Pakistan and Domestic Violence

Domestic Abuse Pakistan.jpg

This week, I begin working as a volunteer with Women Against Abuse, an organization in Philadelphia that provides shelter, legal aid and other resources to victims of domestic violence and their children. At the orientation for volunteers, they emphasized that domestic violence encompassed all cultures, creeds and backgrounds. At the same time, our training materials mentioned the variety of attitudes that a culture can have towards domestic violence. They include but are not limited to: outrage, denial and acceptance. For as long as I can remember, I’ve placed Pakistani culture in the category of indifference/acceptance when it comes to the matter of protecting women and children from the effects of domestic violence.

As a child, domestic violence was an inextricable feature of the culture in which I grew up. My parents, who emigrated from Pakistan in the eighties, settled in a small town in New Jersey where we interacted little with the Pakistani Christian community. But I recall clearly the time I was six years old and we went to Philadelphia for some kid’s birthday party. I tugged at my mom’s blue dupatta. “Hey mom, what happened to Aunty N.’s arm?”

My mom looked at the aunty’s cast-covered arm and then at me. “Her husband broke it,” she said calmly. For the rest of the party, I kept peeking in shock and horror at Aunty N. and her husband, who I adored because even though he pinched my cheeks like the other uncles, he always followed it up with some candy.

I wish that was the last time I encountered something like that. It wasn’t. From my parents, I continued to hear stories of women whose husbands and fathers slapped them around. And when I went to high school, I heard similar stories from other South Asian classmates. But I’m pleased that Pakistan is (finally!) making a small step in the right direction when it comes to treating domestic violence as a punishable crime as opposed to a private family matter.

Pakistan moved towards outlawing domestic violence when lawmakers approved a bill Tuesday that will punish those found guilty of beating women or children with jail terms and fines. The law was passed unanimously in the lower house of parliament or national assembly, Yasmi Rehman from the main ruling Pakistan People’s Party told AFP, hailing what she called a “big day” for Pakistani women. It will come into effect after the senate, or upper house of parliament, approves the law and President Asif Ali Zardari signs it into legislation. Those found guilty of beating women or children would face a minimum six months behind bars and a fine of at least 100,000 rupees (1,205 dollars). “Domestic violence against women is not considered a major offense in our society. I hope this bill will provide protection to our women against all types of violence in their homes and living places,” Rehman said.

[Link.]

I hope so too, Rehman. I hope so too. It all depends on whether or not the police actually enforce it.

123 thoughts on “Pakistan and Domestic Violence

  1. is limited to a survey done I believe among south asians in boston

    shutcho’ mouth woman or i will shut it for you.

  2. Dr Amonymous, thank you for your detailed post. PS said pretty much what I had in mind, actually. But after reading your post, I am rather taken aback. It seems almost as if we are in different worlds. How is it that you have come across so many incidents, while I am hard pressed to even think of one? There was one in which the wife had a drinking issue and sadly took her life, but whether that was due to work or family, I can’t say. In any case, I definitely agree with you that DV is an issue which needs more awareness and frank discussion. I wouldn’t hazard guesses as to whether South Asians are statistically more prone to DV, or why that would be the case, but I would be loathe to blame things like culture, religion, etc. It all boils down to one’s own personality, and one’s (lack of) self-control.

  3. I know I’m going to be flamed for this, but I would wager that if one spoke to a person from any other culture, it’s probably likely that that person can relate quite a few incidents of DV as well. Heck, if you read the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, you might end up thinking one half of the UK is beating up the other half! :) But i guess the issue is not which society has more DV, but what are we going to do to address it.

