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We only side with victims of abuse if they have the courtesy to die from it

By Sabah Bano Malik
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Why is a woman, beaten and bruised, no longer a credible narrator because she swiped back at the man beating and bruising her?

Domestic violence should be shocking. When survivors or people taking on the fight to get justice turn to the public in order to get said justice, or at the very least make people aware of what has happened, shock is an expected byproduct. Such was the case this week when the wife of a news anchor shared harrowing images of the abuse she has allegedly suffered at the hands of her husband.

And though the reveal that a trusted voice on television, a recognisable face from our small screens could be the perpetrator of such violence, the bigger shock should have come when people started blaming her. But that was maybe the least shocking part of it all.

In cases of violence against women the first thing we seek as Pakistanis is how perfectly does she fall within our parameters of the perfect victim?

“The perfect victim” is a standard to which we hold women, especially in cases of violence and targeted harassment, to decide exactly how much we believe she did or did not deserve what happened to her.

Was she quiet? Shy? In a love marriage? Modern or conservative? Educated or not? Was she privileged or from a tougher background? Is her father alive? Did she date? Was she on social media? Did she dance at her wedding?

Shortly after his wife’s story became public (co-signed by her lawyer, photographic proof, and images of the registered FIR) the accused anchor shared images of his own injuries. The comparison is in no way 50-50. His images, however, revealed that perhaps his wife may have found a way to fight back during the alleged days of abuse, and suddenly that meant that blame was to be placed 50-50.

Livid does not even begin to cover the emotions that creep down the nervous system when reports of violence against women have comments like “well why did he?” or “what’s his side of the story?” or “what about mental torture from wives, is it any less?” flooding them.

Women and men hoo-ed and haw-ed that if SHE hit HIM also then by golly how could she be the victim? To which I ask — if someone is beating on you with their fists, kicking you with their boots, yanking you by the hair, is the only appropriate response to play dead? Why is a woman, beaten and bruised, no longer a credible narrator because she swiped back at the man beating and bruising her?

Whenever stories of domestic abuse or sexual assault or sexual harassment make their way to the public on social media in Pakistan — including this one! — they always have people in the comments shelling out a long stupid argument. “WOMEN MUST LEARN SELF DEFENCE! They MUST learn to FIGHT BACK! Hit him once and see if he hits you ever again!” they froth from their keyboards.

But when they do, you no longer carry any empathy for them. You sneer at them, and you try to figure out if maybe SHE did something to provoke this violence on her being. You argue, maybe her husband had a point in hitting her.

Egregious!

But that’s what people started saying. In Pakistan, we only side with victims of abuse if they have the courtesy to die from it, and that too as quietly as they possibly can, because two of the most headline making cases of femicide and violence on women in Pakistan proved that even being murdered it is not enough to get the public on your side.

The murders of Noor Muqaddam and Sarah Inam sent shockwaves through the country, resulting in protests and collective anguish, demands for a safer country and a better judicial system. Women demanded answers to questions like, what the hell is wrong with Pakistani men?

But amidst all the rage, their characters were assassinated. In the case of Noor, it was heinous, hideous mudslinging about who she was and how the circumstances of her murder came to be. With the ugliest of the uglies putting the blame on her. With Sarah, a woman who married in her “later years” (re: 30+) her character was raked over for not doing enough research to somehow gauge beforehand that she had married the man who would go on to murder her. So, they blamed her for that too.

How many women in Pakistan experience domestic violence? The numbers vary from 80 per cent to 90 per cent depending on the research report but no matter what the report is, no matter who does, or what year it was done in, it happens.

Domestic violence and spousal abuse are so normalised here that just today my uncle shared with me that people at his old office would talk about it casually, at lunch, amongst one another as if sharing fun little anecdotes from the weekend. “My wife is always slow on roti; two slaps and it fixes it for a few days.”

Our television dramas are rife with domestic abuse — pushing, arm grabbing, face grabbing, cornering and, of course, slapping, not to mention the barely concealed evisceration of sexual consent and coercion in marriages. A slap is not shocking. And often, when I hear people discussing the villain of a drama (usually a woman who wears her hair down and likely has a job), “she deserves a tight slap” is included in the conversation.

Domestic abuse is so normalised that those who come out to fight it, who say enough is enough, are met with scoffs and contempt. People even accuse them of trying to mess with family culture and that they are crossing the line interfering with family or personal matters.

Even the police feel this way, in the case of the TV anchor’s wife, she and her lawyers alleged that it took four hours of back and forth with the police to finally register an FIR and even then, the accused was never arrested.

I would love to think we want to blame women because we are so ashamed of this culture we have allowed to thrive and prevail, that it’s easier to blame the woman than to take a long hard look at ourselves and be disgusted. But I wouldn’t give us that much credit — we blame women because we truly believe it is their fault for not suffering quietly, for not leaving, for not compromising, for not accepting — and if she did all this but still got beaten, we blame her for the opposite.

One of the biggest hurdles we have as Pakistanis in fighting domestic violence is this EXACT attitude, that women are to be blamed and that a good woman, a perfect victim would not fight back and therefore would be more worthy of our support.

Cover image: Shutterstock

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