|Volume 5 Issue 11| November 2011|
A Violent Attitude
Societal attitudes towards violence against women in Pakistan is most worrying, says ZOIA TARIQ.
Shahida woke up with a start. She could hear her husband yelling and calling out her name. One quick glance at the clock and she knew she had overslept. As she rushed to the washroom to get ready, she could feel her hands trembling and the previous night's headache returning, in intense waves. It would be one of “those” days, she knew.
Dressed up for work, Shahida woke up her kids in the next room and headed towards the kitchen, carefully avoiding the furious stare of her husband,Rehman who was waiting at the dining table, all ready for the office. She swiftly put the kettle on boil and opened the refrigerator for eggs and milk. “You know, I have to drop you and the kids on my way to the office? Why didn't you wake up on time?” roared Rehman at the kitchen door. Shahida replied with a tremor in her voice “Sorry. I had a nasty headache last night. Slept around dawn. But don't worry, I am only 15 minutes late.”
“You are sorry? Do you have any idea how precious my time is? But of course, you know nothing. Why did I marry a stupid cow?” Rehman went on and on. Shahida murmured another apology, praying that the kids didn't get out of their room until the “worst” was over. But Rehman was beyond furious now, “Is this adog barking that you aren't responding to?” And with this, he twisted Shahida's arm. Down went the breakfast tray with a crash.
Shahida looked at her kids who had entered the dining room, looking terrified. She looked her husband in the eye and said with clenched teeth, “Stop fighting in front of the kids.”
“What? I am fighting or you are annoying me?” And with this came the inevitable punch on Shahida's cheek. But the tears had long dried up and Shahida helplessly swept the floor and went to the refrigerator to get some more milk on the table. The children avoided looking at each other or their parents. They were sad but not shocked. They were used to this ongoing violence in the safest place on earth for them -- their home.
During the drive, it wasn't humiliation that bothered Shahida. She was more worried about her colleagues' reaction to her split upper lip and bruised cheek, which she tried to wipe off with a tissue and then applied some concealer. Another bruise would be difficult to explain.
As Rehman talked to the kids as if nothing had happened, Shahida stared in the hand mirror and thought about the time when she has stepped on by her abusive husband.
She could still hear her mother telling a black and blue Shahida that she shouldn't argue or answer back to her husband. And should stay with him for the sake of her kids. And herself. There is no place for a divorced woman in Pakistani society. Take abuse of one man, in order to save yourself from being abused by the whole society, was her logic. And Shahida was sent back within a week.
As her work place came near, Shahida tried hard to conceal the damage. God forbid, if her colleagues or students came to know that she was regularly beaten up, punched, kicked, slapped and yelled at, they would never respect her.
This was the beginning of an ordinary day in the life of Lecturer Shahida Rehman, Masters in political science and world history and currently teaching at one of the best universities of Pakistan.
Rise in violence against women and domestic abuse in Pakistan has become a crucial issue, but what's more troubling and alarming is the society's attitude towards this burning matter. We have decided that violence against women always has a logical explanation. She must have answered back, was not obedient enough, wanted more freedom and last but definitely not least, she wasn't “pak “or pious.
October 17, 2011, 1:40 PM. I was driving on Jail Road, a busy area of Lahore, when I heard a few gunshots. All hell broke loose and there was total chaos. I parked my car outside Kinnaird College, one of the most liberal and progressive women's institutes in South Asia. There were hundreds of girls outside, some of them openly weeping. What I found was appalling and horrifying at the same time. A second year student, Samar Wasti, had been shot dead by a young boy, who killed himself too after shooting Samar. And this happened in broad daylight, on the overhead bridge, outside the college where there were dozens of pedestrians.
It was a tragic incident where two young lives were wasted, but what really disturbed me were the comments and the attitude of the people. Everyone around was of the opinion that there must have been “something going on” between the two deceased teenagers. “You know, how young modern girls are nowadays. Well, you reap what you sow,” said one woman. A few men were making videos of the poor girl sprawled on the bridge with their cell phones. Not a single person showed any sign of grief on the loss of lovely and innocent Samar's life, who was lying in a pool of blood -- her mobile and tote bag, the two most dear possessions of any teenager in the world, beside her. It's true that such incidents happen everywhere, but public response was what made this murder in Lahore more deplorable.
Another latest incident that has been making headlines in Pakistan is the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Shahkot, Punjab. The victim, Saba Rai, is a position holder in Matriculation examinations and a top student. The public opinion on the torrid incident was over whether she should get married to the one who raped her and live happily ever after.
Pakistan is facing a serious threat of talibanisation, a wave that started from the dry mountains of Waziristan and has now entered and influenced most homes in the urban areas. With this gradual drift towards religious extremism, women's rights are being increasingly violated. As the society has refused to show any concern on the diminishing status of women, the extremist groups have been emboldened. And this tide of radicalisation is rapidly silencing the voice of the women and the conscience of the society in Pakistan.
All names in the above article have been changed to protect identities.
Zoia Tariq is Editor-in-chief, ZEST, Pakistan and can be reached at email@example.com.
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