  4. nat’l dv stats but of course this can mean many things including apis are underreporting

    http://www.abanet.org/domviol/statistics.html

    notice the lumping together of api comms, then the stats foe filipinas, koreans, south asians (lumps all south asians together”, etc. Much of the studies, are like Rob’s one analysis on stats on the south asian community in boston…it’s highly misleading to take one statistic from a city and use it to represent the whole community…it’s important to read the fine print and see the documentation of what those studies represent

    sakhis take on statistics – http://www.sakhi.org/learn/natlstats.php

    They cite the 40 percent boston study, clearly showing it is a limited study and they state “Women of all races are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner.”

    it would be pretty irresponsible of me to say dv occurs more in the south asian american experience than….white americans? korean americans, african americans? and if I did say something so silly, it would be based on some stereotype which I don’t have about my community.

  5. PS, (1) Crime (for numerous) reasons does vary (both in terms of commission, conviction, and victimization) across a range of social groupings. These groupings do include immigrant status, ethnicity (as well as, e.g., sex, age, and SES). It would thus be highly anomalous (from a generic criminal-law perspective, almost laughable) if domestic violence were to be a strange outlier, where we really couldn’t say anything more mealy-mouthed than “everyone is equally vulnerable.” (Of course, pointing to such statistical differences doesn’t mean that anyone is either guaranteed to be a victim or perpetrator, nor is anyone fully safe from either role.)
    (2) Those American Bar Association statistics you cited (abanet.org. . . .) in comment #105 don’t exactly agree with the statement that everyone is equally vulnerable, stating, for example, that “African Americans, especially African American Women, suffer deadly violence from family members at rates decidedly higher than for other racial groups in the United States.”

  6. His girlfriend’s boyfriend’s wife.

    if that’s the case, I guess this is a pretty strong statement to generalise 60+ million people.

    Having mistresses is a very common, and loosely socially sanctioned, practice in Tamilnadu among people of various economic strata.

    Personally I have not come across anyone under the age of 60 (now) who have mistresses (or second wives). There is a word in Tamil (I observed) has gone out of usage called “koothiyal” used to refer to mistresses by people of my grandfather’s generation. I have observed him and a couple of other old ladies using the word quite frequently when talking about their friends / relatives. I guess the old ladies of my grandfather’s generation were very accepting of their husbands having “koothiyals”.. looks like men had a nice time 50 years back, not anymore.

    That word has been replaced by “chinna veedu” (meaning small house) and even that is not widely used. I guess it has to do with the right to divorce offered to women decades ago. Now women have a choice to walk out of marriage.

  7. That word has been replaced by “chinna veedu” (meaning small house) and even that is not widely used.

    term is not widely used? are you joking? i know at least 5 people – 40 somethings – who have chinna veedus. there is even a movie with that title. others movies with that same concept. also hindu marriage act does not prohibit bigamy, only gives the first wife the right to divorce. so many women do not exercise that right due to so many social factors.

  8. I would never want to condone domestic violence, but I would like to ask someone to actually define “abuse”. Clearly different people have varying understandings of the term. One tendency that I’ve noticed is this very Western liberal PC discourse that “you should never hit your child, even in the interests of discipline, because it will scar them for life”. Personally, I have been occasionally slapped by my parents growing up, but I have a good relationship with them and have not been traumatized by it. Of course, there is a huge difference between being slapped a couple of times and being thrown against the wall as Dr. A experienced. I absolutely feel that children and spouses/partners should never have to fear for their lives or their safety in a household. No question about that.

    The only thing I am advocating is a more consistent definition of abuse and an understanding that South Asian norms differ from Western norms, which also have only recently changed. On some level, it is the parent’s choice what approaches they want to use to discipline their child. I would of course prefer and advocate non-violent discipline, but I don’t think we have total rights to decide what is ok and not ok in someone’s home.

