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An Indian community worker, who for years endured violence and abuse at home and was rendered homeless, has been awarded Wodonga’s Citizen of the Year award this Australia Day for helping and providing shelter to other women in need.
“To be honest, I was in tears when I came to know I was going to get an award. After everything I have been through and lived through, I have emerged stronger,” Rupinder Kaur told SBS Hindi.
Ms Kaur arrived in Australia in 2007 with her husband and soon found work in the aged-care industry in Beechworth.
“From the very beginning, my husband was violent and abusive. He did not like I was working,” she says.
Ms Kaur persisted and continued working.
“I enrolled myself in a Bachelor for Nursing degree in 2010 but my husband was not happy. He always believed that a woman should stay at home and do the housework. But I persisted,” she says.
Ms Kaur finally separated from her husband in 2012 after the birth of their second daughter.
“His family blamed me for the second daughter. I also discovered he was having an affair and had a son with her. That was the tipping point. I left the marriage,” she shares.
New life helping others
After 13 years of an abusive marriage, Rupinder found the strength to leave that situation and build a new life and says she was rendered homeless as a result of fleeing her situation.
"My neighbours helped me at the time and I always wanted to give back," she said.
This led her to open up her own home to girls and women exposed to family and domestic violence, providing them with shelter and food by allowing them to stay at her home until government services are made available.
“In last five years, I have welcomed women into my house who have fled violent homes. Have given them food, shelter and counselled them on what their options are,” she says.
"I always encourage them to gain education and become independent," she said.
Rupinder says she has helped around 65 women, not only by welcoming them home but also through Lifeline* counselling.
"I remember last year there was a woman who has been married for many years - she's almost a grandmother - and she took the courage to have a chat with me and then she stood for herself," she said.
“She said she wanted to be a role model for her granddaughters,” she says.
As a volunteer, she has dedicated countless hours and effort to help victims and works hard to link these women with service organisations which can help.
Rupinder currently works as Chair of the Albury-Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council Inc and serves as a White Ribbon advocate and the Deputy Chair for its Victorian branch.
She believes as a community, we need to hear women who find the courage to share their woes.
“We often dismiss concerns raised by women in our community. My husband was a very different person in front of the community. So when I raised my concerns and shared I was being abused at home, people doubted me,” she says.
“We need to create a sisterhood within our community. Listen and support women who have found the courage to share,” she says.