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Victims of domestic violence blame legislators for inefficacy of laws

Saher Baloch

Karachi: The mood at a roundtable conference organised by the US consulate on Wednesday was somber, as two women spoke out about the trauma they were forced to endure at the hands of their ex-husbands.

The conference, which was called ‘Institutional Response to Domestic Violence’, featured panelists Sehra Waheed and Zara Sethi. They spoke about their personal experiences and the difficulties women faced in publicly discussing issues of domestic violence.

A victim of domestic violence for over six years, Sehra Waheed has written a book titled ‘Silent Submission’ about her ordeals as a wife who suffered domestic violence. On her one-month trip to Pakistan, she is looking forward to translating the book into Urdu so that it is comprehensible to a majority of Pakistani women.

“I never thought I’d be a writer. I never thought I’d be sitting here and sharing my story with so many of you but circumstances pushed me to take a stand,” she began. Born and raised in Karachi, she later moved with her family to New York where she married for love in the late 90s. Her happiness was short-lived.

“First the verbal abuse began, and then the beatings, which later turned into rape if ‘I didn’t stop fighting back’,” said Waheed. But when she complained to his family about the beatings, “I was asked not to push matters further as my husband is the bread earner.”

Waheed said that though she knew committing suicide was forbidden in Islam, she had, on a number of occasions, thought about ending her life as she was “down and out, emotionally as well as financially”.

Fortunately for her, help was just a phone call away. One night, after being hit repeatedly by her husband, she notified the police. Her statement was recorded and she was taken to a district attorney’s office where pictures of her bruises were submitted along with her medical reports.

“I got the help I needed at that time, and I am speaking up so that other women can also muster up the courage to speak about abuse, no matter kind it may be,” she added. Sitting beside her was Zara Sethi, who is also resident of Karachi. Sethi has survived 19 years of abusive marriage. After being beaten and insulted in front of her three teenage kids on an almost daily basis, she finally decided to leave her husband.

But her children still remain with him. What’s worse, she says, is that “they hate me”. Sethi says she tried her best to compromise–to make the marriage work, “but it was all in vain.” The beatings continued.

Wiping her tears away, Sethi says that there had been times when she ran to the neighbours for help. “They all heard me crying and yelling for help but no one came forward as my husband was well known in the area we lived in.”

Sethi has now no qualms about revealing her personal life to strangers. “They know enough about it anyway,” she says. “According to figures given by the Aurat Foundation, there are 136 cases of domestic violence in Sindh in this year alone,” says Waheed.

“Speaking up in public is never easy, no matter how confident and self-assured one might be,” says Sethi. “There is always a fear that you might be scoffed at behind closed doors.” Criticising lawmakers, both Waheed and Sethi say that it is easy to pass bills, but it is far harder to make sure that the passed legislation is properly implemented.

Source: THE NEWS