Neeli Auratein - Zeerak Khurram
Mera badan meri khvahish ka ehtiram karta hai
Main apne niilo niil badan se pyaar karti hoon”
- Kishwar Naheed
When I sat down to write this article, I really didn’t know how to go about writing it. I was unsure about how one could convey the truth and harshness of domestic violence in Pakistan without making it a dry journalism piece filled with statistics or a piece that is filled with emotion. I realised, throughout the course of my research and the self reflection that came with it, that this is an issue that is rooted in and is always treated with emotional responses. Especially if you are a Pakistani
The reason behind this was simple and it stemmed from my recognition of my own fear. I was more than a little scared to look up domestic violence statistics. I didn't know why at first. As a journalism student, I've had to deal with death statistics, suicide statistics, child mortality rates, kidnapping rates. But this was different and I realised, it was because I, along with countless other Pakistanis, probably know someone who is themselves represented by the statistics that I saw on my laptop.
The first report I opened up said 24.5 percent of women in Pakistan have experienced lifetime domestic violence at the hands of a close family member or intimate partner. It came from the same mashriki organisations that so many of our relatives have told us want to destroy Pakistan's "image" in the world. 1000 women are killed for ghairat every year. 108 were killed in Sindh alone in 2019. Countless women are in shelters, trying to escape abusive family members. I found myself whispering, those are just the ones that were able to get away. In 2019, Pakistan was the sixth most dangerous country in the world when it came to gender based violence and violence against women.
“It is necessary for the provision of a comprehensive, efficient, effective and gender equitable system for protection, relief and rehabilitation of women against all forms of violence in the Punjab; to control, monitor, and oversee that system; and, to deal with matters ancillary thereto.”
- THE PUNJAB WOMEN PROTECTION AUTHORITY ACT 2017
(Act X of 2017)
While I was sifting through this pile of numbers and tables, I happened to look over the recommended Google searches. One of them was "characteristics of pakistani women". Why Google felt the need to bring that up while I searched for domestic abuse statistics, I'm not too sure. But I clicked on it anyway.
Underneath the second parhlo.com article, I found an old publication by Express Tribune. An individual by the name of Said Chaudry published an article about the characteristics of an average Pakistani college girl. It's nine years old and does not include the very expressive gifs that parhlo.com is known for. I do not recommend it. To say that it did not age well would not be accurate as even then the comment section recognised the flaws of the article. But this piece did make an interesting point in the last listings. Well, I was able to infer a point from it would be more accurate.
Point six (and yes, it is a seven point listicle) is about how the purpose of dating in the eyes of a Pakistani girl is to get married. A line that particularly sticks out is, "Pressurising a guy into marital commitments is part and parcel of every Pakistani girl’s relationship. I mean, why else would they want to date!? For the fun of it?" Now, the satirical tone that thinly veils hostility of an unknown origin aside, the writer does make an observation that holds some relevance. Granted, it is the equivalent of the sky is blue but it is an observation nonetheless. What really got me thinking, however, was the point he made directly after this: She has unrealistic expectations from watching romantic movies… Unrealistic expectations lead to great disappointments – letting them build over time by constantly trying to live up to them will only land you in icy waters".
I like to think the "you" in that sentence was aimed not at men or the paramour of a Pakistani girl, but at Pakistani women in general.
“Apne katil ki zahanath se pareshan hoon mein
Roz ik mauth naye tarz ki eejad kare”
- Parveen Shakir
One of the reasons why Pakistani men and women and, really, desi men and women are told that marriage is on the books is because of the way South Asian media has evolved. Let us refer to this as the Bollywood Love Myth. Even though it stretches beyond Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum into *insert show title like Mehboob or Raaz or random archaic urdu word for betrayal*, I believe that it is mostly in Bollywood movies circa the debut of all the Khans that we can see perfect examples of this. The end goal is the pursuit and discovery of one’s true love. The Ranja to their Heer. The Leila to their Qais.
The Pakistani drama or soap opera industry has used the Bollywood Love Myth to their advantage. While in Hollywood sex may sell, here a saas bahu conflict does brilliantly with the masses. Now, this is not an article to bash the media or even make accurate artistic critiques about content. It is, however, an observation, much like Chaudry's, that the media, while having taken on the duty of portraying Pakistani family life, has largely ignored their main function of having to equip people with the ability to recognise negative situations and how to get out of them.
