Episode description

Domestic violence is one of the major societal vices plaguing the global communities.

Content warning – This episode mentions domestic abuse, domestic violence and marital rape.

Support is available – 1800 RESPECT and Lifeline 13 11 14

Our guest – Kittu Randhawa Kittu Randhawa is the founder of the Indian (Sub-Continent) Crisis and Support Agency the first NGO for this community in Australia.  ICSA is the first fully CALD organisation running professional support services for the target community with a focus on client-centric support services and advocacy.  Kittu is a cultural consultant; an accredited trainer, interpreter, mediator, qualified family dispute resolution practitioner. Kittu’s main are of work is as a senior case worker in domestic and family violence.  She is an expert in complex and culturally driven forms of domestic and family abuse, particularly dowry abuse.  

Kittu has been an advocate against dowry abuse since 2013 and is committed to seeking reform in legislation and systems to protect women who are victims of this form of abuse.  She has developed a library of resources including tailored training to help build organisations capacity in recognising and dealing with dowry issues.
Kittu’s work on social justice and women’s issues involves writing submissions and briefing papers for DFV related inquiries and sits on several boards and committees. This work gained her the Edna Ryan Award in leadership in 2021. 

Kittu regularly is invited to speak on the challenges faced by local CALD support services in dealing with the complexities of DFV in their communities or what is missing from the DFV support services. Kittu’s professional background and career was in procurement and governance working at all levels of government and the private sector. Kittu’s advocacy has had greater impact through her work as the CEO at the Community Resource Network; a sub-regional peak body for Western Sydney Community Organisations working to alleviate poverty and disadvantage. 

If this content is upsetting you can find support at https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support or call Lifeline on 13 11 14 and 1800 RESPECT 

You can find more of Kittu’s works at: https://www.facebook.com/icsasydney


The following transcript has been automatically generated and may contain errors.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to another episode of Stories of Community Resilience by three triple Z. I am Chris Mallika Bhadra and today or tonight, depending on whichever part of the world you’re listening to us from, I’m going to be talking about a lot of social work that this individual has been doing, and I’m so very pleased in order to speak with this guest. But before I introduce her to all of you, I would like to begin the show by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which I’m meeting today, the people of the nation. I would also like to pay my respects to the elders, past, present and emerging. On that note, I have make it to run the house. So Kittu is the founder of the Indian Subcontinent Crisis and Support Agency, the first NGO for this community in Australia. I see as a as there’s been an acronym sorry about that is the first really called organization running professional support services for the target community with the focus on client centric support services and advocacy is a cultural consultant, an accredited trainer, interpreter, mediator, qualified family dispute resolution practitioner whose main area of work is as a senior caseworker in domestic and family violence.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:01:31] She’s an expert in complex and culturally driven forms of DV and family abuse, particularly dowry abuse. Kittu has been an advocate against our abuse since 2013 and is committed to seeking reform in legislation and systems to protect women who are victims of this form of abuse. She has developed a library of resources, including tailored training, to help build organizations capacity and recognizing and dealing with issues. She does work on social justice and women’s issues involves writing submissions and briefing papers for DFP related inquiries and sits on several boards and committees. This work gained her the Edna Ryan Award in Leadership in 2021. It was regularly invited to speak on challenges faced by local support services in dealing with the complexities of DFP in their communities, or what is missing from the DFP support services. Give us a professional background and career was in procurement and governance working at all levels of government and the private sector. On that note, very, very good morning. Thank you so much for joining me. How are you doing today?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:02:38] Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to be here. And I’d just like to start by saying I’m on Dharug land.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:02:43] Wonderful. So it’s a pleasure to speak with such eminent people doing so great work for the community. But let me just get on into the conversation. When did you kind of first come up with this idea to start ICSA?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:02:57] I think the seeds were first born around 2007 2008, when there were a lot of students arriving and there were a lot of temporary residents. And we hadn’t really come to terms with the fact that a temporary residency has a different migration pathway to normal migration, as a lot of us just understood. From that I tried to volunteer with other organisations, try my hand at different things and different ways of supporting it. But by around 2013 it became pretty obvious that we really needed a bespoke organisation to advocate for the community and for world needs.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:03:30] Absolutely. But then when I was going through what I see as deals with domestic violence and dowry abuse, these are very stigmatised issues in the South Asian diaspora. A lot of us are still hesitant to speak about it or even address the fact that we might have been subjected to these. How do you provide support to the needful and more so? How do you provide support to the people who might be shy in opening up about their experiences?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:03:58] I think from my experience now and probably when I reflect on my own background because it’s forced me to look at that, most things that fall into the lines of social issues and abnormality is something that we’re not happy with, is something that we shy away from. It isn’t something that we as a community openly discuss, say, Hey, it’s a problem in the community. So when I first started talking about domestic violence and family abuse, then people were coming to me going, What are you doing? This doesn’t happen in our communities. It doesn’t happen in our families. We sort it out. It’s not a problem. You’re making it a problem. So we’ve come a long way since then in terms of people accepting that, look, we have to face our own demons in a way. But the way we really support these sort of issues and deal with the fact that they’re not happening is that we have to first and this is what we call cultural, culturally informed work. We don’t always see dairy as an abuse. We see dairy as protection, as a gift, as helping somebody along. So when somebody comes from that approach, we can’t always use the western lens of saying this is happening, it’s abuse, this happens equals abuse.

