This week, the Family Violence in the Australian Indian Community project was formally launched to look into the high rate of family violence within the Indian community settled in Melbourne's North West. It comes after the findings of a Coroner's inquest into the death of Sargun Ragi, a woman of Punjabi origin.
One in three women in Australia are known to be victims of family violence, but there is no specific data about the number of women in the Australian Indian community who are also impacted by this.
Abused and Abandoned: Family Violence in the Australian Indian Community project seeks to address this gap, and has been formally launched earlier this week.
The project is being run by the Northern Community Legal Centre (NCLC), supported by a grant from the Victorian Legal Services Board Grants Program.
Speaking at the launch, the CEO of NCLC Jenni Smith said, “This project is the continuation of a journey which started in 2015, in the wake of the Coroner's findings into the death of local Indian-born woman Sargun Ragi."
"From that time, we worked hard to find ways of ensuring that Indian women could access the protections under the family violence system. In doing so we developed strong and enduring relationships with the South Asian communities of Melbourne’s North West."
What became apparent was that many Indian women who were leaving their homeland for marriages to Indian men residing in Australia were particularly vulnerable to many forms of family violence.
"Our family violence lawyers were able to assist but were unable to tackle the immigration issues that made these women so particularly vulnerable,” she said.
The project is guided by an Advisory Committee made up of Indian community representatives, judicial experts including those from the Broadmeadows Magistrates Court, family violence services, refugee legal organisations, Victoria Police and local MPs.
Maria Vamvakinou, who is the Federal Labor Member for Calwell and also a member of the Advisory Committee said, "This project is a critical program for Indian women affected by family violence. A fast-growing community in Melbourne’s North, these women – who at times can find themselves vulnerable due to isolation, and cultural nuances – have an urgent need for legal advice as they often have immigration issues affecting their safety, security and access to support.”
The Indian Family Violence Project is a partnership with Oorja Foundation, which is a grassroots organisation supporting Indian communities in Melbourne.
Nayana Sahajpal, a co-founder of Oorja Foundation, says the main reason she got involved was to create more awareness around women’s safety.
"It’s a birthright of every woman to feel safe in a society. Some cultures are not allowing this to happen. Therefore, this project is trying to bring that awareness which will lead the community on a path of creating a safe and respectful society for women".
The project has enabled NCLC to recruit an Immigration lawyer Nhirushni Somasundaram, who will work alongside the existing team of Family Violence Lawyers to provide legal support to Indian women who often have immigration issues that affect their safety and security, as well as their ability to access support.
Project Officer Tania Cass says, “This project is unique in that it incorporates both service delivery and research. Our aim is to reach more Indian women requiring critical legal support, assisting them to remain safe, simultaneously leveraging the understanding and expertise gained through our practice to advocate for systemic change."
"We hope to demonstrate a more holistic model of legal service provision, at the same time as advocating for a more responsive service system to better meet the needs of Indian survivors of family violence,” she added.
Gagandeep Sharma, a Community Development Worker involved with the project says, "My idea of working in the family violence field is underpinned by my belief that we each possess innate human dignity. I’m hoping to see the idea of social justice achieved in the world that we live in - now and for future generations.”
The project aims to increase support and safety for newly arrived Indian women experiencing family violence and identify gaps in the family violence service system as well as state and federal laws, which add to their vulnerability.
If you or someone you know is impacted by family violence or sexual assault, please call 1800 RESPECT ( 1800 737 7328) or call Mens' Referral Service on 1300 766 491. In an emergency, please call 000.
Declaration of Interest: The author of this article is also a member of NCLC's Advisory Committee for the project titled Abandoned and Abused: Family Violence in the Australian Indian Community Project .