Suffering in Silence
Srabonti Narmeen Ali
It is almost every day that we are subjected to the stereotypical image of the ideal 'wife' in our part of the world--whether it is via Hindi movie, where we witness a bereaved widow hysterically running towards the funeral pyre of her husband or in our own commercials in which a man yells at his wife for not cooking properly, thereby causing her to buy the perfect curry mix, making her husband happy, which in turn makes her happy. On the other hand, the media has become trend-savvy and started to portray women in a modern light, such as commercials showing smartly dressed women in the work force, managing meetings and bosses as well as tending to her family and her home; or movies with corporate women sporting power-suits, whose husbands have equally high profile jobs.
Either way, all these women have superwoman qualities and, more importantly, very few of them are unhappily married with husbands who do not appreciate or support them. The truth is that these women do exist -- the bereaved wife who cannot live without her husband, the young wife who has to please her husband in the kitchen, the strong successful corporate women. The sad reality is that under the veneer of being the perfect bou, these women harbour dark secrets: in their so-called perfect lives, they have not-so-perfect husbands.
In many cases, these women's husbands are unfaithful, unemployed or verbally and physically abusive -- sometimes they are all of the above. Because of societal pressures most of these women choose to stay in these marriages, even if they are financially self-sufficient or have their family's support. The word 'divorce' is much scarier than the prospect of living in a give-all-and-no-take marriage; and far too controversial for them to live a normal life afterwards.
Tara Rahman, 31, is one of the few women who has taken that controversial step and divorced her husband. Married at 21 to Moin, a man that her father did not approve of, she stayed in her marriage for seven years before finally leaving him. When asked at what point she started to suspect that Moin was not the man for her, she replied “a few months after we got married.” Tara dated Moin for four years before she married him, and she only started working about two months prior to their marriage. Her original reason for working was just to help Moin out. It wasn't long before she realised that Moin would not be the bread-earner of the family. Not only did he have a substance and alcohol abuse problem, he was also unemployed and less educated than Tara. It didn't help that she was living with his family who also did not approve of her, firstly because her family was more established and well-off than them, which made them insecure, and secondly because she was more qualified than Moin and a full-time working woman, which made him insecure.
“They wanted me to not only work but also be a full-time housewife,” says Tara. “It was not possible for me so they always saw me as an unsuccessful wife and I think they influenced Moin to feel the same way. They did not want me to do a masters degree because they did not want me to be so much more educated than Moin.”
It was a difficult time for Tara, but she stuck by Moin and eventually they moved into their own place after they had a baby girl. Unfortunately for Tara, Moin was still showing no sign of working so her father finally gave him a job in his business. At first Moin was enthusiastic, but gradually he began to lose interest and he stopped taking his job seriously. He spent all their money on alcohol and was verbally abusive with her. On top of that their arguments got increasingly worse and it was affecting her daughter. It went on like that for a few years until Tara finally realised that it was not going to work out.
“I guess I thought he would change,” Says Tara. “I wanted to be completely sure before I made this decision, and so that is why it took me seven years. I wanted to make sure that I had no ounce of remorse or regret, or even an inkling of doubt in my mind. I had to be sure that I did everything possible to make this marriage work before I actually gave up on it. I didn't want to, at first. I thought it would affect my parents, my daughter, everyone around me. I suppose I also felt that he had no one else to take care of him aside from me and if I gave up on him, he would fall apart. I finally left him because I had grown so much as a person that I just could not see a future with him.”
Tara still encounters many problems because of her tough decision. Society unfortunately is still not very kind to women divorcees and are often victimised as a result of it.
“After my divorce a lot of men tried to take advantage of my vulnerability,” says Tara. “I refused to go out for the first few months because I was so scared that people would say things about me and think that I was immoral. People do not see me the same way they see other women. I felt like I had to work extra hard to be recognised and always had to be alert in case someone took something I said or did the wrong way. Some of my [male] friends' wives and girlfriends are not as comfortable with me because of the fact that I am single.”
Despite all these obstacles Tara is convinced that she made the right choice. “I know that I did what was best for me and my daughter,” she says. “It also helped that my family was so supportive of my decision. They helped me through a lot. I am much happier as a result and a stronger person because of what happened.”
Not everyone, however, is able to go against the grain of everything that they have been conditioned to think is right. Rokeya Begum has been a home-worker for the last 20 years. She began working part time for families a few years after she got married. Hassan, her husband, had spoken to her about his plans to go to Dubai for work. Until then, she was biding her time and trying to make enough money for the two of them and their three children. Gradually she realised that Hassan had no intention of going to Dubai and working.
“He kept telling me that it was going to happen but all he did was sit home and drink,” says Rokeya. “When I would push him to start working he would get violent with me.”
Life became increasingly difficult as she would work all day and then have to come home and cook and clean the house while Hassan never lifted a finger. Instead he would waste most of the money she had made on alcohol. When she protested he beat her and threatened to kick her out of the house. She now works full time with a family in Banani, providing enough money for her husband to survive. The thought of leaving him has never crossed her mind.
“I can't leave him, I would not know what to do,” says Rokeya. “Even though he is a bad man, he is still my husband. My children have grown up and have gone their own ways, and so I don't have to worry about them. Once in a while he runs out of money and comes to me and starts to harass me for more. When I say no he starts hitting me. Because I am living with a kind family they try to protect me as much as they can from him, but at the end of the day, if I don't take care of him nobody will.”
It is a shame that women like Rokeya stay in bad, abusive marriages even when they are not dependent on their husbands. However, who can blame them when educated and capable women like Tara are being victimised because of their marital status? It isn't enough that Tara had to face the trauma of leaving her husband of seven years and being on her own, she also has to deal with society -- disapproving contemporaries, lecherous men and suspicious women. It is these factors that force women to stay in situations that are potentially dangerous for them. It is thanks to our society's constant discrimination towards women -- not to mention the hypocrisy of expecting a woman to financially support the family as well as be the perfect housewife -- that women who should walk away from abusive men instead suffer in silence.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007