Silences in the Gujarati Community: Alcoholism & Abuse

Domestic violence is an issue across all cultures, but over the years I have noticed a trend in South Asian families where it appears to be more prevalent. From what I’ve seen there is a deep psychological issue within some South Asian men that pushes them towards anger and violence. More specifically, within my own Gujarati community I have seen this sickness dominate and destroy families time and time again.

From what I have witnessed over the years, in my own life and in those of other Guju’s my own age, there seems to be an unspeakable problem that festers within families, where fathers express their feelings through toxic masculinity. There’s an urge to not show weakness, and in trying to overcome this weakness as the head of the household they turn to rage. Anger is the only safe outlet for an unstable, and emotionally undeveloped man. Afraid that the fragility of his own masculinity will be seen and ridiculed he turns to blind fury. Too self obsessed to care how this will affect his family, too far gone in the gender roles passed down from his own parents, the man uses his wife as a scapegoat, to verbally and physically abuse when his emotions become too much to bare. The children, his property, should shut up and stay out of the way, unless they too wish to face his fury. If the children get hurt, who cares? They should just be thankful for the food they eat and the roof over their heads. As the main bread winner the angry South Asian male is allowed to do as he pleases, and no-one can say a damn thing about it, otherwise they are disrespecting him and his status as the patriarch.

What do you do with a man like this? A man who had a strict upbringing seeped in gender constraints, a man who has not settled into his identity as a migrant in Britain, still torn between his two identities, a man with undiagnosed mental health issues that were brushed under the rug repeatedly because such topics were taboo in his culture. Without a healthy outlet for his repressed anger he tries socially acceptable forms of escape, and attempts to drink his worries away. He soaks his problems in alcohol, hoping it will numb the pain of his existence. But all it does is allow him to spiral out of control, and give him an excuse to cling to in the morning.

I’m sorry.

I was drunk.

I don’t remember what I said.

I don’t remember what I did.

I was drunk.

Please forgive me. 

Repeat.

A few years ago I confided in a friend about what I was going through. Sharing my experience with him allowed him to share with me and we learned that we both had very similar family dynamics. An abusive and tyrannical father, a mother who normalised his behaviour in order to keep the family together, and lastly children who were left confused, angry and neglected, without any control over their family life.

I’m not saying this issue is solely related to Gujarati men. Not at all. Abuse transcends race and gender. I am merely speaking from my personal experience and those I have heard of over the years. When I was younger I heard people gossiping in school about Guju boys whose fathers would get drunk and beat them. As I grew older I heard more accounts of this behaviour from fellow Guju women. There is a common distinction between the abuse daughters and sons face in these situations, whether it be psychological or physical abuse. But that is another discussion all together.

I can’t say why this trend has occurred. The issue of alcoholism complicates matters, it becomes a scapegoat, an excuse for abusive behaviour. I have my own theories on the pressures that endorse this behaviour. But I will say that although alcoholism and abuse occurs across the world, there is a deafening silence surrounding this topic within the Gujarati community. Our culture teaches us to fear sharam. Our parents raise us to be wary of shame at every turn. It is this fear, this shame that allows the silence to permeate and the abuse to continue.

It is only when this silence is broken that change can take place and the healing process can begin. This is where I start mine.

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