While now we do have shows that portray societal evils and how protagonists persevere against them, they are outweighed by shows like Mein Na Janoo and Tum Mere Pass Ho. Or was it Mere Pass Tum Ho? Even if we take a show like Ishq Zahe Nasseb that did not follow the traditional plot, although it did in part, it did have questionable moments. Not relating to the marriages that are now a staple in our shows but the dynamics of the relationship between the two leads. In one of the earlier episodes, while being portrayed as a powerful CEO, Zahid Ahmed's character slaps his love interest.
I shall let you reread that sentence. A grown man. Slaps. His future wife.
This, while being problematic on so many levels, is never really addressed after. Props to Sonya Hussyn and Hashim Nadeem Khan who wrote her character as leaving after that encounter and quitting her job. (Even though she did return because… plot, I think) She recognised the toxicity of that situation. Ahmed's character only apologises to her after he learns that his step mother was truly sick and would have died or something if she hadn't been to the hospital. As if to say that if she had not been in such a critical situation, the slap was justified. And this is usually what we have encountered with the way domestic violence has been treated. People try to look for ways to justify the slap. Or the shove. Or the screaming and yelling.
And so, the victim does too.
Fixing the amount of salt in the saalan will not make them stop, I’m afraid.
“O believers treat women with kindness even if you dislike them; it is quite possible that you dislike something which Allah might yet make a source of abundant good”
-An Nisa 4:19
Now, one may say that since Ahmed's character had schizophrenia, his behavior is excusable… but that's one of the problems. To have a person with mental illness be abusive then perpetuates the myth that only people with mental illnesses are abusive. This leaves the giant population of abusers who are neurotypical unchecked and blameless as we as a society are still trapped in a cycle of believing that mental illness always manifests physically as well. If he doesn't look like he has a mental illness, he is not capable of actions we associate with mental illness like being abusive in relationships. Even though, as mentioned earlier, you can be abusive without having a mental illness.
Now, why is the Bollywood Love Myth relevant here? Because we need to recognise that we, as a nation, have been brought up to romanticise the idea of love and marriage. We are in love with the idea of love despite perhaps never being in love ourselves. We are thus, in love with the idea of marriage and companionship. And since we have been told that a perfect marriage is a sign of success in society, we hold onto the archaic belief system that we must make our marriages or relationships work. We stay in abusive relationships.
When one holds something is such high regard, we tend to mythologise it. There are entire belief systems based around these concepts. We apply what is known as the Halo Effect, meaning we assume that a concept or person is so sacred that they cannot be criticised. Love is sacred, love is absolute, love is eternal. Love is the fodder for Rumi and Hafiz and Shakespeare. How could it possibly be wrong, when we have been told since birth that it is always right. And it may very well be. But it has made us unable to recognise the signs of controlling, abusive relationships. An abusive relationship is not just one where your body is bruised but it is also one in which your mind is also held captive. It is only when we take off the rose coloured glasses that society has conditioned us to view marriage through, that we can see all the blue that exists.
“Satrangi hote hain shehr
Atrangi hote hain shehr
Rangoon ka shehr, shehroon ka rung
Aik alag tour, aik alag dhang
In rangeen shehron mein rehti hain kai neele rung ki aurtein
Kabhi mile ho tum? Kisi neeli aurat se?
Ujhre aasman se, adhure armaan se
Khamoosh, shamshan si, Shiv ka vishpan si
Bhari bhari gehne hain, neele zevar pehne hain
Gardan mein neeli maala hai
Neela hi kangan daala hai
Lohe ka zara noukeela ho ga
Par qamr band bhi neela ho ga
Chehron par ghup andhere hoon ge
Aankhon ke niche ghere hoon ge
Jismoon par zakhm ukhere hoon ge
Kuch chuppeh hue, kuch dikhte hoon ge
Vo kabhi kabhi to chikhtae hoon ge
Kaise bin bole sehti hai?
Ya khamooshi kuch kehti hai?
Ghor se aavaaz sunein hum
Kal nahi, ab aaj sunein hum
Ye zindagi se sureeli auratein
Kahin ban jae na neeli auratein”
- Dr Bhavya Soni