I have only ever suffered one horrific attack in my life that will probably scar me forever. But it didn’t destroy me. I suppose I consider myself luckier than many other women in the world especially in my own ethnic-origins country. I have always been well-fed, cared for (despite some family ups and downs), had shelter, entertainment, education, security, safety, friends and social support. A lot of things a generous amount of people in the world don’t have particularly women and children.
I sometimes think back to my paternal grandmother, married off at fourteen to a man much older than herself. I wonder if she could have refused. If she was given the option to say no. Indeed what would have happened if she had said no? If there was one word I could describe my grandmother, it would be ‘devoted.’ Devoted, faithful, enduring. She is both a strong and a weak woman to me. She did her nikah with my grandfather, but did not go to his house for several months so the marriage remained unconsummated for the first year. As the story goes, she was a great beauty in her youth with long black hair like Rapunzel, pale skin, which was considered in line with the supposed ‘high standards’ of beauty for women in Pakistani society.
My grandmother was too devoted though to ‘break her husband’s heart’. I thought perhaps I would hear a genuine love story, but from what I was told with reports from the family and her own disposition, it wasn’t so. My grandfather was violent and abusive. He even beat her when she was pregnant. My own father adored him though and was blind to his many faults. My grandfather was a hero in his eyes despite the fact that he even use to beat him.
It is then I consider how grateful I am to live in a country that grants me equality and protection from domestic violence, despite all the misogyny that exists here. My grandfather later took another wife as polygamy was permissible in Islam and Pakistan. A young rich society beauty from the upper classes of Lahore. Years of abuse, childbearing, cooking and cleaning had taken a toll on her body (she had eighteen pregnancies, but only seven of her children lived to adulthood).
It was selfish and just plain perverse on my grandfather’s part. My grandmother had sacrificed so much for him. Her youth and her whole life. Instead she had to serve his new little wife and take his emotional and physical abuse in silence. Even after his death she maintained her love for him and cried on my own wedding day claiming she remembered her own. I remember holding in a sigh of frustration. Was it really love she felt for him? Or rather some form of Stockholm syndrome? Hadn’t she really in fact forced herself to love him because she had no other alternative? Because indeed there was no other alternative?
Women in Pakistan who are divorced or run away from home are disgraced by their families and culture. Her story made me think of the thousands of women in Pakistan who suffer in silence, and then the ever so common internalized misogyny – where other women who either support or do it themselves. Wife beating is not perceived as something serious, neither is marital rape perceived a crime (where most rapes occur). Women have nowhere to go if they seek to escape an abusive relationship and very few are lucky enough to make it to NGO women’s refuges.
I had visited some women myself and saw women who had been tortured so badly by their husband’s that they were in the verge of losing their sanity. One of them kept spreading her fecal matter on the wall and writing ‘main gashti hu’ (I am a whore, in their symbol phonology) in Urdu all the time. A few of the staff there kindly told me that her mother-in-law had accused her of adultery and her husband came home and beat her black and blue (he had done so over countless of years) administered upon her upon all sorts of torture (much of which I won’t even mention but some of it included flaying) and in the end heated up some sort of metal prong thing, burnt her vagina with it, heated it again and raped her with it, both in her vagina and anus and repeatedly told her she was a whore. These are of course, the more extreme instances – the (relatively) subtler forms of misogyny are pretty much the norm and most people hardly even take them seriously.
I suppose years of the abuse and the final horror of her husband’s attempt to end her life actually made her believe it and that is the miserable reality she lives in. I guess I should consider myself lucky. At the very least, I have laws protecting me, enforcement, courts of justice and places to go if I suffer abuse. Many things I take for granted. Sometimes I wish my grandmother had these opportunities. Maybe she wouldn’t have had to watch so many of her babies die from unsuccessful pregnancies and healthcare. Maybe she wouldn’t have had to tolerate her husband’s abuses nor the stigma attached to it had she sought a divorce.
Any form of activism would be largely unsuccessful unless the victims themselves speak up, which I suppose is the case in Pakistan too. Internalized misogyny makes it much harder to address the issue in hand, when misogyny becomes the norm. Maybe it is about time that more women of Pakistan step up and challenge the tribal laws and customs that have brought upon them so much horror and oppression.