  9. Dr Amonymous, thank you for your detailed post. PS said pretty much what I had in mind, actually. But after reading your post, I am rather taken aback. It seems almost as if we are in different worlds. How is it that you have come across so many incidents, while I am hard pressed to even think of one? There was one in which the wife had a drinking issue and sadly took her life, but whether that was due to work or family, I can’t say. In any case, I definitely agree with you that DV is an issue which needs more awareness and frank discussion. I wouldn’t hazard guesses as to whether South Asians are statistically more prone to DV, or why that would be the case, but I would be loathe to blame things like culture, religion, etc. It all boils down to one’s own personality, and one’s (lack of) self-control

    You’re very welcome! I can only say that there was a time in my life where I would have said something very similar. But the more you have one-one-one personal conversations with people – particularly girls, but boys as well, the more you realise whether it is or is not common. It also probably has to do with my family, the circles that I travel in and my own experiences that have made me more aware and itnerested in hearing about it and moreso doing something about it, and a willingness to get in other people’s business in a productive way. The thing to always thing is – if that father is smacking his kid down to the floor at a puja, what’s he doing elsewhere when no one’s around?

    I would rather not get into an overly abstract conversation about this because I think the first task – to ensure that people in South Asian communities (and again, I say that because this is a South Asian space and for no other reason) recognise that I think that oversimplified ideas about ‘culture’ ‘religion’ and other things are counterproductive in understanding something like violence (emotional or physical) in intimate relations (sexual or not) and the environments they operate in, you can’t look at it in a completely individualistic framework. The whole point is that this violence happens in the context of a relationship and is therefore informed and structured by the power dynamics of that relationship as well as all others. Self-control, I think, is not as useful as open, positive, honest communication of needs – I think the latter would go a long way to preventing violence of any kind. I do agree that these kinds of relationships happen in different forms in different places and, for example, you’re less likely (though not completely immune from) seeing an ‘honor killing’ among White people in the U.S. than you are in South Asia or diasporic South Asia, but that there will be other forms of discrimination perhaps rising to the level of abuse that are relevant in those contexts.

  10. The only thing I am advocating is a more consistent definition of abuse and an understanding that South Asian norms differ from Western norms, which also have only recently changed. On some level, it is the parent’s choice what approaches they want to use to discipline their child. I would of course prefer and advocate non-violent discipline, but I don’t think we have total rights to decide what is ok and not ok in someone’s home.

    It is the parent’s choice up to a certain point, mainly because of practical reasons, not because parents should have any ownership over their children. Aside from the abstract conversations that won’t be resolved, there is a practical reason for this : at a certain point, because that parent and that child live in a neighborhood, a community, and a society that will have to bear the consequences of those choices – if a parent routinely demeans the confidence of, for example, a daughter and lowers their expectations for what they can do in life and that results in depression, that’s something that everyone from the daughter’s teachers to the daughter’s boyfriends or girlfriends to the daughter’s employers will eventually have to deal with. Which is ALSO why parents should expect to receive support in exchange for the work that they’re doing (and it is work) and also why childrearing needs to be viewed as a social responsibility as well as one of the person or people raising the child in the home.

    However, that’s my view. As you poitned out the question of norms are important, and I think it’s relevant to say that there’s a difference between stating one’s views and beliving that one’s views should be legislated upon parents by the state or some other body. The key thing, I think is to not view this solely in terms of abuser/survivor, but as people, one of whom is being violent towards the other either on an occasional or consistent basis, whether physicalyl or emotionally. This might be stating the obviousl, but I strongly believe that even parents and others who engage in domestic violence are not ‘bad’ people – but are engaging in specific actions or patterns of behavior that need to be addressed through support for them as well as for those that are being victimised. I loved my father (passed away) and my inability to believe that the specific event I described above had happened was partly due to the contrast between much of the rest of my upbringing. But that doesn’t mean that incidents like that don’t need to be addressed.

    There is also a difference in the different approaches you take – for example, licensing for parents, offering optional communications, negotiations, and other workshops to people through their healthcare or schools, building stronger links and support between parents, schools, and community institutions, and other steps are important in reducing the propensity for violence in society before you even get to the point.

