By: Taimoor Ashraf
The Bilal Khars, Deepaks and John Wayne Bobbitts exist everywhere and will unfortunately keep doing whatever it is that they do, for whatever reason(s) or motive
Fakhra Younas, Kiranjit Ahluwalia and Lorena Bobbitt, three women of varied socio-economic backgrounds, religions and nationalities, were no ordinary women. Ordinary women have their loved ones protecting their dignity and honour; these three women were robbed of their prized possessions by the very person who was supposed to provide them with protection, love and honour — their husband. Their misery makes them extraordinary and therefore, the main protagonists of their real life stories. There is also a strong wakeup call in their stories for us Pakistanis, should we choose to hear it.
Ask any first year law student in the UK what the Regina v Ahluwalia case stands for and he/she should be able to tell you that it is an authoritative precedent on establishing provocation in a battered woman case, according partial defence to the defendant in a criminal trial. However, it took Kiranjit Ahluwalia (yes, Aishwarya Rai played her in the 2007 film, Provoked) years of physical, mental, and sexual torture to take her rightful place in English case law. At first glance, there is nothing extraordinary about her case. Domestic violence is not unheard of within the large British-Asian community. What makes the case extraordinary however is the way she reacted to years of physical, mental and sexual torture at the hands of her tormentor; her husband, Deepak. She claimed that she lost her sanity for a moment while she drenched him in petrol and set his body on fire. She was initially convicted of murdering her husband and slapped with life imprisonment, which was later overturned based on the ground of diminished responsibility.
As an undergraduate student in the United States in the 1990s, I still vividly remember the trial of Lorena Bobbitt, as she was then called. A beautiful, young, and sobbing Ecuadorian brunette testifying in her accented English, in a criminal trial in which she had been charged with penile amputation of her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt. To say that this fact alone was enough to glue the whole nation to the television screens in those days would be an understatement.
During the course of the trial, facts that bore strong resemblance to the above-mentioned case came out. She, too, was the victim of repeated torture, in all of its three manifestations — physical, psychological and sexual. At the time of the act, she was found to be suffering from clinical depression and perhaps, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of which she too ‘lost it’, just like Ahluwalia. However, unlike her British-Indian counterpart, the jury did not find Bobbitt, who pleaded insanity, guilty.
Both the Ahluwalia and Bobbitt cases took place in the west. However, despite having apparent factual similarities, they are also very different in the sense that Ahluwalia virtually received no support from her immediate family members. Thanks to the women rights groups in the UK, her conviction was overturned. In the Bobbitt case, the question of family support never arose. She, too, received unequivocal support from various women rights groups in the United States. And this is perhaps where Fakhra Younas’ case may be distinguished from the above two. Sure, she was taken care of by NGOs and later flown to Italy for multiple surgeries and rehabilitation, but there was no outright condemnation of the gruesome act by the general population. This is where Fakhra ‘becomes’ Kiranjit, castigated by her very own. The perverse definition of ‘izzat’ (honour) in the South Asian communities got the better of both Ahluwalia and Fakhra. There is however one common denominator in all three of them; they were not well educated and felt largely alienated within the larger community, a fact well known to their husbands. Fakhra was a sex worker before marrying Bilal Khar. Her past life became a handicap in seeking help. Ahluwalia was an Indian-Punjabi who hardly spoke any English in the initial years of her residence in England. Bobbitt was a Spanish-speaking Ecuadorian.
Domestic violence exists at every level of society and in all societies. It is not confined to any one community, socio-economic class or region. A hotshot woman banker, with an Ivy League degree, working in downtown New York City may be a victim of it as much as an uneducated woman in the sands of Thar. The Bilal Khars, Deepaks and John Wayne Bobbitts exist everywhere and will unfortunately keep doing whatever it is that they do, for whatever reason(s) or motive. What makes the outcome of their perpetrated crimes different and dare I say less painful, depends upon how valuable the principles of ‘womanhood’, ‘honour’, ‘justice’, ‘equality’, and ‘humanity’, etc, are to us as a society. This is perhaps, unfortunately, where Pakistan scores the lowest.