When I was a teenager, I heard random stories about an aunt whose husband would beat her up or a distant older cousin who would beat up his wife on a regular basis. These were incidents which were removed from my immediate family and I thought, owing to my education and my social circle, it happened to people less-educated, conservative, old school and financially dependent on the men of the family.
Now that I am in my late 20s and most of my friends are married, I find myself facing an awful reality. The rate of domestic violence in my immediate social circle is alarmingly high. The circle--which I thought was immune to such abuses owing our education, upbringing and independence--is no different than the “other” circle with which I subconsciously disassociated myself. On top of it, I now know that domestic violence is not limited to just physical violence. Mental and emotional abuse comes as a complimentary gift.
Eight out of eleven of my close married friends tolerate domestic abuse at the hands of not only their husbands but also their in-laws. Even though the percentage of abuse extending beyond the spouse is very low but the fact that it exists and, more importantly, is tolerated is something unimaginable to me. The biggest factor leading to tolerance in my friends’ cases is the internalisation of guilt where the spouses make them believe that what happened to them was their own fault; they behaved, talked or acted in a way which lead to abuse.
A year ago, I asked one of my childhood friends--who has been married for eight years and has two kids--whether she has ever been a victim of violence. She paused and replied, “a few times”. I was so shocked that I could not reply immediately. She helped me: “It’s okay, it was my fault”.
With such staggering statistics in my immediate social circle, I can not help but shake my head in disappointment at the remarkably low domestic abuse statistics of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP): 608 reported cases of domestic violence in 2009. It goes without saying that most of domestic violence cases go unreported.
It is an open secret that late Benazir Bhutto, first woman prime minister of the country and champion of women’s rights, was also a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband. Drawing room talk focusing on the topic centres on the bruises and black eyes visible during political and government-level meetings. However, this has never been reported in the media (to my knowledge). If such strong, intelligent, political figures can be passive about domestic violence when it comes to their own lives (for whatever purposes), what hope can one keep for a change in the society.