By Saira Wasif
“When all else fails, hit her with light things like handkerchief, a hat or a turban but do not hit her on the face or private parts.” If this had been a line from some marginal comedy, it would have gotten a few moderate laughs. As it turns out it is not so; these are mere methods to make Pakistan more radicalised, and its women, more ‘pliable’.
The world media portrays Pakistan as a safe haven where terrorism is bred, and where civil liberties are a thing of the distant past. To them there is not much of an idea of an educated Pakistani woman who has a say in matters of her life, or can step out to make a respectable living. They would rather check themselves in an asylum than believe that women here have tangible substantial constitutional rights. Isn’t this situation embarrassing enough that it had to be topped off with a ridiculously twisted and incongruous ‘Bill of Rights’ for the womenfolk in Pakistan? Can the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) not foresee how pathetic of an attempt this is to secure 10 minutes on prime time news by ‘lightly beating their wife’? Do we not have enough on our plate to add ‘handkerchiefs’ and ‘turbans’ to this mix?
Religious fundamentalism and its principles and ideology is scorned at around the globe and deemed as a ritualistic means to a bloody end. In a time where we Muslims have to clarify and rationalise our very religious existence this horrendous bill by the so-called standard-bearers of Islam only augments the powers of those who hit women for pleasure or have a sadistic sense of authority. By mentioning the word ‘beating’ no matter how odd the classification is, our clerics have provided a legal and permissible way to deal with any voice that dares to rise against the ‘mighty’ man of the house.
Given the history of men in our culture, cold hard violence is usually directed to stop whatever opposition is brewing behind the scenes. Perverted men will attest to that and would even own it. A woman/wife should not be classified as a perpetrator similar to felons or delinquents who need corrective discipline; one can simply end the relationship after repeated trials. Domestication of a female by force to ensure control and orderliness is a pitiful and condemnable jab, at the least.
In an effort to take notice of assaults that mar the female entity, government of Pakistan proposed to set up an SMS distress call centre for women in need so that this heinous cycle can be broken. It was their equivalent to West’s 911 emergency responders, which, surprisingly, was aimed solely for the benefit of women.
By proposing a bill to counter what our government is trying to achieve, in terms of women emancipation from abusive relationships, and dubbing it as Islamic is a pitiable attempt. The CII magnanimously grant women some liberty in matters of Nikah at a permissible age but allow the abusiveness to continue by taking away the prerogative to leave the relationship.
Women have for eons tried to make the sanctity of marriage work, either by compromising in a bad financial situation or looking the other way with a cheating husband. Islamic teachings demand that a woman needs to put in an extra effort but never at the cost of physical harm or mental abuse. The recent spike in divorce rates do not signify the drift from Islam per se, rather the realisation that such things will not come to pass anymore, and human rights dictate otherwise.
Proclaiming this change of heart as an influence of the West as 27 percent of the male population decries, careers of women as put forth by 12 percent, religious promiscuity as dubbed by 33 percent, and simple lack of patience by a whopping 48 percent is a stark reminder that people in power will do anything to stop the rise of a woman’s liberation from daily hits n misses.
I do not recall an era of Islam where women were suppressed and men reigned absolute. Although the concept of equality is different for both genders yet woman as a mother, daughter or wife is given utmost dignity and regard. What does it say about men who propose ‘women should not leave an abusive marriage and call the act un-Islamic’? Would they ever want the same fate for their own daughters? Nearly 70 percent of Pakistani women undergo spousal abuse one way or the other. The reasons vary from economic hardships to just plain ol’ sport. And while the newspapers are filled with stories of acid throwers, honour killings and terrible tales of domestic violence, rarely has anyone heard of a woman hitting back or getting justice for all the physical scars that they carry.
The bill is shameful rhetoric that signifies the plunge we just took into the annals of backwardness, and if it becomes ‘law of the land’ then the chasm between right and wrong would be too hard to overcome. Regardless of what religious twist the Bill of Rights has been given, it is nothing but shameful propaganda to remain ‘relevant’. I have not yet deliberated on child marriages to older, senile men, the issue that is teemed with horror stories of another calibre.
I have not even begun to pen down a line or two for all the victims of acid attacks who have seen the devil in the eyes of these Muslim men. It seems like everyone is just shell-shocked at the backward bill in an era where artificial intelligence is the next big thing, and we are still stuck in a rut of how to make our wives more subdued and meek.
Saira Wasif is a freelance columnist and a translator