Domestic violence: Silence is a crime

Note: This blog focuses on domestic violence in urban Pakistan

What happens when your savior also becomes your violator? How do you feel when the father of your child emotionally, psychologically, verbally and physically abuses you instead of giving you the deserved respect for bearing his children and carrying on his legacy? How do you reclaim your self-esteem when he relentlessly ridicules you and your parental family and makes you believe every time that it is your fault, when actually it isn’t?

Domestic violence causes far more pain than the visible marks of bruises and scars. It is devastating to be abused by someone that you love and think loves you in return because you’ll always end up forgiving – if not for yourself, then for the sake of your children or family or to escape ‘divorce’ which remains a taboo for women in our society.

According to a 2009 US State Department report on Pakistan, 50% of the women in urban areas of Pakistan admit that their husbands beat them.

In 2009 efforts were in progress on a new domestic violence law in Pakistan. A private bill on domestic violence had been passed in the Pakistan National Assembly in 2009, which required approval by the Pakistani Senate. However, Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) warning that a law against domestic violence will ‘push up divorce rates’ coupled with Mohammad Khan Sheerani’s objections (of the JUI-F), led to a deferment of the hearing in the Senate. Since then the Government has slept on the matter and the bill has lapsed.

Whereas the need for a domestic violence law is a necessity in Pakistan (as it will undoubtedly assist with abuse cases in the rural areas), I personally doubt such laws will have any impact in the urban areas - as a law is of no use until the people internalize its spirit.

It appears that due to a fault within our social structure, even the urban women in Pakistan tend to have a high tolerance for domestic violence. It is disturbing that women are often at the forefront of inflicting pain on other women. When the same women who have once been subjected to violence become mothers of sons, they unfortunately fail to teach their sons the lessons of tolerance and respect. And so the cycle of domestic violence continues.

I am not interested in discussing gender discrimination or emphasize on the equality of the sexes in this blog (I am sure both men and women are equally capable in their respective fields). I simply intend to highlight how a basic humanitarian rather moral principle seems to be missing in the Pakistani male mindset and is perhaps confirmed by the female mindset in our society when she chooses to remain silent in the face of such atrocity.

Even if a woman is a weaker sex, it puts all the more moral burden on a man to treat her with more dignity. The in-laws must assume responsibility to treat the daughter-in-law with utmost respect as she leaves her own family behind to embrace another.

There is nothing wrong in a woman depending on a man after marriage but being the breadwinner in the house doesn’t mean that we inculcate an undeserved sense of superiority in men. While sons are taught to have courage merely to fight we teach daughter to have courage to resist and persevere in the face of even the most brutal physical or mental assault. As a result, we have raised a nation of very resilient, resourceful, considerate and brave women but we have raised a country of spoilt, insecure and violent boys who will resort to violence against those who are weaker.

So in the absence of a legal framework on domestic violence and a culture that relegates domestic violence as a non-serious private matter between husband and wife, what options does a Pakistani urban woman have?

In this case, let’s put verse 4:34 of the Quran aside as it appears to be a subject of various controversies and interpretations, but instead focus on a quote from Razi's commentary "At-Tafsir al-Kabir" where a woman complained to Prophet Muhammad that her husband slapped her on the face, (which was still marked by the slap). Prophet Muhammad said to her: "Get even with him".

In light of this, I suggest that if a husband physically abuses his wife in an urban setting, abuse him back equally to “get even” if you want to stay with him and make yourself thick skinned to his manipulations and mentally assaults. Do not ever commit the mistake of leaving your marital home as it will shift the onus on you; in fact ask your husband to leave the house, as it is yours now. Stay firm on your ground and shame him enough to teach him a life’s lesson publicly. If you’re unable to get even and you feel mentally tortured, leave him and please do not defy your self-respect. No human being (even your husband) is above another’s respect and honor or basic humanitarian principles. And remember by remaining silent you’re simply an accomplice to the crime committed against you.

One of the most powerful words I have ever read in the history of my academic life are from Sojourner Truth’s most famous speech “Ain’t I a woman” in my women studies lecture room. The conclusion of her speech states:

“…If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
     upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it
     right side up again.”

Even in the words of Jinnah:

“There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women."

So use your power to lead men on the right path today instead of remaining silent in the face of domestic violence. It takes one to speak up and trust me; many others will follow your lead.

By Sana Hameed Baba

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