What does 'beating lightly' mean for the human intended and how is it interpreted by the person who metes it out?

In this act of 'violence', you have made the woman the 'other' and one can never claim to be a responsible, contributing member of the human race if they have made someone the 'other'

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has proposed its own women protection bill, recommending ‘a light beating’ for the wife if she defies the husband.The 20-member CII is a constitutional body which gives recommendations to parliament regarding Islamic laws. However, the Pakistan parliament is not bound to consider its recommendations.

The council has proposed that a husband should be allowed to ‘lightly’ beat his wife if she defies his commands and refuses to dress up as per his desires; turns down the demand of intercourse without any religious excuse or does not take a bath after intercourse or menstrual periods. It has suggested that a beating is also permissible if a woman does not observe hijab; interacts with strangers; speaks loud enough that she can easily be heard by strangers, and provides monetary support to people without taking consent of her spouse.

The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015 proposes the formation of a women's force to respond to claims of physical, psychological or financial abuse. Among the measures if provides for is for is the right of female protection officers to enter any premises in which a woman is being held captive. It also allows for the establishment of a nationwide toll-free telephone line through which women can report crimes, and of a network of shelters. The bill was passed by the Punjab legislature in February.

The bill though is opposed by Islamic political parties and organisations, which have threatened to launch protests if it is not withdrawn. The country's largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, is among those to campaign against the bill.

Farzana Bari, human rights activist, and academic at Quaid-i-Azam University, termed the proposed bill unconstitutional.

“Allowing a husband to beat his wife, in any way, is against Pakistan’s Constitution and the international laws and treaties that Pakistan has signed and is bound by. This Council is a burden on the Pakistani taxpayer and bringing a bad name to Muslims throughout the world.”

Not allowing adult women to work and keeping them at home is to treat them like children or property, she added. “This will take Pakistan further into ignorance.”

Now I want to write from the point of view of someone whose life is going to be affected due to all these recommendations and resolutions and what it could mean for their ordinary daily lives. As a survivor of domestic violence who not only rose above her circumstances and safely delivered and brought up a child but also tried to intellectually understand the motivations and beliefs behind her spouse's actions. Now I research, counter-check, and study the evolutionary traits, cultural anthropology and the social ramifications of the system which encouraged this 'wife beating' and often share my findings which could help other couples solve their issues without breaking their marriages.

It is true that wife-beating or what is becoming more like 'wife admonishing' has religious sanction in Islamic law (sharia) and for centuries, it was taken as the divine law which everyone has to follow. But in the Indian subcontinent, it is also true that 'wife-beating' is not limited to one particular religion, sect or economic class. Domestic violence cuts across all barriers of caste, class, creed, community and even gender with men also on the receiving end of domestic violence and the laws made to regulate them and transgenders on the other end of the spectrum of victims.

The rise of modern nation states in the 19th century and the increasing power of the state on the rights of humans, animals and the environment meant that certain regressive laws and practices were bound to be questioned, challenged, ruled against and even put up for debate as societies one after the other adopted democracy or theocracy depending on the times. After the brutality of World War II, the United Nations was formed which adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and since then it has been an ever increasing struggle and sometimes success for ensuring that human and animal rights are being upheld everywhere. It is a work in progress.

It is also true that increased economic prosperity and modern education brought exposure and less dependence on religious mullahs to insulated communities like in my native state of Kashmir and as is the nature of evolving societies, some of the regressive practices eventually discouraged, discarded and abandoned e.g. child marriages, numerous children. The advent of missionaries in the 19th century saw daughters being sent first to schools and later to colleges and eventually for higher education. The conflict of the 90s in a bizarre way proved to be empowering for some women to the extent of opening of possibilities of sending them unaccompanied/unchaperoned to for further studies outside the Valley to various subcontinent cities and even foreign countries.

Yet equality for women in the hearts, minds and nature of men is something very hard to cultivate given the centuries of patriarchal mindset and misogynistic values not always ascribed from scriptures but largely getting underlined because of them. Now depending who you are discussing with, each sect or community will have its heroines and saints thrust in your face with the argument that - "we respect our women", "our women have been tillers, and warriors and goddesses", "we have had women religious scholars like Lopamudra and others who used to win debates with male rishis", "Rani Jhansi is hailed as the epitome of a mother-warrior-princess who stood up to the might of the British", "the Prophets' wives were the role models of piety and duty", to the modern "Sarojini Naidu, Vijaylakshmi Pandit, and other freedom fighters have made India proud", and the classic "India has had a woman Prime Minister when even the US still does not have a woman President".

