‘Man kills wife, child’; ‘Man throws acid on wife;’ ‘Man shoots sister;’ ‘Woman kills children, commits suicide;’ 1News stories like these appear on our newspapers everyday. The general public is now so used to seeing such headlines, that only a cursory glance or thought is spared for them. Such is the case of domestic violence in Pakistan! These stories are now seen as a fact of life. Domestic violence is often understood as the “act of physical violence of one family member toward another”.
In reality, the emotional and verbal insult inflicted on the victim is as damaging, so it entails “all language and actions which inflict suffering on the victim. “2 Apart from physical, emotional and verbal violence, it may include “denial of access to resources or money, restraint of normal activities or freedom (including isolation from friends and family), sexual coercion or assault, threats to kill or to harm, and physical intimidation or attacks. “3 In extreme cases, domestic violence results in the death of a partner.
The phenomenon of domestic violence is not restricted to any particular nation, culture or belief system. In fact, experts agree that it prevails in every society of the world, be it the developed nations like United States and Canada or the third world nations like India, Pakistan and countries in Africa. The true extent of the problem is hard to judge since many of the cases go unreported. The judicial system and government of countries like Pakistan still continue to be indifferent towards this subject and no laws have been implemented effectively to curb the problem at hand.
From a conflict perspective, domestic violence is the conflict between two class sets, in this case, the two genders. Feminism is a result of the conflict perspective, which entails that the women be given equal opportunities. Although the developed nations term domestic violence as a gender-neutral issue, the reality of the matter can not be denied: almost every victim in a domestic violence case is a woman. This holds true in patriarchal societies, for example Pakistan, where the women are treated like chattel and considered property.
The different forms of domestic violence that prevail in Pakistan include honor killings or karo-kari, rape, burnings, female infanticide, acid attacks, mutilation and beating. Its not only the lower classes that experience domestic violence, in one form or another also exists in the higher educated class. The only difference is that such cases go unreported, as social pretences do not allow women to come out in the open. According to a news report, more than 70 per cent of the women in Pakistan are facing different kinds of domestic violence.
On April 6, 1999, twenty-seven-year-old Samia Sarwar was gunned down in her attorneys’ office in Lahore by a hit man retained by her family. 5 Her mother, father, and paternal uncle were all accomplices to her murder and all because acquiring a divorce to them was a dishonorable act. Hundreds of such honor killing cases occur daily in Pakistan. According to the survey only five per cent cases of rape and honour killings are reported. 6 In the brief fifty-seven year history of our country, widespread domestic violence has prevailed from day one.
It has been ingrained in our society since centuries and the evil has passed down through generations. The perception that it is the religious duty of the man to chasten the woman is commonly accepted. The historical aspect of the problem dates back generations. The custom has been adopted from the tribal way of life, where the women are considered property and “bought and sold” like other possessions. The women are considered as the carriers of honor of the family and the slightest mark means the death penalty. One extreme case is of a man who honor killed his wife and all because he had a dream of her adultery. The three major reasons for violence are male domination (32. 8 per cent), financial dependency (25. 6 per cent) and lack of education (20 per cent).
One of the biggest contributory factors of domestic violence in the region is the way our society is built. We live in a patriarchal system, where the men dominate women in all walks of life. Women have been repressed and trodden on from generations so much so, that according to a news-report, 42% of women accept violence as fate9. Such a high number can only result after decades of repression and violence.
According to a psychiatrist, “so strong has this feeling been instilled in their psyche that their own behavior is responsible for the treatment meted out to them that many women try to conceal the abuses they suffer”10. The tragedy is such that no one realizes the gravity of the matter. The status of women in our society is one of the lowest when compared to other regions in terms of literacy rate and employment opportunities. The concept of no discrimination in terms of gender and opportunity prevailing in developed nations for many decades now is still a myth in our society, even in this day and age.
Dignity and self-respect are concepts alien to the women of this region, and one of the factors that promote this alienation is lack of education and awareness among the masses. Education is a basic human right, which is denied to the majority of women in Pakistan and is another major contributing factor that leads women to think of violence as the norm of life. Lack of awareness, along with the lack of education work to enhance this ignorance. But, education of women alone is not the solution.
If it were, then the women who had the courage to speak out or get help would not have had to pay an even heavier price. According to a news report, the 4. 8 per cent women who do retaliate cause more damage to themselves11. An example is the case of Samia Sarwar mentioned above. Such incidences make sure that even the educated women learn to keep quite and live with their condition. Some are forced to accept such difficult circumstances and continue living with their husbands as in some cases they fear for their children’s well being and in extreme cases, even the children’s lives.
The fact that oppression of the wife is more important than the lives of one’s own children is barbaric to say the least. Apart from education and awareness, economic dependence plays an important role in confining women to the role of the suppressed class. Due to ingrained beliefs that the woman’s place is in the home, most women are dependent on the men in their lives for economic sustenance, and basic everyday needs. Social taboos, traditional outdated beliefs, customs and cultural values and social pressures are some other factors, which add to the problem even more.
