AAPI’s panel discussion explores ways to stop domestic violence

Anupama Gotimukula, Seema Arora

Women’s Committee of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) organised a web conference on ways to prevent domestic violence. A note:

An international web-conference on Ways to Prevent Domestic Violence, with renowned speakers from across the United States and India was organized by the Women’s Committee of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) on Sunday, October 17th, 2021.  

Describing Domestic Violence as “a serious public health concern” Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, President of AAPI, in her welcome address said, “October is Domestic Awareness Month. Nearly one in four women and one in seven men in the U.S. have experienced physical violence at the hands of their domestic partners, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The very important discussion today with an experts panel is aimed at helping AAPI members and the larger society to learn on ways to help promote healthy, respectful and nonviolent relationships.”

Dr. Seema Arora, past AAPI BOT Chair and currently serving as AAPI Women’s Committee Chair, introduced the panelists, and explained the significance of the Color Purple, which is a symbol of courage. Setting the stage and the context for this very important area of concern, Dr. Arora said, “October is ‘Domestic Violence Awareness’ month.  AAPI women’s physicians committee is trying to increase awareness towards this very prevalent but subdued age old problem that can affect any gender, race, region & socio-economic strata in a panel discussion with renowned panelists from around the world.”

Lata Rao, a Domestic Violence Survivor and Domestic Violence Advocate, referring briefly to her life in the past, focused more on her efforts to prevent domestic violence.  Describing her past and the “most dreadful events” she had experienced in her life, impacting her physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, she said, “I wanted to do something for myself” starting her own business which was resented by her ex- spouse.  “I encourage women not to be what I went through” but to be more independent. She told the audience how meeting with mentors and having a support system gradually changed her life, while forgiving and staying positive helped me start a new phase in her life. “Today, I use my experiences as a tool to support and educate other women,” Ms. Rao said.  

Dr. Preeti Saran, Domestic Violence Survivor and currently practicing Family Medicine & Obesity Specialist at RNJ Barnabas Hospital, New Jersey, pointed out that Domestic Violence is prevalent in all parts of the world. Sharing her own life’s challenges and abuses, Dr. Saran said, “Coming from very traditional society back in India, initially I thought it was happening to me because of my background.” Married to a dominant person, who was demanding, but suspicious and with trust issues, she had suffered immensely with insecurity and complexities of married life with intimidation and fearful for her own life. But she was able to turn her life around and has made a positive impact in the society. “Now, I am to reach out to other women who need support,” she said.

Dr. Meher Medavaram, a member of AAPI’s Women’s Committee introduced Deanne Mazzochi, Illinois State Representative, Attorney Life Science Law.  Rep. Mazzochi shared with the audience about her work as a state legislator and as an attorney who works with women and families, ensuring the safety of those in DV situations. She described the many laws and legal systems that are available to victims of DV in the state of Illinois. She advocated that one should “ensure that you have a safe place to live,” if and when you want to leave an unhealthy relationship.

Dr. Manju Sheth, an Internist, practicing Medicine at Beth Israel Lahey, MA, Chair and Advisory Board Member at SAHELI, Member of Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence, President of “Women Who Win,” urged fellow physicians “to stay vigilant and collaborate” and look for signs/red flags to identify violence “as the patients can present with a multitude of unrelated symptoms that only compassionate questions can reveal clearly.”

“Women are very reluctant to speak to you and we often notice PTSD, trauma, depression and anxiety.” She told the Fellow physicians to be prepared to collaborate with: Medical, Psychological professionals and refer for services. Dr. Sheth pointed to SAHELI, a very well known organization for its work, providing psychiatric and other services to victims of DV in the Boston region.

Dr. Saraswati Muppana while introducing Dr. Eshita Chakrabarti wanted to know the role of media in supporting survivors of DV. Dr. Eshita Chakrabarti, drawing from her own personal experiences told about the powerful medium of the Media, which has been instrumental and can be used an effective tool to educate the society about the impact of and to prevent Domestic Violence.

Dr. Malti Mehta, who has worked with “Battered Women” introduced Dr. Nandita Palshetkar Chair of GAPIO Women’s Forum and Medical Director, IVF & Infertility Centers, India and serving as the President of Federation of OB/GYN Society of India. Dr. Palshetkar shared her insights and offered a global perspective and how the pandemic has contributed to increase in incidents of Domestic Violence. “Nearly one third of women across the world face Shadow Pandemic Domestic Violence.”  

Dr. Udhaya Shivangi, AAPI Mississippi Chapter president, in her remarks said, “The best way to fight this issue is to talk about it, create awareness and share resources to recognize the signs and take steps for prevention and protection. ASHIANA is one such organization that helps empower domestic violence survivors to achieve self sufficiency with a culturally sensitive approach for the past 25 years helping South Asians in USA.

“The best way is to create awareness and provide resources and help lead the victims of Domestic Violence to be strong and independent and safe,” said Jaya Nelliot, a Board Member and Outreach Director of ASHIANA has been passionate about serving the community, and been actively involved with ASHIANA since 2009. Describing DV as a “pandemic,” she provided an introduction to the mission of and the broad spectrum of work ASHIANA does among South Asians in the North America.  

Dr. Hetal Gor, a member of AAPI Women’s Committee  introduced Navneet Bhalla, International Human Rights Law, UK and the Executive Director of Manavi Women’s Organization, NJ. Bhalla spoke about the legal support with an in-house staff attorney being provided by MANAVI to victims of Domestic Violence in its 35 year long history in the United Kingdom. Drawing from personal experiences, how often abusers frame and falsely charge victims as criminals and threaten deportation. “MANAVI supports such victims and help them gain justice and needed services. We take a survivor-center approach to understand and to provide support them holistically,” she said.

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