ISLAMABAD: “I once threw a log on my wife’s head,” says Hameed casually. “I was standing on the rooftop and just dropped it on her as she stood below; her head burst open and she bled, but I did it because I was really angry.” Hameed hastens to explain, however, that he only rarely used to beat Sakina when they lived in the village. All that has changed since they moved to Karachi, because he “knows better now”.
Hameed does not fit the profile of the stereotypical unemployed, alcoholic wife-beater. He works as a painter and provides for Sakina and their five children whom he claims to love very much. Sakina works as a maid at the same household as Hameed, and confirms that there is “pyaar mohabbat” (love and affection) in their relationship, saying that the violence is rare. She describes the log-throwing incident as an “accident”, explaining that Hameed did not “intend” to hit her.
Their employer Dr Talat reveals a different story, however. “Sakina has confessed that Hameed has beaten her at times when she has refused to be intimate with him,” she says, adding that although he was not a habitual wife-beater, she had discovered Sakina with too many black eyes or head injuries to say it was “rare”. Despite the violent episodes, Dr Talat still feels that Hameed loves his wife, as his abuse stems from her refusal to be intimate with him, and not out of hatred for her.
According to Dr Murad M Khan, consultant psychiatrist and chair at the department of Psychiatry at Aga Khan University Hospital, while ignorance and alcoholism may be important factors behind domestic violence, it is sometimes necessary to look beyond them.
“While education can dilute the problem to a certain degree, ultimately what shapes a man’s personality has a lot to do with the exposure he received in his early formative years,” he says.
He explains that violence against women stems from an urge to control a woman and that the underlying cause is how a man sees himself. “If he is emotionally insecure, he may hit his wife to assert authority,” says Dr Khan, adding that perpetrators may justify their violent acts by citing cultural sanctions such as “disciplinary violence.”
The notion that a man cares about his wife even after being violent is incongruent, and can be dismissed as lip-service.
The numbers are staggering. Eighty per cent of Pakistani women are victims of domestic violence, according to the country director of the White Ribbon Campaign Pakistan, Omer Aftab. While the figure is astonishing, AKU’s Dr Khan says his years of clinical practice verify this startling statistic, as most of his female patients who seek consultation for depression eventually reveal that they have been physically abused by their husband at some point in their marriage.
A college degree doesn’t mean violence is “beneath” him
While illiteracy is often singled out as a major reason for domestic violence, Raheela Ghani’s one-year relationship with a graduate from a well-reputed British university contradicts this argument. “He slapped me just once – but that was probably because I said horrible things to him during that fight,” Raheela recalls, adding that he had never hit her again, but that he did throw objects within his reach during heated arguments. On this, Dr Khan says a genuine apology after a one-time incident of violence may be acceptable, but that this is rare as the apology following abuse can develop into a cycle which can be habitual.
Start with your son
“Can we eliminate violence? The answer has to be yes – it is difficult but not impossible,” says Dr Khan, adding that a mother’s role in inculcating a sense of respect and tolerance in her son is pivotal, as she can raise him to be “a sensitive being who does not think that he is God’s gift to women – that his decisions can be challenged”.
Dr Khan believes that a family history of violence can often explain why a man has a violent streak. He explains how a mother, who is in an unhappy marriage, can become emotionally attached to her son to an extent where her behaviour is irrational. She starts treating her son like a “surrogate husband” at an emotional level. In that situation, a daughter-in-law will be looked upon as an intruder, and the friction between the three will most likely be a cause of emotional and sometimes even physical abuse.
Dr Khan says mothers should end the preferential treatment of their sons that is pervasive in Pakistani society, and teach them that violence is never an option. He advises girls to take their prospective husband’s family history into consideration when getting to know him, and discuss any possible fears with a professional if she is unsure about his behaviour. Delaying marriage, completing her education and knowing that domestic violence is never acceptable may help a girl better prepare herself to make important life decisions.
“A man should not raise his hand on a woman – not even if she has hit him first. It is not justifiable,” says Dr Khan, adding that neither partner should engage in violence and that a man can defend himself without resorting to violence.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2010.
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