In our society, a woman is disgraced if she gets a divorce and the family’s honor is besmirched if she gets married to someone of her own choice or stands against domestic violence. In such cases, the family members, women included, shun the victim and in extreme cases jointly consent to the barbaric act of karo-kari, meaning blackened man-blackened woman. It is tragic that in instances where one’s family’s backing is most needed, it’s the family that turns out to be the villain instead.
The family is supposed to be a person’s safe heaven, a place where one can go for help in case of any problem. But if it’s the family that inflicts such violence, then in truth the victim has no where to go! This is one reason that domestic violence is so prevalent, that even if the women gather enough courage to stand up against domestic violence, they have no one to turn to. The facilities and shelters provided by the government of Pakistan are inadequate to say the least and instead of eliminating the existing problem, it adds even more to it.
Considering the fact that women sustain domestic violence in such large numbers, it should be expected that at least the women empathize with each other and offer their help to the victims in their family in any way they can. Alas! This is not the case. As with the case of Samia Sarwar, the mother of the victim was involved in the murder. So it’s not only the men that contribute to domestic violence. One of the reasons for this is that the women see such practices as the generally accepted way of life and conform to them. The incidences of bride burnings are fairly common, especially in India.
Domestic violence due to factors relating to dowry prevails in our system as well. Stove burnings of the daughters-in-law make up a large percentage of the over all burn victims. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, from 1998 to 2002, 1415 burn victims came under their notice and of these the FIR was lodged for only 143 cases. Of these, only 20 perpetrators were apprehended12. Out of the 215 cases of women being suspiciously burned to death in their Lahore homes in 1997, in only six cases were suspects taken into custody13.
Such facts are common when it comes to apprehending the perpetrators of domestic violence. In the case of Samia Sarwar, even though highly credible evidence was available, none of the family members were taken into custody. The indifferent attitude of the government, the corruption in the legal system and the police network plays a sizeable role in increasing domestic aggression against women. Its fairly common to see the perpetrators go scot-free while the victims have to face extreme hardships at every step of the way, while seeking to get justice from the extremely biased judicial system of the country.
One reason for the large number of unreported cases is that even if the victims seek legal help, its most likely that they will be subjected to further abuse, humiliation and victimization whilst the abuser will walk freely or go to prison for a short time at most. The cost of putting up to domestic violence is much higher then the satisfaction derived if the abuser is punished. Some two years ago, the cleric who had impaled his wife never received any capital punishment for his act. The government made a big hoo haa about treating the cleric’s wife but not much happened by way of a sentence for the maulana.
According to a report, “laws governing domestic violence – after almost 57 years of existence as a sovereign Muslim state – still remain undefined or rather, ‘in abeyance’ in Pakistan. “14 At all levels of the criminal justice system of the country, most legal personnel view domestic violence as a “private matter that does not belong in the courts”. 15 The victims have to deal with high levels of indifference and antagonism, biased officials, and outright harassment at every step of the process. The police try their best not to lodge an official complaint and arrest the perpetrator.
According to a paper on domestic violence titled “Custom or Crime, only the most persistent and resourceful complainants succeed in maneuvering such hostile terrain, and even those who do seldom see their attackers punished. The medicolegal doctors who examine the victims are “skeptical physicians” and not qualified or trained enough to do the job properly. 16 So the conflict perspective again holds true here, that it’s the lack of a proper response from the authorities that such widespread domestic violence exists in our society.
The general psyche of the Pakistani man, the widespread economical hardships faced by him everyday, violent family history and an abusive childhood are some of the factors that add to the domestic violence of women by men. The increasing unemployment rate in the country, the lack of satisfactory jobs, the constant inflation, sexual difficulties, alcohol abuse and the growing frustrations and anger with the system, all tend to build aggravation in men. At the end of the day, it’s the women who are at the receiving end of the vented frustration, thus domestic violence.
It’s a common saying that an abusive father will produce an abuse husband. Since domestic violence is so widespread in our society, the effect it has on children is complex and long term. A male child who has grown up seeing his father beat his mother will most likely develop a violent nature and in turn, abuse his wife later in life. Such children have the possibility of developing a condition known as an “antisocial personality disorder”. 17 People with such disorders have an impaired ability to feel guilt, remorse, or anxiety.
In turn, a female child growing up in the same environment will see her mother putting up with such violence and will perceive the act as the fate of all women in general and therefore, develop a submissive nature. Thus, if left on its own, a vicious never-ending cycle is formed where domestic violence in one generation leads to the same problem in the next and so on. Children nurtured in such surroundings are more likely to contribute to domestic violence in the future as compared to children who grow up in a secure, safe environment with the love of both parents.
The consequences of domestic violence are complicated, long term and the effects tend to affect society on a macro level. Many women, after sustaining abuse for long periods of time may develop personality disorders, psychological impairments and mental and physical illness, the effects of which remain with them throughout their lifetime. The possibility of these women contracting diseases like depression is fairly high. Constant apprehension, fear, sleeplessness, anxiety, nervousness tend to be more pronounced.
