(names of the survivors have been changed to protect their identity, social standing and right to privacy)
“The day he hit a pistols’ butt on my head and I started bleeding I called my maternal uncle and told him what my husband had done, he replied that in our religion even if a wife washes a husbands feet and drinks the water she cannot repay the husband,”
This is a real account of a domestic violence survivor. Who after an 18 year marriage and 3 grown up kids finally mustered the courage to take khula and separate from a physically abusive husband, she thought was sick and dependent on her. The psychological and emotional abuse she went through is so immense that she and her kids had to go through therapy to come back to normal life.
This is not an account of some uneducated poor woman. This is an account of an educated woman. Educated from prestigious institutions of Pakistan. Her husband also educated from highly prestigious institutions and placed in a powerful position socially, both first cousins.
This is only one woman. I personally know more than six women in my immediate and trusted circle who have suffered physical abuse at the hands of their highly educated husbands. Physical abuse of the kind which includes instances of beatings resulting in bleeding, bruises and a miscarriage, being locked up in a room, or kicked out of the house and threatened with more violence if reported.
In conducting my research titled “Divorced women’s perception of social space and social support: A qualitative study of Urban Lahore” I did some in-depth interviews with divorcee women either in a happy second marriage or happily single now. Co-incidentally they were all domestic violence survivors and that too of a severe kind. This secondary information gathered without any purposeful intention turned into important data when I went through all the hue and cry ensuing on the proposed legislation over domestic violence in the Pakistani senate.
The term domestic violence itself belittles a life time of extreme trauma rippling through out the society such that violence is domesticated and normalized to an extent that even when reported; is ignored with statements like the above. Hours and hours of swearing don’t count as abuse if the husband can bring home enough bread for everyone to eat and the kids get admission in a school.
Some real questions arise here.
Why do these educated women decide to endure so much pain?
- Is divorce/khul the only way out? Can the abuser be helped?
- What extent of abuse should be punishable by law?
- What role can our social institutions play in making real space for such survivors?
- Is this a problem with Pakistani society or Muslims alone?
Tackling the last question first. No its not something specific to Pakistani society as a matter of fact this pattern of violence is quite common through out the world. Referred to as “intimate partner violence” in some places of the world due to the unmarried status of the couple. In a report shared by the UN women forum on prevention of violence against women it is stated that:
“Most violence against women is perpetrated by current or former husbands or intimate partners. More than 640 million women aged 15 and older have been subjected to intimate partner violence .26 per cent of women aged 15 and older.”
Lets search for answers to these questions in an inverted pyramid sequence with the base deconstructing in context and the tip a constructive societal channeling of violence. Instead of telling I will try and show you the context and the pain. Quite that voice of reason and let it stand aside for a moment while you open your heart to feel another’s pain.
DECONSTRUCING SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN CONTEXT:
“ I was hardly ten when while playing a neighbors teen son jumped over to our roof and in front of all my siblings and his own siblings started dragging me to a room on our roof pulling at my clothes. I screamed violently and he got scared and let go ultimately and I ran downstairs to my father telling him everything. My father hugged me but my mom didn’t even talk to me about it. Then nothing happened. I think my father told the neighbors and changed the area we lived in.”
“that incident really traumatized me. I waited for two weeks that somebody will talk to me about it. That maybe my mom will ask me or hug me but she never did.”
Ayesha’s parents were the traditional parents who provided well for their kids and considered that duty enough. Emotional availability was considered an unnecessary luxury.
Lack of emotional availability in childhood often results in bad relationships. Such children when adults learn or seek insecure attachments which ultimately become unhealthy and result in a cycle of abuse in romantic relationships.(Riggs,2010)
“ My mother was deaf and I being the first born became her means to understand and communicate with the world but in the process of conveying I lost the opportunity to receive the training a child needs to understand and respond to love and care and I assumed the role of giving, conveying and caring as a primary role whereas as a child I needed that care. Now that I reflect over my childhood I wish somebody had taught me to value myself too as that might have prevented some if not all the wrong choices I made in my life”
Safiyah now in a second unsuccessful marriage suffered immense physical abuse in her first marriage. After 12 years of marriage she took khul only to get stuck in another hastened and reckless marriage. Supporting her four kids, second husband financially and running a household she says: “swearing is so common in our society that its not even considered as abuse”.
“As a child I used to pretend in front of my friends that I had a great family just like there’s. At home my abba’s abusive behavior towards my mom was something that was just for me and my siblings to know and see and nobody else ever knew or helped. Ammi never had enough money to give us any school allowance while abba spent lavishly on his friends. Its very painful to go back and relive those moments when I tried to make sense by thinking that I could be an agent of peace where I wasn’t even noticed, “Ami was too preoccupied with her hard life and in the process had nothing to offer emotionally.”
Saleha a highly educated woman also a survivor of domestic abuse at the hands of her ex husband related how family or friends never intervened even when they knew Abba was wrong and abusive towards Ami.
