Tahira was a 15-year-old girl residing in Wazirabad, when she was married off to her maternal aunt’s son, Javaid. Her father was a cleric in a mosque and married off all his children at young ages. The family was not very well off and hence could not afford much in the way of her dowry.
Initially, the couple lived with Javaid’s parents, but about a year later, they were turned out due to Javaid’s unemployment and financial dependence on his parents. Her mother in law also took back the jewelry she had gifted to Tahira during the wedding. Tahira was uneducated, and belonged to the cast believed to be the Prophet Muhammad’s descendants. Due to her lack of education and the fact that her cast is generally accepted as “higher”. She was prohibited from working. They moved in with Javaid’s paternal uncle, but the pattern repeated itself Javaid did not earn for nearly two years eventually, his uncle also asked them to leave, as he could not afford to continue supporting them.
The couple then rented a house, and Javaid began working as an electrician. Briefly, their problems seemed to have come to an end, but shortly after, he stopped giving Tahira money for the household. She discovered that he was spending this money on entertaining other women and having illicit relations with them. On instances when she inquired about the money, they would quarrel and Javaid would beat Tahira. At the same time Tahira was deeply concerned about her children’s education. Her siblings occasionally sent small items for her use, such as clothing, and funds, which she saved until she could eventually purchase a plot of land and construct her own house.
Eighteen years like this Tahira continued to ask her in laws for help regarding Javaid’s behavior but they paid her no attention. Then Tahira discovered from one of his friends that he had married again and had a second wife. She confronted Javaid, who denied all the allegations. Once more, she turned to her in laws upon which her brother in law assured her of help and promised that they would intervene on her behalf and convince Javaid to divorce the other women. After several days of waiting, however when she returned to her in laws they accused Tahira of being responsible for his second marriage, saying that by blaming Javaid for their financial problems, she had driven him to marry again. Tahira’s family tried to intervene but could not pressurized Javaid, as they were afraid that he might divorce their daughter.
With Tahira’s brother’s financial help, Javaid went to Saudia Arabia twice, both times he returned without having taken the opportunity to make a good life there. He had promised Tahira that he would divorce the second wife if he managed to settle in Saudi Arabia but despite her attempts this did not happen. Finally she took the matter to the Panchayat.
(Community intervention is of. ten the only avenue open to an abused woman). The stigma of being involved in court proceedings or police cases is such that women generally do not approach authoritative public institutions for fear of public shame. ,
Women from the community advised Tahira to simply accept the injustice Javaid dealt out to her, as it was indecent of her to argue with her husband. At the same time the Panchayat men oers were Javaid’s friends, who delayed the issue by making false promises and assurances.
Tahira then approached Mr. Ghulam Rasool, who was related to the head of the Panchayat, and whose wife she was acquainted with. She told him of her fear that Javaid would leave her now that he had remarried and she told them of her lack of financial security for herself and her 6 children. Mr. Ghulam called the Panchayat again, and represented Tahira. After several discussions, the Panchayat concluded that the house would be registered in Tahira’s name.
Javaid now has two children by his second wife. He threatened and harassed Tahira to transfer the house back to his name, and on a few occasions, she was so pressurized by him that she nearly yielded to the pressure but people from the community stopped her, reminding her that this was her security. On other occasions, he pressurized her to let his second wife live in the house; on her daughter’s wedding, she was forced to comply, otherwise he would not have attended the wedding. Since then, his second wife has shifted to her in-laws house. She has suggested that the government should develop some form of financial assistance for women in her position, who were too uneducated to earn themselves, and whose children’s futures were thus compromised.
Women’s economic dependence on men, first their fathers, and later their husbands, has been accepted as a social norm, rather than being treated as a subtle tool of repression and control. Due to this a huge portion of the population has been deterred from becoming civilized, educated, productive and self-sufficient members of society. Women have been fettered by the pressures of upholding a their family honor. The fear of being labeled ‘indecent’ in society is such that the average Pakistani woman would rather suffer cruelties privately than demand justice publicly. Daughters learn the same from their mothers, perpetuating a vicious cycle of oppression and abuse that can it only be brought to an end by of state implementation of edification and training, and providing re women with the freedom to avail an opportunities and further their to prospects.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.