Kittu Randhawa: [00:05:08] You don’t take your parents to the doctor. It’s seniors abuse. We have to look at it in the context of the family, the family’s expectations, our society’s expectations and what we’ve been raised by. And yes, there is a line beyond which way we would say, okay, now that’s abuse. You can’t there’s no denying that. But we have to look at where the person’s coming from. Many children will say to you things like, Oh, my mum and dad is so unfair. It’s an abuse. They don’t let me go out. They don’t let me do this. It’s not abuse, it’s a form of protection. So if we look at it in that context, we have a lot more protections in our community. So when we talk about these sort of issues in the community, we say, look, we’re not here about saying everything we do is bad. Most of our general intent is goodwill. It is about nurturing. However, we do have to change some practices of how we nurture, support and protect.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:05:56] But can you raise a good point about, you know, we come up with a certain set of values. We are raised with a certain set of values. Is it possible to unlearn those values when you see that they might be detrimental to your future and to the people around you?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:06:11] I think there’s two ways that those changes happen. One is an enforced way that when you’re confronted with the law, So domestic violence is very much a zero tolerance in the courts at the moment. And people commonly say to me, especially perpetrators, but it was one slap, it was one push. What is that? It’s not a big deal. And maybe to a lot of people it isn’t a big deal. But now you cross the threshold of criminal law. So then you that’s a very hard way to learn. However, I think also when you’ve never been presented with an alternative, how are you ever going to change that behaviour? So now we’re open to a lot more ideas. We don’t need to just look at Australia. We can look across the world how things are evolving, how social norms are evolving. If you look at mental health, three years ago, nobody in our diaspora wanted to talk about it. That’s either crazy or not crazy. But now everyone’s talking about mental wellbeing and health. So things change in different ways. And from our perspective, we like to look at it, say what is going to get us the best outcome? Let’s not go with just the criminal, the enforcement big stick method. But are we saying, look, you don’t want to lose your visa or you want to go to prison? We want to say what’s healthier for you because being in conflict is not healthy for anyone. It’s very, very, very difficult place to be when you’re in conflict for anyone, whether you’re the abuser or the abused. Yes, In reality, absolutely.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:07:29] But then you do on an average like you guys do, so much of this day in and day out, what is the percentage of South Asians who are affected by DV and other social rises in Australia?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:07:40] I think that really comes down to what you define as domestic and family violence for people who I mean, some of the definitions we have are so, so extreme now and very clinical to say that if I raise my voice to you that’s abused, then you’d say every single household has some form of abuse. But having conflicts and arguments is also part of normal life. It is not. It doesn’t mean that you’re in an abusive situation because you disagree with each other. But I think there is some level of what we in the western lens we would call abuse in about 70% of our household probably is a given. If we fold that back and say how much of it is really abuse, as in it hurts humiliates, it’s intended to do all those things that abuse does. Abuse is not simply about protecting or nurturing. It is about hurting someone, humiliating someone. All those things. If we look at that, then I’d say there’s still around 40 to 50% where there’s some kind of abuse. And that’s not all. We talk about domestic and family violence, but in that sense it’s always partner violence. But I’m talking about within extended families, it might be an uncle that’s a bit of a patriarch or like priest or somebody like that. So most of us know it whether we now understand terminology for it, but it’s how we now address it. And again, it’s not always calling it out. It doesn’t stop it. Calling it out sometimes escalates it. So it’s a very that’s why these sort of areas of working is are quite specialised that it’s not a checklist that you can tick off for everybody and say that’s abuse. And I stopped doing that right. It just doesn’t work like that.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:09:13] Question can do? Would you consider narcissism as any form of abuse?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:09:21] Depends. If the person is often narcissist, abusive to themselves because they are the hardest critics of themselves, they isolate themselves by the sheer behavior that they have. So quite often it’s like bullies, you know, they’re quite insecure underneath and they do these sort of things to sort of try and attract attention to themselves. So but it can be it can be if you’re living with somebody who who needs to be fed, that they are appreciated and they are to be adored. And, you know, you have to be deferential to them, then absolutely, it can be abusive, but if it’s an individual trait that doesn’t hurt anyone, then again, that’s the measure of abuse. Does it hurt anyone else? And sometimes even self abuse is still abuse. But with narcissist, you’ve got to make that difference. And that’s why when we do our work, we always say we’re client led, which actually means that we listen to them, try and understand their situation and then say, well, is that abuse? Like, for example, I’ve had clients who’ve come to me and said, you know, my husband is abusive because he might take me out to dinner. I wanted to go here. And if that’s something that’s happening constantly and there’s a lot of other control, then yes, that would be abused. But if he just doesn’t want to go out to dinner and you do, that’s not necessarily abuse and he’s not really hurting you. It’s just not fulfilling your demands or wishes or desires.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:10:39] But can this word abuse be taken relatively, that it might mean something for me and something completely different for you, or it has a standard benchmark as far as the definition of the word is concerned?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:10:54] I think absolutely it is an individual interpretation of what abuse is, but we do work within a legal framework, and that legal framework has now defined what certain types of abuse are. So obviously an assault is an abuse and it’s also a crime. So certain things definitely when they pass a threshold, are abuse and that’s within the legal framework. And again, I would say to people, because we we listen to a lot of people talk about awareness around domestic and family violence. And it’s my opinion that most people who are being abused generally know it. They don’t need an awareness campaign to know that they know it. What they need is help to address it or to do something about it. And sometimes there are simply no solutions so that it can be a very individual term. As I said, for some people, it’s protecting. You know, a lot of parents still think that slapping children is a is an appropriate form of discipline. But slapping a child and thrashing a child are very two very different things. So one definitely crosses the thing. And I still think it’s an open argument that regardless of the fact that the law has said that you cannot hit a child is that some people will still argue that it is an effective form of discipline. And that’s a controversial place to to start from. But I think we have to be realistic that we live in the real world. We don’t live in an ideal world.