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Kankar: Was Kiran right or wrong in divorcing her husband?

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: December 9, 2013

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/19988/kankar-was-kiran-right-or-wrong-in-divorcing-her-husband/

The first slap is the worst – red, hot searing pain across the face. But what sears through is more than a slap. Something breaks inside. A feeling of helplessness, vulnerability and a shattered sense of self-worth takes over which is why, a woman’s first reflex reaction is always disbelief; shock. It is an instant realisation of the painful reality that she will never forget that moment. That she will never be able to unlearn this blow.

Sanam Baloch depicted a battered woman’s experience beautifully in the recent Hum TV serial Kankar which ended on December 6, 2013. The serial, with its protagonist ‘Kiran’ being a woman who chooses ‘honour’ over a damaging and abusive marriage, seems to have hit a raw nerve with people. Its popularity lies in the fact that this play has managed to raise some important questions.

With more and more research unearthing the fact that many Pakistani women get beaten in urban cities and a lot of them are educated women – it is not surprising then that a debate has ensued because of this play. I encountered a sample of that debate on my Facebook wall, at dinners and with close friends.

It was fascinating to me that Kiran’s character is that of a lower middle-class girl. The abusive but handsome and rich husband (played by Fahad Mustafa) claims to ‘love’ her and so is her ticket to a better, more affluent life.

In reality, a lot of urban and affluent women stay in abusive marriages, even suffering domestic violence, to maintain the social status and a standard of living.

But Kiran chooses to leave all of that behind.

She remarries a man who takes her around on a motorbike and she is busy with household chores all day. She leaves behind a life of luxury, simply because this man will potentially respect her more.

Mind you, she doesn’t leave Mr ‘I-love-you-means-I-can-beat-you’ right away. She gives him warnings and chances. It is after she miscarries when he hits her that she realises she has had enough.

izzat

But the responses I got to the question ‘did she do the right thing’ were a mix of encouraging and disturbing.

One friend said,

“Life is not a bed of roses; you have to compromise at some point. No one gets a perfect life, so one should see the positives and then decide.”

This response made me think. Compromise is a good thing, but one can only compromise so much. And is it ok to compromise on things as serious as getting beaten up without reason? This was the view of another friend, a male, and I just listened, at a loss for words.

“But the reason she was beaten up was because she was a very headstrong woman! She argued too much. Women who don’t learn to keep quiet end up suffering. See, in this serial, he is fine with his second wife because she doesn’t argue.”

Arguing to legitimise a beating? The logic somehow escaped me. However, as it turned out, in the next episode once the initial phase of the guy’s second marriage was over, he meted out the same treatment to his second wife.

As expected, Kiran was stigmatised by society and even discouraged by her sister and parents to take a divorce. But here’s the catch: To her, her ‘izzat’ (honour) is more important than just her ‘ghar’ (home). Thus, the play shows a paradigm shift. It shows that for this strong woman, honour in fact lies in NOT accepting abuses, demeaning behaviour and violence. That to her, izzat is not in staying in a marriage which has her known as Mrs Someone socially but also has her reminded of her poor family and slapped when in the privacy of her bedroom.

A friend agreed when she commented,

“It’s about whether we give more importance to money or izzat. If you give someone loads of money but no respect, is that a happy compromise?”

To this friend, it was a no brainer that Kiran did the right thing. To others, it was not.

One reason women stay on in such marriages is the often unrealistic hope that the person will change.

“You cannot change a person (completely). Many a women have wasted their lives in the hope… [while] a vicious cycle of abuse which only gets worse. And children brought up in this environment are more prone to psychological scarring,” said one friend on Facebook.

But another felt, and not without solid reasons, that everyone deserves a chance, and with counselling and effort, many couples are able to break the vicious cycle of abuse.

An interesting dynamic, as a young friend pointed out, was how this strategy of ‘controlling’ a woman via abuse is passed on like a family heirloom for generations.

“Kankar makes for such an engrossing watch because of the complexities of each character. Sikander is the product of an abusive relationship and classical conditioning plays an important role in his upbringing; if the wife argues or says anything that might remotely resemble anything as having an opinion, give her a good whack. Whereas Kiran is the quintessential headstrong girl of our times –somebody who knows her rights and does not shy away from demanding them. She is not willing to be treated as a doormat, and rightly so,” she concluded.

This friend rightly pointed out that the serial also shows the dichotomy between the earlier generation(s) and ours.

Sikander’s mother didn’t think her self-esteem was at stake when she was physically abused by his father, because she lived a life in which complacent acceptance of her secondary position and denial that this is a serious issue is a norm. Perhaps women today are more open to the idea of ending a relationship on grounds of self-respect.