These three examples reveal a lot to any laymen. For these women violence and emotional unavailability was normalized. They had no words for what they were going through un till very late. This normalization of the abnormal led them to accept violence meted out to them later in life as that is what they themselves had internalized.
Khadija and Ayesha both related how their closest circle. The people who they expected would help out and empathize, reiterated their pseudo religious comments and reminded them that they should bear with the abuse for the sake of the kids or that they will be rewarded for their patience etc. Khadija is now blissfully living with her kids supporting herself and living an abuse free life while Ayesha remarried to a better spouse.
On a basic level this acceptance begins at home. When abusive language and rudeness as well as aggressive behaviour is not discouraged and on a large-scale this acceptance is magnified when at workplace women who excel are put down by sexual harassment tactics and its called normal work politics. Also when socially women are portrayed as epitomes of patience with superhuman ability to endure the worst abusive scenarios and come out beautifully as unscarred heroines with excellent children. None of this is true. Women are just human and have only as much patience as Allah requires of them which is not more than any man.
DOES SUFFERING EQUAL PATIENCE?
Patience is a virtue but suffering is a choice. Those who suffer in relationships are not being patient nor serving their religion or humanity. Patience is purposeful and wise. It is not an excuse to let aggression have authority. It is a way to live bravely and peacefully. Patience is just like a fertile seedling planted with care and love which gives off fragrant flowers and fruit. It is not bred with blood and tears. Blood and tears breed revenge and reaction.
Our society has mistook suffering for patience. Laden with self construed religious innuendos. Heroines are constructed in novels, literature and drama who suffer immense pain at the hands of their husbands, relatives or in-laws and then are rewarded later in life by caring offspring. Celebrating the suffering of women does not increase a woman’s dignity nor is it as rewarding as claimed by most pseudo religious and cultural elements. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw) always chose ease and peace when given an option. To enshrine a woman to such an extent that an expression of natural human pain and feeling is denied to her sacred existence is not religion rather it is a willful display of our societal obsessions and cultural ailments.
So no suffering does not equal to patience. If that were so we wouldn’t be seeing such horribly negative consequences of this assumed heroic perseverance in our community. Like an increase in the number of broken homes and traumatized children. Patience should have resulted in better behaviors and lesser violence.
The Dawn reported on 25 November 2020 that:
“Around 60 to 70pc of women in Pakistan are suffering from some form of violence and abuse, around 5,000 women are killed every year while thousands become disabled because of domestic violence.”
ON OUR WAY TO HEALING THE INJURED; CHANELLING THE PAIN:
The injury domestic violence causes is not to a single women but to a generation that is born of her.
“Children exposed to domestic violence tended to be more aggressive and to exhibit behavioral problems in their schools and communities ranging from temper tantrums to fights. Internalizing behavior problems included depression, suicidal behaviors, anxiety, fears, phobias, insomnia, tics, bed-wetting, and low self-esteem. The few studies that assessed problems related to cognitive and academic functioning found differences between children f r o m violent, versus nonviolent, homes. Children exposed to domestic violence demonstrated impaired ability to concentrate, difficulty in their schoolwork, and significantly lower scores on measures of verbal, motor, and cognitive skills”
(Fantuzzo, J., & Mohr, W. K. (1999). Prevalence and Effects of Child Exposure to Domestic Violence. The Future of Children, 9 (3), 21-32.
The two segments of our society that need to really understand the consequences of domestic violence are both closely knit and can play an instrumental role in the prevention and cure to this societal ailment. The ethical ideologues and the judicial system. Both segments need to understand that treating domestic violence is not a threat to our way of life its an improvement and a promise of hope. The fear that binds both these segments is often quite obvious in vague legislation or one sided critique.
The conversation in religious circles often relies and builds upon the fear of invasion and threat to moral values while the conversation in the judicial circles often limits itself to technical incompetence and loopholes. These segments are quite expressive and successful when a show of power on issues of international importance are to be campaigned for but suddenly go mute when their own generations are at stake due to this extreme moral degeneration and societal indifference to domestic violence.
It doesn’t always have to be as ugly as chained or arrested spouses. It can be therapeutic or familial intervention facilitated by courts or welfare departments. Once in a religious gathering I remember an example given by someone that if we uncover trash the foul smell spreads. This example was given to elaborate that the news media nowadays spreads exaggeration, misinformation and propaganda like a pandemic. It might sound true for a while as it did to me but I realized later that the trash doesn’t stop piling and when it doesn’t stop piling, the effort to uncover is diminished slowly as the piles now lie without containers and the foul smell has already polluted the whole community. It can no longer be hushed up or treated as some moral deprivation. It has to be treated as a crime so that our people start taking it seriously and start clearing up the mess before our next generation suffers.
Domestic violence does not include your daily family brawls. It does not include routine differences between spouses. It does not include disciplining your child to teach him right from wrong. So please give space to those who have suffered. Speak out for them. Help them reach those who can stop the violence. They are closer to home and we can change the way the world deals with us if we can deal justly with our own as a nation.