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:12:16] We’ve been talking about survivors and perpetrators, but what would you generally tell the extended family who are more often than not involved as indirectly abusing one of the partners because extended family and South Asians play a major role in either impacting the decision of the perpetrator or inflicting abuse directly. How do you guide those extended family members in these situations?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:12:42] I think this is now becoming a very much more common topic of discussion because extended family members in our communities are very much what enable more abuse and even provoke it. So one of the things that we do is that when we are dealing with in family dispute, particularly where there’s starting to hit separation, is that we start to talk to those extended family members and say, well, what’s your real outcome here? Are you wanting to see this couple in this family survive or do you want them to break up? Because I think to say that they’re not part of the relationship is just incorrect. We have to bring them into the discussion and they have to take responsibility for what they do. But it is more complex than that. And that’s why we start talking about the complexity, because the complexity is that what drives those individuals? Because if you look at mother in law’s and sister in laws, quite often they subjects of abuse themselves. So we often ask the question is why do someone who’s experienced abuse and knows what it feels like and then perpetrates it on their daughter in law or, you know, even their daughter? And we don’t have an actual answer to that. But we do know from research and other areas that abusers, people who are abused often become the abusers. So then you have to ask the question is, is this just a perpetrator you’re dealing with or is it also a victim? And what support do they need to stop trying to control another individual and what drives them in dowry abuse? We know quite often it’s financial or economic gain. And that’s a point that has to be addressed quite specifically, because no matter how much goodwill you get from someone, unless they get their demands met, they will continue the abuse. So that comes in a slightly different way. But for many people, I don’t think they often realise the damage that they’re doing and how much hurt they’re perpetrating and also the long term consequences, not just to the individuals involved, but the children are watching them.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:14:41] But when you say that, you also try to speak with the mother in law or this is true, or any laws be respected, do they have an innate sense of realization that they might have also been abused? Or is it only after you speak with them do they realize that, Oh, well, I was also abused, that that makes sense. What do you generally see?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:15:02] Two things mainly come out. Sometimes it’s just a well, it’s a it’s a rite of passage. It happened to me, so it has to happen to the next person. So then you could say that they’re very much aware. In other cases, upon self reflection, they often try to deny the fact that anything has happened because nobody likes to be a victim. And also, I think with women who have gone through it in the past and it’s never been addressed or acknowledged, it feels like they haven’t been validated. It’s too late for them. They go, well, you know, nobody can go back in time and fix my issues, so why should I be worried about somebody else? It is up to them to sort it out, Right. So it can be very different, but a lot of people do not ever accept being a perpetrator of anything. And, you know, even if you look at a small child that takes a cookie out of a jar, there’s no I didn’t take it. And you’ve just seen them do it. There’s an innate human nature kind of thing to say. My self defense is to deny. And that’s what we see a lot of is that denial of No, no, no, no, no. This is not how it is. I am just trying to help the family. I’m just trying to do this. So it starts to happen. In a way, they put it into a constructive manner rather than a an abuse. Accept that.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:16:11] Yeah. One last question before we kind of wrap this up, kiddo. I’m very intrigued to know this. You know, a lot of people in South Asia have conflicting views around marital rape. So have you ever encountered or come across a case where the perpetrator was accused of rape here? But when you spoke with them, they were just not ready to acknowledge to the fact that, yes, this was marital rape. And have you if you have spoken with them, what was the conversation like?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:16:39] We’ve had a few different kind of discussions around this. I think one is that not just men, but women also think that sex within a marriage is perfectly okay, that there’s no such thing as a marital rape. Yeah. Of course there is. And because it’s about consent. However, also I find there’s a lot of naivete around intimate relationships, which means that people don’t know what healthy relations are, what good intimate relations are, what the fulfilling side of things. It’s it’s perfunctory, it’s about procreation, and it needs to be done and it has to be done. This is very, very common where people do not look at it as part of a healthy relationship, but as part of a duty that you have to perform. Right. And we’ve had the situation where sometimes when we’ve had to talk to men and say, okay, this is what this is what it’s called putting a name to it. This is marital rape. You cannot touch your wife if she doesn’t want you to touch her. And the only education men have had is through pornography. And pornography is not real. It’s not a family. It is completely the far end of the spectrum. But the idea that this is what I must do in order for my wife to be satisfied and happy, it’s my duty. But on realization, we had one person in particular who had to go into some severe counseling because it dawned on him that what he was doing was rape and not satisfying. But so is the education and the awareness. And it doesn’t matter if people are highly educated, it doesn’t mean they know about what a healthy relationship is. In fact, it’s really a hit and miss. And because we don’t talk about it in families, our parents don’t have that and they don’t have the knowledge to pass on to either. To be frank.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:18:25] Absolutely.

