Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 57, Tuesday September 19, 2006




The monster within

What is the difference between Akkas Ali and Mr Syed Abedur Ali, you say? Immense! One lives in the slum and earns less than Tk. 2000 a month and the other lives in Gulshan, drives BMW and earns no less then taka ten lakhs a month.

You would think there is no way to relate the two men. Yet they converge on a socio-psychological sphere; both men share a common habit of beating up their wives. Their reasons differ. While Akkas demands money, Abedur demands total control.

And what is the difference between their wives? Again immense; one is illiterate and works as a part-time house help, while the other is highly educated, professionally employed and financially solvent. Yet, they too, converge on a similar mindset: they can never muster up enough courage to bring to book their husbands. They fear the society they live in, and they fear the shame of being divorced or are afraid of living without a man in their lives.

Wife battering or abusing your wife both physically and emotionally is a heinous crime, which these men conveniently try to cloak by saying 'It is a personal thing between us, do not interfere'. So a woman is thrown acid upon because she received a missed call on her cell, or beaten black and blue because a male colleague called her after 10 pm, or abused and thrown out of her house because she has different points of view or has her skull cracked from a blow because she couldn't pay for his drinks, and the law is supposed to turn a blind eye, because, after all, these are 'personal issues'.

It is to be assumed therefore, that they have not heard of 'human rights'. Yet these animals disguised as men are allowed to enjoy freedom and roam the streets as enlightened men of power and wealth or even as uncouth (but free and empowered) urchins in the slums of Dhaka.

Motalib's mother (I don't even know her real name, never actually asked) is a part time maid at my place. She works at three houses, from 6 am to 6 pm, non-stop without a break. Sometimes when she is unwell, her eight-year-old daughter helps her out. When she retires from work for the day, she immediately sets down to cooking her dinner and makes sure that her son and husband have rice to eat for breakfast after she leaves for work in the morning.

And what do these two men in her life do for her? Exactly nothing other than adding to her miseries. They play cards, drink and eat on credit from the local hotel, pretend to be sick for most of the days in the month, and go to work only if they feel like it, and without fail fight with her every other night. While the father beats, the son looks on and learns the trick of the trade. My house is her shelter; once in every two weeks when the abuse crosses all limits she runs to me for refuge. I tend to her but she will not let me talk to her husband about it either or truly help her get out of this situation.

The answer to why she puts up with this, when she is the sole bread earner, is very simple. She cannot separate or divorce because people in her village home will think she has strayed and made compromises she shouldn't have. More importantly, though, and perhaps most surprisingly, she loves him and wants this marriage to work for the children. So I blame it on her lack of 'culture' and 'education', and leave it at that, unable to help her.

A few weeks back, I had a real wake-up call. I received a phone call from a very dear person seeking advice on how to deal with her personal issues. It was only then that my cocooned world, from where I thought at least men in our times have become human enough, shattered. I realized that there is very thin margin of difference between Motalib's mother and this entire new generation of educated, working women.

Neither my peers, nor my friends and not even my seniors are truly liberated, truly able to speak their mind, truly able to stand up against the injustice or truly have the stomach to put to trial these perpetrators, who continue to abuse them both emotionally and physically and financially.

Her story is repeated at every tier of the society. Women are basically trapped because they think they love these beasts, they think about their parents' reaction and also about their society. They fear the gossip and stories. Moreover there are always the children to consider.

What they forget is that an abusive marriage leaves a bad impression on the children and scars their future forever. So these are not personal issues to be left alone, this is violence and criminal and the law should intervene.

I am a liberated woman. Not exactly the bra-burning sort, but I am aware of my rights and I never hesitate to retort back if I am in any way pushed or shoved or discriminated against. Most importantly I like to believe that all my contemporaries a generation plus and minus a two or so- are like me; active, in command, positively competent and proud of their feminine self.

Unfortunately this is a façade and I am living life on the periphery. We women are all feminists on the shell but at heart we all fear the men in our lives and in one way or the other always work to please them. This is indeed a blasphemous comment. Especially in today's perspective when we think that we have come a long way from those dreadful, barbaric days when we were beaten for not able to cook rice on time.

But think again, how far have we really come? Every third woman in the crowd is a victim of abuse at home and she puts up with it with a smile. Then what good are our lectures, our support groups, our counseling, and our writing articles doing if we cannot reach every woman, if we cannot change the soul of every woman, if we cannot make them strong enough to take their fate and mould it according to their needs?

Society is what we make it. If I am single and hint that I want company I will seek and be sought after, but if I say I am single and I want to stay that way that message too should come across equally strong.

I know, it isn't easy. Most of these battered women have had all the fight and spirit beaten out of them. Society doesn't make it easier; just leaving is hard enough to do, and the 'divorcee' label is an albatross no woman wants hanging from her neck, let alone taking him to law. But a change has to start somewhere, and it has to start from within.

I believe I can change my fate and only I am my own master, my husband should be able to respect that and take it from there. A truly enlightened man is still a rare thing. A man's doctorates, his Armani suits and Versace boots may be yardsticks of his wealth, but won't tell you how rich he really is. His poor taste shows when you read about how he killed his wife or hear stories of how he always battered the mother of his children. He is an impoverished soul who needs to beat his wife to prove his masculinity, and frankly speaking, she is a coward who cannot put this chauvinist pig behind bars.

By Raffat Binte Rashid



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