Here are three stories from my experience, which I personally saw growing with time.
They all had two things in common.One, that they were all classical examples of domestic abuse, and secondly, that I was helpless in being of any help to them.
Ahmed was a 55 years old Pakistani man living in the neighbourhood. We did not know his wife for months, till when he once asked my husband if I could see her, because she was pregnant and had some complaints. Zubeida, his wife came to visit me as a patient.
With a toddler in her lap, she seemed way younger than her husband. After several visits it was revealed that she was his second wife and almost 25 years younger to him and he had married her 3 years ago. Ahmed had lived in US in his youth and married a local there. They had 3 kids and were together for 12 years after which they got divorced. He moved to the Middle East and ran a restaurant there. Now decided to marry Zubeida, from his clan, who had been a widow with three young children. So parents married her off to Ahmed, a well off businessman, while her three children, 6, 4 and 1, ( when she married) were being taken care by her parents. By the second marriage Zubeida had a 2 year old boy and was now pregnant again.
On being asked, that I never saw her in the neighbourhood, she revealed that when her husband went to work, he put a lock outside the house. And that she was instructed to not talk to anyone in the neighbourhood and tell details of their life. She wasn’t allowed to have a domestic help either.
She confided that she missed her little kids who were in Pakistan. She barely talked to them once a month because her husband didn’t like when she cried while talking to them on phone. She hadn’t seen them since she came there, three years ago. Her husband insisted that now she should be content with the kids that she is having from him.
On being informed that this was ‘abusive’, she justified that her husband had suffered a lot at the hands of that American woman, who claimed half of his property at divorce, and took away the custody of the kids. And hence, his trust on women has been eroded.
“He always provided me with good clothes, and if I did not cook, he brought food from his restaurant.”
She said her parents were happy that despite having been widowed with three kids, she was lucky to have found a nice husband. So they do not like when she complains that she misses her older kids. She also did not want to be Thankless to God for the same.
After she delivered, I never heard from her until she was pregnant again for the third time.
Misbah (a local ), was a doctor herself. She had married a Mutawwah (a mullah) , as his second wife, making all the justifications and necessary quotations from the religion for her act. And also narrating the virtues of marrying a religious person. Despite all the warnings from all of us at work, she went ahead.
For six months, it was sheer honeymoon for her, and she was the most obedient a wife could be. If he asked her to quit her work in the middle to see him, she would throw a sick leave and go. If he demanded her to cook something in the middle of the night, she would comply happily, for she thought she had to win his heart, over the first wife.
It was heartbreaking to see a bold friend of ours lose all her personality all of a sudden. News that she was pregnant transcended her to the seventh sky.
Six months into her pregnancy, she was devastated to discover her husband married a third time. On protesting, her husband stopped visiting her. She again resorted back to the same vicious cycle of pleasing him to draw his attention in competition with the other two wives. And the demands to please him kept multiplying exponentially. The extent his demands were such that if she talked on telephone for longer than his liking, he would leave and go to one other wife.
The complaint that, “she wasn’t paying attention to me”.
And so dutiful was he, that he never shared a penny from his own pocket with our friend, and possibly with the other two wives too, who were all working women.
We cried ‘he’s abusive’, but she wasn’t ready to accept it.
Her simple argument, “He never hits me, and that it is my duty to please my husband”.
We were left helpless.
Saira was a Indian nurse, who had come to work in the gulf. From the first month of the marriage, she handed over every penny of her salary to her husband. They were to save money to buy a land back home. Even a small demand of a dress, would need her to beg him for hours before he complied. And when they did buy the piece of land it was in his name.
For Saira, it was “Okay, because he is the man of the house. “
However, 12 years after their marriage, her husband fell in love with her own best friend, and they got married secretly. When Saira came to know, she was pregnant with her second child. From then on, she refused to hand him the salary, and this is where her physical abuse began.
Putting a brave front, she refused to comply. So his next demand was that she quit the job. She almost left the job, until we all colleagues intervened and convinced her not to.
She did ultimately, but the cycle of physical violence kept on unabated. Our cries to the people of authority were of no avail, for it was justified to have more than one wife and she was unreasonable, in being angry about it. Hence, his resorting to physical violence was justified.
Saira was unwilling to take any step to walk out on him because despite all the miseries, she still “loved him”.
Saira’s family, too, was of the opinion, “Men are all like this, women have to bear it always. “
These are just a handful of stories, from the barrage of incidences of domestic violence I have come across during my work experience.
For most women, if they were not being hit, they were not being abused. Emotional, financial or any other form of violence except physical was no abuse.
Unfortunately, in most of the cases it was the ignorance or denial on the part of sufferer, or the cover given to it through religious or cultural practices, or lack of the necessary infrastructure to lodge a complaint, that one felt helpless and miserable seeing these women continue to suffer.
And to tell you the truth, with them, I suffered too.
PS: The names of the women have been changed.
Next Blog to follow soon: Myths and Facts about Domestic Violence