Kittu Randhawa: [00:18:26] There’s a level of now we have to have community awareness and education about. It’s not about what to do, how to do it, when to do it. It is about respect for each other and also about the willingness and women as well. I just taught from the moment they’re born that it is wrong, it is dirty, don’t do it. You only do it when you have children. Anything beyond that, there’s something wrong with you. As a woman. You shouldn’t be wanting it. Right? So these are kind of stereotypes and myths we have to get across and move on from so that we don’t get marital rape as a default position, because that’s what happens, is that whether it’s by consent of the woman or acknowledgement or she just complies or whether it’s by the man thinking that if I don’t do this and I don’t do it this way, then she’s going to think I’m not a man and tell everybody absolutely.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:19:17] Totally agree. But before I end up, how do you ensure mental wellness among among your participants as well as your own mental sanity at the end of, say, a very difficult day?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:19:29] And we do encourage people to do self-care, because one of the things is that, you know, the standard default position of go to a counselor, talk to someone isn’t for everybody. I think we all know ourselves much better than anyone else, even whether you’re a, you know, a denier or you’re a reflector, doesn’t matter that you know yourself well, you know, what makes you feel better? You know what makes you feel worse? So we, we, we actually encourage people to look into themselves and say, what do you do? Did you ever do any sewing or crafts or sport or something like that that takes your mind off things for a while. And first of all, try to get yourself calm. Then there’s the safe space, as I call it. You need to find a safe space, whether that’s your mother or your sister or your friend or your neighbor or with a counselor. Because another thing is that we all fear telling anybody any of our flaws and vulnerabilities because we don’t want them used against us, which can happen in families. So quite often when people say, I talking to my sister or my mom and I said, Your mom’s got an agenda.

