More than 1,500 people heard harrowing stories of domestic beatings of women in the Indo-Canadian community at a forum in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday night.

They packed a banquet hall to talk about the problem, which has gained urgency in recent weeks after two killings and an attempted murder, all involving Canadian women of South Asian descent. Radio India, a Punjabi radio station based in Surrey, hosted the forum.

Several women said isolation, shame and cultural barriershave hidden the problem of domestic violence in the community.Politicalleaders, including B.C. AttorneyGeneral Wally Oppal,listened to their stories and promised to take action.


Babita Chumber spoke of concealing the beatings she suffered in her marriage out of a sense of shame. ((CBC))

Babita Chumber, who spoke at the forum,said her six-year marriage started with high hopes but quickly became a nightmare.

"My husband would spit on me, kick me, emotionally degrade me. I would go to work with bruises. Pieces of hair would be out of my head and I would cover it up because of the shame that is involved," she said.

Kavinder Lehal said she was beaten and threatened with knives and a gun during her 11-year marriage. Lehail said many South Asian women stay in abusive relationships out of fear they will bring shame to their families.

"You're not shaming your husband or his family. He shames his family when he raises his hand on you. He shames his family when he beats you up," she said.

Oppal, who is Indo-Canadian, said the gathering shows the south Asian community is coming to terms with a problem that has been hushed up for years.

"Most of this is acknowledging the fact this exists. There is denial in the community,face-saving," he said.

Oppal said he hopes the forum, where so many women told their stories, will give others the courage to come forward.

In the last two weeks, two married Indo-Canadian mothers have been found dead in the Lower Mainland. Navreet Kaur Waraichwas stabbed to death in Surrey, and Manjit Panghali'sburned body was found along a highway near a busy container terminal in Delta.

In another incident, Gurjeet Kaur Ghumanwas shot in the face by her estranged husband in Port Coquitlam.He died after turning the gun on himself. She remains in critical condition.