All these factors affect the physical well being of the victim as well. These women routinely suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and battered women syndrome. All these concepts are alien to the people in Pakistan. Any form of mental illness is term craziness and the person is committed to a mental institution where the hopes of being cured are almost nil. Many women in Pakistan who are victims of domestic violence are mothers, with young children. The rate of miscarriage is relatively high in these women because of constant victimization.
This puts their health at risk. The affect of violence in the home as mentioned before is very damaging to the children. If the mother is a victim of physical abuse from the father then it’s almost a given fact that the children are maltreated as well. They have to suffer not only physical torment, their health and development is affected too. According to a medical report, “witnessing domestic violence can lead children to develop an array of age-dependent negative effects”18.
According to the same report, “These children are at greater risk for internalized behaviors such as anxiety and depression, and for externalized behaviors such as fighting, bullying, lying, or cheating. They also are more disobedient at home and at school, and are more likely to have social competence problems, such as poor school performance and difficulty in relationships with others. Child witnesses display inappropriate attitudes about violence as a means of resolving conflict and indicate a greater willingness to use violence themselves”.
Thus the claim that children witnessing domestic violence will be the victims or the perpetrators of the future is very much valid. The basic value and belief system of every person is acquired from one’s home, the building platform of one’s personality. The mother nurtures the child, and is responsible for the development of the next generation of leaders, scientists and doctors. It’s often said that it’s the home that lays down the foundation of the society we live in. If the basic structure of the system is weak, how can there be a strong society.
The well being of our society is dependent on the women, the weaker sex. If they are not treated right, then the entire social structure is vulnerable. The development of any nation is contingent upon the country having high productivity. Women comprise of more then half the population of Pakistan and if this weaker sex is victimized on such drastic and widespread levels, the nation can not hope to cross the invisible but existing line between the developing and the developed world. The World Bank (1993) estimated that “in developing countries rape and domestic violence reduce the healthy years of life for reproductive age women by 5%. “19 The developed countries with high levels of productivity exercise gender-equality and equal opportunity for men and women. Any form of gender discrimination is frowned upon. Women are seen as important players with important roles to play in the development of the country. If countries like Pakistan continue to victimize the woman population, we will continue to exist in the same rut where we have lain for the past 50 years.
The victimization of women has the Pandora’s box effect! The consequences are convoluted, enduring, massive, and its tentacles reach out to not only the society, but the world too. One of the first things that need to be done to curb this evil from our society is to create awareness about the issue on a national level. The developed world has managed to curb the problem effectively and Pakistan can take guidance from them as how to go about achieving this mammoth task. The government needs to play an aggressive role in helping stop the victimization.
Transparency of the judicial system, easy accesses to the legal framework for the victims is also needed. Passing laws curtailing to this issue is not enough; authorities have to make sure that they are implemented effectively and the common man has easy access to them. The paper written on domestic violence in Pakistan, “Custom or Crime” gives a few recommendations on how the government of Pakistan can curtail the problem. Some are mentioned below:
On a Legislative and Regulatory front, “Pakistan’s current law on rape and adultery/fornication does not provide an adequate legal avenue for victims of rape to obtain justice and should be repealed. ” * “The former provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code on rape should be re-enacted into law with amendments to make marital rape a criminal offense and to incorporate a broader definition of rape. ” * “A provision should be added to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 1997 to specify that “honor killings” are punishable as intentional murder and to explicitly prohibit the practice of mitigation of sentences in such cases. * “The government of Pakistan should sign and ratify, without reservations, and bring domestic law and practice into compliance with, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. “20 The paper also goes on to mention how the police practices and rules may be reformed to “establish clear and explicit guidelines for police intervention in cases of domestic abuse, including standardized arrest policies for perpetrators. A standard course of training on domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault should be required for new police recruits and serving officers”.
The problem of domestic violence is so common that it’s not a private family matter any more. It affects the society on a macro level so the family violence cases should not be treated as “private problems” by the judicial system anymore. Apart from the laws and police reforms, the medicolegal system, the prosecution process needs to be reformed as well. The proper training of the personnel in these systems is crucial and should be concentrated on. The government needs to set up a better and widespread network of victim services, which make sure that victimized women have an easy access to them.
The media can play an important role in creating nation wide awareness and try to change the antiquated concepts of the general public. These efforts will be supplemented if education, a basic human right, is accessible to everyone and the literacy rate of the country improves. If the women were provided with their basic rights, which the constitution of Pakistan offers them, then this would be a big help in controlling domestic violence. If the women were economically independent and if they could count on the legal system to assist them, then there is very little chance that the victimized women would continue to suffer in silence.
The society, apart from the government needs to play a bigger role in removing this evil from amongst us. Instead of hiding the issue and considering it to be a taboo topic, if it were discussed and condemned openly, it could help to punish the perpetrators instead of the victim. Its time that Pakistan tackled with the evil of domestic violence amongst us and realizes how damaging its long-term effects are on society. Although now it may seem that that course of action is a long haul and very tough, all we need is determination. Let us control the evil, and not let the evil control us.