By: Ashraf Javed
LAHORE – Many married women who attempted self-immolation or set afire by relatives this year in different parts of the province were part of a joint family system.
Among the victims were several young and newly married women who took the extreme step either to get rid of domestic violence or as punishment to their in-laws.
Either these young women took their own life by using kerosene oil, petrol or acid or they were burnt by their spouses or in-laws. Almost in every suicidal case of a married woman, her in-laws were booked on murder charges on the complaint of her patents or other relatives.
Police are investigating a number of such unexplained killings which usually are blamed on in-laws. Last year, the police had also reported dozens of such deaths which took place in different parts of the metropolis.
These unexplained deaths of several women as reported in the province during the last couple of months have raised questions on the social system we live in.
Under such circumstances, the provincial government has come up with a new legislation to protect women against violence, particularly domestic torture.
The government’s plans to empower and protect women by introducing legislations annoyed the religious circles as many clerics and scholars rejected the bill and announced to stage countrywide protest demonstrations. Some religious scholars termed the laws against the basic spirit of Islam and others said it would destroy the joint family system.
Relatives of some victims who spoke to The Nation said that they had set themselves on fire because of domestic violence, involving their relatives or husbands. In a few cases, the young women were set ablaze by no other than their partners.
Without saying that the problems in a joint family system actually pressed these married women to commit self-immolation, The Nation’s investigations revealed that almost all the victims who attempted suicide in recent months were living in a joint family system.
During the daylong investigations, three most recent cases were examined thoroughly. Relatives of the burn victims admitted to the burn unit of the Mayo Hospital were interviewed.
The Mayo Hospital’s burn unit is the only and the largest facility in Lahore for civilians where patients are bought from across the province.
Wilayat Ali was one the relatives of three victims who spoke to The Nation about the suicidal attempt of his sister Aasia Bibi.
The resident of a village near Chunian, Aasia Bibi has been battling for life for the last couple of days in the intensive care unit of Mayo Hospital. She was set on fire by her husband just seven months after their marriage.
“Aasia can’t speak or see anything since she sustained 30 percent burns on the upper side of her body,” Ali explained the condition of his sister while talking to this reporter last week.
“We don’t know what actually happened to her that night. We rushed to her in-laws’ house soon after we were notified by the local police.”
Wilayat Ali who himself is a constable in the Punjab police said, “The police have arrested the accused (her husband) and an attempted murder case has been registered with the Sadar Chunian police station.
A police investigator visited the ICU on Tuesday, but could not record the statement of the victim since she was unable to speak.
Ali later told the police investigators that his sister, Aasia, was living in a joint family system in a Kasur village since she was married.
“She had been a victim of domestic violence. Her husband, his sisters, mother, and brothers are responsible for this,” he said. The police are investigating his claims while a few in-laws of the victim are already under arrest.
A newly-married woman and her husband, a traffic warden, were found burnt at their house in Ichhra on March 10. Nobody knows how they caught fire.
Ayesha, 22, expired at Mayo Hospital on Tuesday while her husband, Mubeen Yousaf, has been battling for life in the intensive care unit.
A murder case was registered with the Ichhra police on the complaint of a relative of the deceased. The victim’s family blames in-laws for the death of Ayesha.
A few relatives of Ayesha who spoke to The Nation on the condition of anonymity said the woman was living in a joint family system and was a victim of domestic violence. They believe the in-laws set the woman on fire. The couple had tied their knot with a lot of fanfare a few months ago.
A close relative of Mubeen told this reporter that the traffic police officer and his wife attempted suicide to get rid of domestic violence. He said, “Apparently, it was a case of suicide. The couple was not burnt by anybody”.
However, the police are investigating the death with some suspects into custody.
Similar was the case of a 28-year-old married woman, Shazia, who had set herself on fire after exchanging harsh words with her in-laws in Lahore in October 2015.
Last month, the provincial legislators adopted the long-awaited women protection law which contains remedies for victims of violence, criminalises all forms of violence against women and also provides them with special centres which remove the usual red-tape hurdles that complicate a woman’s quest for justice.
As per plans, special centres for the married women will also be set up for reconciliation and resolution of disputes. Protection officers will be liable to inform the defendant whenever a complaint is received.
Rights activists say the much-needed platform of protection officers would provide a cushion to the victims of domestic violence. “Since the bill contains remedies for victims of violence, it would definitely stop women from taking extreme steps,” they said.
According to the new legislation, the defendants can be cuffed with GPS tracking bracelets if ordered by the court. Those attempting to remove or tamper with the tracking bracelets will be jailed for up to one year and fined between Rs 50,000 and Rs 200,000.
During background interviews, some senior police investigators were of the view that joint family system triggered domestic disputes in many cases. “We have seen during the last so many years that women are subjected to torture by in-laws. Apart from physical abuse they undergo mental torture. Since they live together, they fight frequently,” a police officer said while referring to joint family system.
Normally, domestic disputes develop between the couples, in a joint family system, over respect and service of the parents and relatives of the bridegroom. While the newly-wed woman wants control over domestic affairs and her in-laws try to snub her.
Jamaat-e-Islami leader Amirul Azim says Islam favours a separate accommodation for the newly-wed couples so that they could maintain their privacy. “Majority of the people lives together in our society for economic reasons. Majority of those who live in a joint family system are living happily,” he said.
Amirul Azim said it is not compulsory in Islam for a woman to serve the parents of her husband. “If she respects the elders of her family, they will pay back in a similar way. But it is not obligatory for a woman to obey every order of her husband.
A Lahore-based religious cleric, Mufti Gull Ahmad Khan, says “It is mandatory for a woman to serve the parents or her husband the way she serves her own parents.”
Legal experts say violence against women would continue in this society despite the introduction of the much-hyped Protection of Women against Violence Bill, 2015.
However, a recognised and hassle-free platform would encourage the married women to fight their cases legally instead of taking their own lives.