Irrespective of the fact that all of these women made it despite the patriarchal order, the statistics across South Asia show that things on the ground and in reality for millions of women are different. Despite the changing lexicon, we are still Third World countries and in 2016 we are still debating whether women ought to be treated like cattle or not, be it Islamabad, New Delhi, Dhaka, Colombo or Kabul. That it even arises for debate is appalling considering the threats of annihilation of the human race looming large in front of us in the case of a Nuclear Holocaust, if the stockpiles of nuclear warheads find their way into the wrong hands.

To come back to my point of view, what does it mean for a woman to receive that 'light' whack? I don't need many words to describe the humiliation, the abasement, the hurt, the indignity of having been reduced to a non-entity just because there is disagreement in points of view, or that the natures of two biologically different people do not mesh in certain areas, or that the woman is just giving precedence to her likes or dislikes and would like them to be upheld in the same way a man's are. I don't need to spell it out to anyone that it is detrimental to the physical health, the emotional well-being and the spiritual self of a woman to be 'beaten lightly' instead of being reasoned with.

What I would need to spell out is how this act of 'lightly beating' the woman also degrades the man. This act which gets socio-religious sanction firstly gives a false illusion to him that he has control and need only thwap his wife, his daughters and even his sons and everybody around and he will be ale to control his dependents being the sole 'bread winner of the family'. What he can't see is that the act of beating is what makes him lose control in the first place. Once in the dynamic of relationships if the two parties lose the regard of the other as a reasonable and thinking person and instead makes up their minds that the other 'needs' to be taught, is when the whole dynamic goes askew and all sorts of problems start occurring.

Because what could have been 'endeared' and 'bonded' with you through reason based on love and dignity is now 'tied' to you with fear and resentment and at the first chance at a bid for freedom from that fear, the person in question WILL take that chance, provided they are not held hostage to the situation due the existence of kids. The act also severs any emotional ties that could have developed and deprives the relationship of intimacy which in any case means the death of that relationship. In this act of 'violence', you have made the woman the 'other' and one can never claim to be a responsible, contributing member of the human race if they have made someone the 'other'.

Secondly, if somehow good sense prevails in the mindset which believed that he was "warding off the demons" in his wife which were keeping her from fulfilling her duties and obeying her husband, and the husband miraculously changes or repents his actions, the dynamic in the relationship never reaches what it could have before the 'light beating'. For in seeing the evil of the other in his worst moments, he stands naked for what he truly and actually is in his vulnerability of anger and will never be able to redeem himself in his wife's eyes, no matter what he does afterwards. How we behave in our moments of lividity is what defines us as civilised humans or brutes of the worst kind. He will have lost the plot forever and no amount of repentance or forgiveness ever repairs what is damaged or retrieves what is lost.

It is also a fallacy that only illiterate, poverty-stricken sections of men believe in the literal meaning of the verse in the holy text which is being interpreted by various mental gymnastics. Even university educated, well-off men from posh families and areas take the verse for granted and this is what fascinates me. For it underlines my steadily increasing observations that when it comes to the question of the 'second sex', reasoning and critical thinking are shut out and whether it be a believer or agnostic or atheist, the nature of the savage within takes over and the poison of dominance starts its work.

Thirdly, who is going to judge how much strength, force or with what intensity the 'light beating' is going to be applied? A man who has been given the go-ahead about hitting his wife, who is to check to what severity or regularity he acts out on this resolution? Who will decide for him what construes 'light correction of behaviour' and what is to be judged as having crossed the line of violence or savagery? In a region where 70 % of women are maltreated and millions are victims of foeticide, honor killings, dowry deaths, sexual assaults, widowhood or half-widows, old age cruelty and so on,who will ensure the 'light beating' will not be another pin prick in the statistics of this regional genocide?

I am reiterating the fact that it is not always men who tend to be domestic violators, women too can be equally cruel, but here the question is about the deliberations whether the verses mean 'lightly' or if a 'turban' or 'feather' has to be used. Like I said above, the very fact that you are using physical force instead of mental reasoning speaks a lot about your concept of the woman as a person and says a lot for your intentions to equate her with dumb cattle. Not to mention the fact about the mental well-being of the children witnessing the 'admonishing' who grow up learning subtle messages - boys - "women are meant to be hit" and girls - "we deserve such treatment because we are women". Hence the Eastern Ted Bundys and Charles Mansons mostly get away with their crimes.

I rest my case.

Arshia Malik is a Srinagar-based writer and social commentator with focus on women issues and conflict in Kashmir. She makes her living as a school teacher and is an avid collector of literature. She is currently writing a book about her life as a female in Kashmiri Muslim society

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