory factors such as Indian culture and the immigration process. Several characteristics of Indian society, including the position of women, arranged marriage, and family arrangements, influence the risk of domestic violence. The sources of incompatibility between husband and wife in immigrant families include disparities in age and attractiveness, sexual difficulties, and differences in caste and religion. Continued existence under such conditions may well lead to tremendous psychological stress and serious mental illness
So what’s the way out of this rat-trap? The only way is for the woman concerned to take the bull by its horns. She needs to be aware of all the help that she can get from the state. She should preferably be made aware of these before the immigration takes place. If not, her friends in Canada and loved ones back in India somehow need to make her aware of these. She then has no option but to develop the courage to walk out of these abusive relationships, seek the State’s help in either returning to India or finding an alternative life in Canada.
In case you are aware of someone in an abusive or toxic relationship in Canada, this webpage of the Government of Canada will be useful.
Help for spouses or partners who are victims of abuse – Canada.ca