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Life-long punishment for `sin` of being a woman

By Malik Tahseen Raza

MUZAFFARGARH: The menace of throwing women out of houses for giving birth to girls only is growing as three out of the 12 dwellers of the local shelter house (Darul Aman) are those who were expelled by their husbands or in-laws after they delivered female offspring consecutively.

Our society is largely patriarchal in nature with an instinctive desire for the birth of a male child in the family. This desire along with many prevailing superstitions has started giving rise to an inclination to get female foetuses aborted. However, those women who fail to get their pregnancies terminated after the gender detection in advance and who are eventually expelled from houses after delivery land in shelter houses.

Domestic violence is yet another factor that contributes to a large number of women`s bidding adieu to their families with heavy heart. The victims of domestic violence thus find these shelter houses a soothing place to live for ever.

Other women living in these shelters are those who have been hurled life threats from their family members, nearer or distant kin, for marrying or desiring to marry by choice, or by ex-husbands and in-laws after getting their marriages dissolved over domestic issues.

Dawn visited local Darul Aman a few days back and saw some ill-fated women living a secluded life away from their houses and families.

Some women have also brought their children, mostly girls, as they were either expelled by their families for delivering girls or they themselves preferred leaving their houses after their lives were made miserable on one pretext or the other.

Dawn saw these unlucky women taking adult literacy classes arranged by the management regularly on the pattern of any academic institution. Literacy and embroidery/sewing classes are held daily from 8am to 3pm.

A woman in her 30s, whose name is not being mentioned on the request of Darul Aman management, said her husband expelled her from his house after she delivered fourth daughter.

After the birth of their third daughter, the resident of Alipur tehsil said her former husband had warned her against delivering any more female child.

She said she went to a local faith healer at a shrine and obtained a talisman after she conceived for the fourth time. She said she sold her goat to raise money to visit a sonologist in October 2010.

To her husband`s utter dejection, the ultrasonography suggested that she was again having a female foetus. With her heart bleeding, she said, she tried to get her pregnancy terminated but no gynecologist agreed to abort her foetus at advanced stages. Her husband expelled her within a week after she delivered the baby. She said she had no place to go, and, thus, she landed here to lead a bit peaceful life.

Two other women, one in her 20s and the other in 30s, had also met a similar fate in their houses, compelling them to take refuge under this roof along with their toddlers, who crawl here and there while buzz of their crying creates little upheavals in otherwise serene and still ambience of the shelter house.

The Darul Aman administration again requested not to print the names of these women as this could hinder their reconciliation efforts.

Another inhabitant of this house is a victim of domestic violence. She braved the maltreatment at the hands of her husband and in-laws for full 15 years in their Muradabad house before abandoning it once and for all.

Her 13-year-old son, a waiter employed at a restaurant against Rs1,400 salary, raised some money to hire a lawyer to get admission to this shelter house.

She said her husband would frequently thrash her on the instigation of his mother and sisters. As there was no likelihood that his husband`s savagery would come to an end one day, she decided to leave the house where she had experienced no joy during the past so many years.

She said her son took her to a lawyer in December 2010 to arrange her admission to the shelter house which he did after charging Rs1,100 fee.

She said she did not want to go back to that man whom she had gifted most precious moments of her life but was always humiliated and beaten up in reward.

Darul Aman Superintendent Abida Rehman said that 219 women took shelter in this facility in 2010 and 200 of them were married and had brought along with them 69 children.

She said women would take shelter in this facility as a last resort after receiving potential life threats or undergoing much mental and physical torture.

She said most of the women belonged to rural areas and comparatively less educated and, in some cases wholly illiterate, therefore the management, in collaboration with an NGO, had arranged basic literacy, religious education and vocational classes.

Ms Abida said the trend of throwing women out of houses after delivering girls was significantly noted in recent couple of years.

She said women came to them after being subjected to acute victimisation by their families and the management considered its onerous duty to provide them (inhabitants) best possible facilities despite certain constraints like meagre finances.

The budget of the shelter house does not give much room to the management to spend liberally while taking care of these hapless women.

The shelter house`s last year budget was just Rs250,000 that was drawn on the basis of petty Rs100 per head per day disbursements to provide three meals. This amount appears wholly inadequate in prevailing economic circumstances and skyrocketing prices of essential commodities.

An inhabitant complained that the shelter house had no generator to run fans during electricity outages in the summer or gas heaters to warm their living space during the winter. She said she had to buy soap and washing powder to keep her personal hygiene good as the management provided them food only.

Despite being a highly sensitive place for many of its inhabitants arrive here only after receiving life threats from their nearer or distant kin, no adequate security cordon is in place to protect the dwellers from any perpetrator.

Only a single constable was seen deployed there, while the superintendent said she had requested the officials concerned repeatedly to fortify security regime against any untoward incident. However, nothing concrete had happened in this regard, she lamented.

About present facilities, she said a television was available on the premises for entertainment while the kitchen was equipped with a refrigerator. Similarly, she said, a psychologist, a woman doctor and a lawyer would visit the shelter house on call.

About the procedure of admissions, she said that deserving women were admitted to the house following court orders or through the intervention of any NGO or political personality.

Source: Dawn