Members of the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community in South Richmond Hill were gathered for a vigil on Sunday, Aug. 7, to remember and honor the life of Mandeep Kaur, a 30-year-old Sikh woman who allegedly committed suicide in her home last week after suffering years of alleged domestic violence by her husband.
Members of local organizations such as Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Sakhi for South Asian Women, The Jahajee Sisters, The Sikh Family Center, Manavi, and South Queens Women’s March, spoke on building communities of care for women and girls, at Lt. Frank McConnell Park, located at Atlantic Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard.
Felicia Singh, an advocate and member of Jahajee sisters, read a statement from Kaur’s friends who described her as a “very soft-spoken, quiet, kind and sweet person.”
“I lived not too far from her and would often see her when she would pick up or drop off her daughter to school,” Singh said. “We saw how much she cared for them. It stayed on my mind that I was not able to talk to her more and support her. We cannot allow this culture of abuse to continue in our community. I’m sure people knew what was happening and she did not have the support she needed. I hope we can, as a community, make sure we don’t have any more Mandeeps.”
Just days before her tragic suicide on Aug. 3, Kaur posted a video speaking in Punjabi describing the horrifying tale of eight years of physical and psychological abuse she endured by her husband for birthing two daughters, who are ages 4 and 6.
“He has been beating me all along for the last eight years. I tolerated my husband’s torture for the past eight years thinking that he will improve one day, but this never happened,” Kaur said in the video that has gone viral. “I tried my best. I am being abused daily and I can’t tolerate the torture anymore.”
Kaur also accused her husband of having extramarital affairs, and allegedly holding her captive in a truck for five days.
“My father filed a police case against him. But he pleaded and asked me to save him… and I did,” Kaur said in the video.
According to Kaur’s testimony, the alleged abuse began in India and continued when she moved to Richmond Hill to live with her husband. A video of Kaur’s husband apparently abusing her has gone viral, including one in which her daughters are heard screaming at their father to not hurt their mom.
Since her viral suicide note, Kaur’s words have sparked #TheKaurMovement and #JusticeForMandeepKaur on social media. Many posts said society had failed her, while some people, in turn, said others were “making it bigger than it is.”
Protesters were also gathered outside of Kaur’s home in Richmond Hill on Aug. 4 demanding justice.
Organizers at Sunday night’s vigil reiterated the importance of breaking the isolation and normalize talking about the issue of domestic violence in communities with each other.
Women and survivors of domestic violence shared their stories of the physical, mental, and emotional abuse they endured by their partners.
Sherry, a member of the Indo-Caribbean community and a community organizer at DRUM, recalled her abuser using her undocumented status as a blackmailing tool to isolate and control her.
“I was afraid of institutions such as ICE, deportation, and separation from my family. I was 18 years old when I thought I met the love of my life. It all changed when I moved in with him,” Sherry said. “It first started out as verbal abuse and then it became physical. Because of my status, he would always say, ‘who are you going to tell? I will have you deported.’”
According to Sherry, her story isn’t unique as a lot of women are afraid to seek help. She is calling for more action.
“We can talk about it but what is that going to change? We need to take action. When women and girls come to us for support we need to stop telling them to go back, and question what they did to be treated this way. We need to build a sense of community and a safe space. We need to empower our women,” Sherry said.
Speaking on behalf of the youth in the South Asian community, Tejkaran said they feel a great deal of pain and embarrassment.
“When we hear something so vile and disgusting — a man who goes to the gurdwara and tortures his wife to the extent where she hung herself in front of her two innocent children and thought she had no other options — we say, this is our community? Is this who we are?” Tejkaran said. “We don’t want to be associated with a community that does this. What type of backward people are these? This isn’t who we are. Our culture has beautiful things and we have to make a decision.”
According to Thandeep Kaur, who has helped to provide resources around gender-based violence in Richmond Hill, there needs to be collective solutions moving forward, such as ensuring safe spaces in homes and communities.
“It will take personable actions for us to create change as a community, for our community,” Kaur said. “Silence is not an answer. If you want to do something and don’t know where to start, we want you to know you’re not alone.”
Kaur reminded attendees that there are resources and professionals available who have worked on these issues in the community for years.
“There are English and Punjabi resources for gurdwaras and sangats, contact information for lawyers, shelters or therapists, hotlines for victims and survivors,” said Kaur, who noted the Punjabi Sikh Center as one of the organizations working in the community.
Meanwhile, state Assembly member Jenifer Rajkumar’s office is also providing assistance for women who need help, particularly immigrant women whose nearest family may live overseas.
The Assemblywoman has declared her office as a sanctuary for women and established a task force led by her senior staffer, Amrit Kaur, who will investigate and report on domestic violence within the South Asian American community, including the unique needs of South Asian women in abusive situations.
“The task force will also provide any assistance needed to coordinate the parallel investigations by the NYPD and the police in Uttar Pradesh, Mandeep Kaur’s home before moving to America,” Rajkumar said. “Until women are free from gender-based violence, our society cannot realize its full potential. That is why I have dedicated my career to advancing the rights of women.”
Rajkumar, who has served on the legal advisory council of Sanctuary for Families, one of New York’s premier service providers for domestic violence survivors, noted that she and her colleagues have allocated $34.4 million in financial assistance to domestic violence survivors in the 2022-23 enacted budget.
“As the only woman ever elected to this seat, let me also be abundantly clear: There will be zero tolerance for violence against women in my district,” Rajkumar said. “Anyone who commits such morally depraved crimes must face the full consequences of our criminal justice system.”
According to Rajkumar, she has spoken with the 102nd Precinct Commanding Officer Captain Jeremy Kivlin, who reassured her that the NYPD is investigating the alarming accusations of domestic violence against Kaur.
“May Mandeep Kaur’s family, including her two young children, be blessed with strength after this unfathomable loss. May we all come together as a community to end the scourge of violence against women once and for all,” Rajkumar said.