By: Syed Kamran Hashmi
If we agree that women’s rights is a problem in our society, then we would also realise that the seeds of injustice for her lay in our complex family structure
If the length of beard is an indicator of faith and complexion of skin a marker of beauty, then a complete and irrefutable supremacy over your wife is the benchmark of marital stability in Pakistan. In fact, we are led to believe that only a dominant male can be the ‘legitimate’ head of a family; and only under his guidance society can inculcate ‘decent’ moral values and indoctrinate an honourable code of ethics in its next generation. Under this misapprehension, even our educated urban middle class women, who should understand the dynamics of a modern society and resist such a unilateral approach, have started to conform to this viewpoint under religious pretext. And many times, they cause a lot more problems in the wellbeing and freedom of their daughters and sisters than authoritative men, a sad yet incontestable reality.
Who can doubt that Pakistan, in these circumstances, is one of those countries where the disparity between the two genders is enormous? Here, the idea of women’s rights may not only seem foreign (western), it can, and certainly would, also be labelled as a ‘US conspiracy,’ or a ‘cultural attack’ to destroy the social fabric of our society. Nonetheless, if we agree that women’s rights is a problem in our society, then we would also realise that the seeds of injustice for her lay in our complex family structure, where it is walled in layers of morality, religion, social taboos and local traditions.
For instance, think of a young couple that lives in a joint family. As a husband, it is disgraceful and a marker of his flawed upbringing that he pays heed to his wife’s concerns in front of his friends or family. It belittles his manliness and humiliates his honour among them; however, it is perfectly fine to cheat on her. In certain situations, the family and friends may even encourage him to pursuit extramarital ‘help’ in order to ‘teach’ her a lesson, a lesson that just establishes the fact that he is a ‘man,’ a special breed of homo sapiens who possess an inherent privilege to break his vows anytime and cannot be displeased at all.
Watching a movie with the spouse in a theatre, eating out in a restaurant or planning a vacation together can be considered boring and ‘unromantic’ activities, according to our social norms. But, listening to a ‘live song’ in the red light area with friends under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or both is considered ‘romantic.’ If by mistake, under her ‘spell’, instead of the influence of drugs, he chooses the former and plans to go out with her, he will come under fire for being pusillanimous. His family including his parents will be furious, thinking that he is breaking all the rules of a normal conjugal life and making the fatal mistake of falling in love with a ‘witch’. Reason? Through their experience, they know it perfectly well that he can only be obedient to one master at a time and they cannot relinquish their position (of strength) in her favour!
Many times, he is the only bread earner in the family, as she is not allowed to work even with a professional education, and cannot share the financial responsibility with him. It gives him special privileges to have an affair at work with one, two or more girls, with a potential to get married to them (if needed). When his relationship with his spouse passes through a rough patch, which is normal in every relationship, it is obligatory for him to have a way out. As we know without the ability to have such an outlet for the flow of emotions, depression can take over and he can seriously think of reconciliation with her, which is unacceptable.
She cooks, cleans and looks after the whole family (minus herself). This is some real hard work with zero salary, zero benefits and zero appreciation. Maybe, it is the most under-appreciated job in the world with no time off and absolutely no breaks. On the other hand, he, after coming back from half-day of work and half of flirtation, is hopelessly tired. He needs to watch television, cocooned in his bed, undisturbed and undistracted, for hours, as if he is going to change the course of the history all alone by watching the cable news programmes. At the same time, he must be fed fully and immediately. Once all these things have been taken care of, he is still upset with the children, mad at his wife and unhappy with the rest of the world for not being good enough.
If he is a person with some psychological instability then it puts his spouse’s life in real danger, a red flag for the law enforcement agencies. Out of his insecurities, he can blame her of infidelity anytime. True or not, just the accusation or many times even the suspicion in itself, is an unforgivable sin, much bigger than him being literally unfaithful to her. The reason is simple: in case of his unfaithfulness, she can always opt in favour of family, the children and her own financial protection. But, if she has really pursued such a dangerous ‘option,’ the stakes are much higher, his honour has been jeopardised. He cannot live with disgrace — a form of not being impotent — and have to take care of the embarrassing situation. He needs to get her out of his life after being insulted and tortured to get ready to bring someone new, young and more faithful into his wedlock.
The writer is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org