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Volunteer organization Kiran advocates for South Asian survivors of domestic violence

Seema Kak, the executive director of Kiran, poses for a portrait on Nov. 9. Kiran's mission is to empower and support South Asian victims of domestic violence in North Carolina.

Kiran, an organization based in Raleigh, is devoted to ending the cycle of abuse and to serving and empowering South Asian survivors of domestic violence. 

The organization works to provide culturally specific services and comprehensive economic, social and community resources to members of the South Asian community. It serves individuals with backgrounds from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

“There was no support system for things that were unique about them, immigration issues, language," Executive Director Seema Kak said. "These are very specific to these cultures because it's not something that everyone else here experiences.”

Kiran, which means "ray of light" in Hindi, provides a variety of services, including a 24-hour crisis hotline, client advocacy, crisis counseling, safety planning and support groups. 

In Kak's experience decades ago, many South Asian women sought help from friends for domestic violence but were hesitant to openly discuss the topic.

“There's a lot of cultural nuances that go along with where these victims and survivors are from,” Kak said. “There is a huge emphasis on not sharing your personal or family happenings with the outside community.” 

Kiran began with a small group of women talking about these issues among themselves and expanded into a volunteer-run organization in 1998 as a way to address the growing needs of the South Asian community in the Triangle.

Ritu Kaur, a member of Kiran’s board of directors, played a large role in writing the organization's first grant, which helped them form the board and serve a larger number of people.

“We are able to do this work because we have federal grants, and we have funding because the government also realizes that this work is very important,” Kaur said. 

Kak said it is common for those affected by domestic violence in the South Asian community to need a translator when reporting their situation to the police or court in the United States. Kak also said reporting domestic violence may not be widely accepted because of certain traditional views about marriage and patriarchal structures within the South Asian community. 

Anita Raj, who serves as director of the Center on Gender Equity and Health at the University of California, San Diego, said women from South Asian backgrounds and those who are immigrants face important and unique risks.

Women who are immigrants or are in a situation where they have to rely on their male partner for every day functions, such as driving or a managing a bank account, are more vulnerable to domestic violence, Raj said. 

“Being away from your own family and support systems and protective networks can be really hard — those are just unique vulnerabilities that a lot of immigrant communities face, and South Asians are certainly part of that,” Raj said.

She also said that in most South Asian countries, organizations that provide services for domestic violence survivors while respecting cultural values are scarce.

Rita Schabel, a licensed clinical mental health counselor who has served as a guest speaker for Kiran, said the organization is a welcoming place for people from a different culture who may feel reluctant to talk to someone outside their community about their personal problems, especially issues involving their spouse or children.

“I am constantly impressed with the dedication of the staff," Schabel said. "It's not just my personal dealing with them, but also I speak to some of their clients, and their clients tell me how comfortable they are."

If you would like to volunteer with Kiran or donate, visit their website here. 


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