is, at least according to the prevailing cultural propaganda, the beginning of
a new life. This new life, it follows, will be one of beauty and bounty — a
loving relationship, new family members, and of course the birth of progeny.
As far as
women are concerned, it is also a transfer of guardianship. A woman who marries
is considered the responsibility of her husband. It is this last bit that can
encompass all the circles of hell. What happens when the man to whom a woman, a
cherished daughter, is married, exploits the mores of guardianship to
perpetrate cruelty and abuse? To whom can the woman turn? To whom can her
family turn and what recourse to protection or justice is available to them?
Here is one
such story from Mingora in Swat. In 2006, a woman — we can call her R. Bibi —
was married to a man who her family had chosen for her. Both families took part
in the traditional wedding festivities at the end of which R. Bibi left for her
new husband’s home.
the loving home she had hoped for and expected, the newly married woman entered
hell itself. Her husband — we can call him A — was unemployed at the time; he
beat her regularly and subjected her to cruel words and privation whenever he
could. When R. Bibi told her family, there was little that they could do to put
an end to her ordeal. In the hope of making things better for the couple, they
provided financial support to her husband. But that did not change his
behaviour towards his wife.
In 2010, A
got a job in Saudi Arabia. Hoping that this would be a new start for the
couple, R. Bibi’s family managed to arrange for the finances to pay for her
husband’s airfare and travel costs to Saudi Arabia.
time, R. Bibi complained that not only was A subjecting her to regular beatings
and cruelty but that he was also pushing her to have illicit relations with
other men. When her father heard about this, he told his daughter to stay home
and to not return to her husband. As a result, A got angry and matters
deteriorated further for the couple, with A hurling threats at the family.
It was now
2012, a time when the Pakistani Taliban were active in Swat. R. Bibi’s husband
had connections with the terrorist group that rendered his threats to the
family particularly frightening. That same year, R. Bibi’s brother was killed;
her father alleged that A had admitted to the murder in a phone call. He
continued to demand that his wife be returned to him and eventually the family
gave in. R. Bibi, who was now a mother of two, joined her husband in Saudi
Arabia. The family, exhausted by the repeated threats and conflict, hoped that
this would be the beginning of a better time for R. Bibi, her husband and their
children in Saudi Arabia.
that was not to be. Before long. R. Bibi called and said that A was forcing her
to have illicit relations with his boss in exchange for a luxury car, job and
other perks. Somehow, R. Bibi managed to return home to Pakistan with her
children. Her husband threatened to kill her and her family for R. Bibi’s
disobedience. His brothers, with all their Taliban connections, the family
knew, had the ability to carry out his threats. The family lived a terrified
existence in Mingora while A remained in Saudi Arabia.
time, R. Bibi’s grandmother passed away. On the day of her grandmother’s
funeral, and allegedly at the behest of her husband, R. Bibi was killed. The
family was stunned and terrified. They went to the police and filed a case
against her husband and his family members who had allegedly carried out the
killing. This made A even more angry and he vowed to kill the entire family
when he returned from Saudi Arabia.
names have been obscured, the story of this couple is true. The police have not
been able to investigate her death or the continuing threats against her
family. At the end of July this year, A returned from Saudi Arabia and when he
did so he went straight to the deceased R. Bibi’s house and allegedly pulled
out a pistol and threatened the whole family. Since that day, R. Bibi’s family
and her children live in fear for their lives and their future. Despite reports
being lodged, no action has been taken against her killers or her husband.
poses all the questions that Pakistan (and Pakistanis) refuse to answer. Why
are women considered the property of men, either fathers or husbands? Why must
they turn to these ‘guardians’ who may be capable of forcing them into illicit
relationships? In this case, R. Bibi had a supportive family, a father and
brothers who tried to protect her against her husband. Despite this, she is
dead and her children are motherless. Her family lives in terror because they
did not look away from what was happening to their daughter.
disasters that are discussed in Pakistani newspapers, this one is not yet over.
R. Bibi is dead but if the state, specifically the legal and law-enforcement
authorities in Mingora, do not take immediate and urgent action, there may well
be more dead bodies of women who faced similar trauma in their life. The cases
have been filed, there are witnesses and there is evidence; the question is
only whether an abused woman’s family can get justice and protection.
Pakistan’s law hardly supports abusers; then why do the law-enforcement agencies
not take action against them?
Zakaria is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Headline: Suffering in Swat
Source: The Dawn