Kittu Randhawa: [00:20:27] And I don’t mean a negative agenda, but if you’re going to complain about your husband, she might be thinking, Oh, you need to make this marriage work and she will guide you accordingly. Or she might think, leave him and guide you accordingly. That’s not necessarily in your best interest. You’ve got to make your own decisions and what makes you better. So there are a combination of therapies, if you like. One is about know yourself, do something for yourself that only you can do and don’t feel guilty for trying it. So if you feel like going for a massage or you know, getting your nails done, just don’t do it in the middle of when it’s inconvenient. But you know, work it out, try and get that in and then anything else that helps you, whether it’s meditation or, you know, flower picking or whatever it is that you like to do. And at the end of the spectrum is that if you need support and you need to talk to a professional, there’s always that’s where title confidentiality happens. And if you need medication to help you through a period, again, that’s where it goes down to.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:21:22] Wonderful. Yeah, totally agree with DO. And finally, what would be your message of resilience to our listeners?

Kittu Randhawa: [00:21:29] I would like to say that a lot of us make rash decisions. Part of resilience is to have a good think about what’s going on and what your options are. You have a you know, the old thing that we used to do is that you have a list, you know, good and bad. So if you’re making a decision, do a list, because I find what a lot of people do and why their resilience is then challenged is because they come across a situation, they feel themselves in crisis and immediately they make decisions. And those decisions can be life changing. So if you do that, then there’s no going back and undoing it. Yes, we can always work, move forward and try to work on things and grow from it, but you cannot undo things. So I would say take time to sit down and reflect on what it is you really think is happening. Maybe talk to somebody else, because sometimes we see things from one perspective. It’s good to get somebody else’s perspective without taking it personally and see how you can break down whatever you’re going through into portions and say is it really relevant? And the other thing is, don’t sweat the small stuff. We see a lot of people get very hung up on. I didn’t get invited to that birthday party and I didn’t. But, you know, at the end of the day, the birthday party is gone. Let’s see how you’re going to feel better next time. But I think in our community we see more self resilience anyway, because for the nature of how people migrate to this country and some of the experiences back home have already made them resilient. That is often the reason why people make rash decisions because they think I’m going to cope with this. Yes, you will eventually. We all cope with everything. But how do you cope? And are you going to make things worse for yourself?

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:23:08] Absolutely. Thank you. Such golden words of inspiration and determination. So this was Kittu now joining us, and she spoke about her wonderful experience of dealing with people who suffer domestic violence or dowry abuse and all sorts of family abuse. To my listeners who heard us for the first time, I really hope that you’ve got something to take away from whatever you shared during our conversation. And those of you have been hearing us for a while. I hope you like what we put on the table as content, and if you’ve got any thoughts or comments, please write to us at 3ZZZ. We would love to hear back from all of our listeners and audiences as well. So I will be back again with another Story of Community Resilience. Until then, we are living in crazy times. Please stay safe and take care of yourselves and thank you again for joining me. Thank you so much.

Kittu Randhawa: [00:23:52] Thank you.

Voiceover: [00:23:56] This has been a Story of Community Resilience by 3ZZZ.