Perhaps the best and most succinct comment came from a man, who believed that,

“Violence inflicted on a spouse (in particular) is never justified, unless it’s in self-defence or to protect another.”

This might be an especially good time to re-examine the debate that Kankar has managed to trigger. On the Human Rights Day that falls on December 10, 2013, a 16 day global campaign ends. This campaign started on November 25, 2013 which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Relationships are sacred. But a person’s honour is even more so, may it be a male or a female. How we choose to protect our honour on the crossroads of life depends on many factors. In the climax of the serial, one woman chooses to leave an abusive relationship, though she loves the man. The other woman chooses not to because she does not find in herself the strength to do it.

It is not about who made a better choice, but about the fact that one must make careful and informed choices. It is time our society accepted that Pakistan has a growing number of women who will make the tougher choice.

If some of us do not have the strength to do that, we should at least support those who do.

In Pakistan, education is no shield against Violence Against Women

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: November 25, 2012

Educated, urban women also prone to domestic abuse; legislation continues to be stalled.

KARACHI: “I‘m 29, married and have a son, but whenever I look back, I remember my father as a man with rage in his eyes and a shoe in his hand, hitting my mother mercilessly,” recalls *Ahmer Ali.

“She clung to his leg, pleading that he let go, promising that she’ll never ask again why he was late from work,” Ali adds.

Ali’s father stopped hitting his wife, an educated, urban Pakistani woman, once Ali and his siblings grew up.  But the effects of the violence linger on in the family.

Ali confesses to having anxiety and self-esteem issues and has hit his wife twice in their three years of married life.

This is not an anomaly. According to psychologists, children who witness their mothers being hit are more prone to behavioral problems and are likely to repeat the cycle of violence with their own spouses.

Endemic violence

Ali’s story resonates with thousands of women in Pakistan who continue to face violence and abuse, as the world celebrates the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.

A report titled ‘Violence against Women (VAW) in Pakistan — a qualitative review of statistics 2011’ by the Aurat Foundation says, “Treating domestic violence as a private affair has given protection to perpetrators and has led to the victimisation of women.”

Women find themselves beaten and then threatened of divorce and more violence. The report revealed that a total of 8,539 cases of violence against women were reported in Pakistan in 2011.

Urban phenomenon

It’s not just uneducated women who suffer at the hands of violent spouses. A silent but large number of educated Pakistani women also go through this trauma.

“In some ways, the educated and rich woman is more of a coward. She has more to lose,” says Najma Khan, 42, who got a divorce four years ago and is now re-married.

“When I was thinking of leaving my husband, a foreign-educated man who’d hit me every few months without reason, my friends would tell me I would miss out on the social respect that marriage is giving to me. But I came to a point where it was no longer about social respect. It was about self-respect,” Khan adds.

Therapist Anees Fatima Hakeem at PNS Shifa, Karachi concurs.

“Any abuse is a form of punishment. It’s all about power and control. Even educated women get trapped in this is because the men are not abusive all the time. They can be very good providers and charming. Often, the woman blames herself. A common tactic for the guy is to behave like it never even happened, or tell her she was the reason it happened,” Hakeem says.

Domestic violence, however, not only affects a woman’s psychological health but also gives rise to long-term stress-related health issues like arthritis, hyper-tension and cardiovascular diseases.

“[My husband] feared it would become a police case, so he never let me see a doctor after I was beaten. I would feel abdominal tenderness and bleed from my mouth for days. I’m afraid my body has suffered long-term consequences,” adds Khan.

Violence against women takes many forms, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, human trafficking and traditional practices like female genital mutilation, dowry-related violence and honour killings.

The Aurat Foundation reported 1,988 murders or honour killings of women in 2009.

Investigations by the Ansar Burney Trust also shows cases of women seeking divorce or separation who were subject to mutilation, such as having their noses, ears and hair cut off by angry husbands.

Legislating against violence

Policy makers are aware of the numbers but policymaking is slow.

The lower house of parliament passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill in 2009 but it failed to make it past the upper house.

The bill was retabled in the Senate in February, 2012, but was met with a deadlock yet again.

After the passage of the 18th Amendment though, the issue has come under provincial jurisdiction.

Maliha Zia, a lawyer who is an expert on gender and law, says, “The Domestic Violence Bill in Sindh has moved from the Home Department and is with the law ministry. It’s been approved by the chief Minister for tabling in the Sindh Assembly. However, it’s waiting to be tabled.”

“Pakistan must prioritise prevention of violence against women not just on paper but in actual implementation, and pass a law on domestic violence with punishments for those who commit violence against women. It must focus on implementation of existing law and not allow perpetrators to get away. There must a policy of no tolerance of violence against women,” Zia adds.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2012.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/470882/international-day-for-elimination-of-violence-in-pakistan-education-is-no-shield-against-female-violence/