Daughters of Durga by Manjula Datta O’Connor

Reviewed by Margaret Elizabeth

Today, right now, you could be living or working next to a woman suffering from domestic violence. A woman who needs your help. Daughters of Durga: Dowries, Gender Violence and Family in Australia (2022) exposes the causation of dowry-based violence perpetrated against women from Southeast Asia. Women living in Australia.

Professor Manjula Datta O’Connor’s book uses case studies from her practice as a clinical psychiatrist to explain how multiple family members can be involved in gender-based violence and coercion of women in Australian society. Datta O’ Connor shows how various family members, often mothers-in-law, become enmeshed in a web of negative behaviour patterns that lead to a cycle of suffering, depression, murder or suicide. Dr Datta O’Connor’s expertise in this area is well known and one of her roles is to advise the Federal government.

Durga is a many armed, Hindu deity often depicted riding a lion into battle to fight demons so that good can triumph over evil. Durga is also associated with protection and strength. In this book, Durga represents a journey of raising awareness, developing cultural understanding and personal insight that leads to everyone triumphing. Survivors, like Durga, symbolise hope.

Dr Manjula Datta O’Connor is a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne and holds posts and honours in many other organisations. She works in clinical practice, conducts research, undertakes community work and advocates for prevention of family violence. This book is thoroughly researched and compassionately supported by the lived experience of women and families who seek refuge through clinical practice or support organisations for victims of gender-based violence.

Dr Manjula Datta O’Connor came to Australia from India in the 1970’s so she has first hand understanding of the cultures that she researches and lives in. The early chapters of the book explain the cultural context of dowry as practised in India and recent evolutions of that practice since The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (Amended 1986). Later chapters show the cost of dowry related practice to individuals and society as a whole, through mental illness, suicide and the impact to national economies. The facts are heartrending, however stories drawn from real lives intersperse the facts to create a work of compassion and humanity that is compelling and feels important to know.

Throughout the book, Dr Datta O’Connor emphasises the fact that domestic violence in the context of dowry-related abuse is often not perpetrated by husbands acting alone. This point is worth reiterating as it is the crux for change that Dr Datta O’Connor is advocating for. Lawmakers need an understanding of cultural background in order to avoid loopholes in the law that convict one perpetrator of domestic violence and leave others to continue, a continuation that could have fatal consequences for victims.

Alongside prevention of domestic violence laws, Datta O’Connor proposes examining other structures and laws that unintentionally make victims vulnerable. For example, immigration visas that may become invalid if a victim flees the home of the perpetrators of the violence that could kill her.

The latter part of the book focuses on the potential for positive change. The reader meets victims empowered by therapy and support systems who become victim-survivors able to lead full and independent lives. Lives that contribute to Australian society in many ways. Case studies show that other family members can change too, so society gains productivity, talent and skill that feeds into the economic growth and wellbeing of everyone living in Australia.

This book covers an arc of history and culture, succinctly and sensitively. The book’s comprehensive bibliography and helpful notes offer potential for further study in a number of fields and will be a helpful resource to advocates working to address gender-based violence.

Overall, Daughters of Durga is a road map to hope and the triumph of good over evil. It is a readable nonfiction book filled with brave and proactive characters. The daughters of Durga and their advocates deserve to triumph, and raise all of us up with them.

If you or someone you know needs help, the Domestic Violence Action Centre offers support in many languages.

Daughters of Durga


by Manjula Datta O’Connor


ISBN 978 052287 825 7

$34.99; 296pp


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