    I think the question of “Western” vs. “South Asian” then recedes in importance, because what you want to do is develop contextually relevant solutions. For example, in some parts of South Asia, there have been efforts to curb alcohol consumption because it was a facilitator of domestic violence. You may agree or disagree with whether it’s an appropriate long-term solution to the underlying problem, but the link was there in a way that may not be here. Similarly, I have read that military families in the U.S. experience higher rates of domestic violence than non military families – so that would be worth looking into, confirming, thinking about the causes of, and exploring what can be done about it.

  11. I do agree that these kinds of relationships happen in different forms in different places and, for example, you’re less likely (though not completely immune from) seeing an ‘honor killing’ among White people in the U.S. than you are in South Asia or diasporic South Asia, but that there will be other forms of discrimination perhaps rising to the level of abuse that are relevant in those contexts.

    Go ahead on wit ya bad self, Dr Amonymous! Muy well-written. Communicating well often means that the level of cnflict will rarely reach the point where parties must exhibit massive amounts of self-control to kep from becoming violent. Although I must say, honor killings occur on the daily in just about every society where members are of European descent. Their way of using a Wite-Out pen to remove any elements they don’t want in their lives is aborting unborn babies who will slow their hedonistic roll. At the very least, South Asian honor killings are carried out against people who have fully formed limbs, lungs and access to a weapon.

  12. 108: also hindu marriage act does not prohibit bigamy, only gives the first wife the right to divorce

    Not sure where you got this strange piece of info from. Check for yourself at: http://punjabrevenue.nic.in/hmrgact(1).htm

    The first clause under “Conditions for a Hindu marriage” (http://punjabrevenue.nic.in/hmrgact(1).htm#conditionsformarriage) state:

    A marriage may be solemnized between any two Hindus, if the following condition are fulfilled, namely:-

    (i) neither party has a spouse living at the time of the marriage

    …and then goes on to state more conditions.

  13. if that’s the case, I guess this is a pretty strong statement to generalise 60+ million people.

    well, she gets around

  14. term is not widely used? are you joking? i know at least 5 people – 40 somethings – who have chinna veedus.

    How many times in the conversations with your friends / erlatives / acquaintances have you come across the term?. and 5 people out of how many?.

    Does that justify this

    Having mistresses is a very common, and loosely socially sanctioned, practice in Tamilnadu among people of various economic strata.
  15. The difference is that there aren’t actual Nazis arguing on most blogs, whereas there are hard and soft supportesr of Hindu right politics very present on this one.

    That’s nonsense if you wanted to define it. Even going by the usual definition of equating any Hinduphilic comment to “soft/hard Hindu right politics” there has been nothing like that so far on this post. That can only mean that you are being Bachmanesque in pointing to things not in evidence. Given your very lazy equivocation and open Hinduphobic attitude – hat tip to Ponnniyin Selvan – your thinking needs to be deconstructed first and laid out bare.

  16. Dr. A, I completely agree with you. The only thing I am cautioning against–and I’m not saying you are doing this– is the tendency to be overly PC and define abuse so broadly that even if a parent slaps a misbehaving kid a couple of times, the child is considered to have been abused. I think a lot depends on the individual relationships within the home. If the child knows that his parents love him, and only slap him to discipline him (in his best interest), then I wouldn’t consider that abuse, while someone who’s afraid for their lives and safety–or who is beaten gratuitously, that’s definately abuse.

    I agree that we need to focus on finding conextually relevent solutions. Also, I agree that routinely lowering someone’s confidence definitely qualifies as emotional abuse. I have many examples in my own extended family about how this lowered confidence goes on to mess up people’s entire lives even in their adulthood.

  17. 112

    I agree with your point on communication averting violence, but then you lost me. I’m perplexed by your equating abortion with honor killing; seems like two completely different hot button issues to me.

    “At least SA honor killings are carried out against people who have fully formed limbs, lungs, and access to a weapon.” I seem to remember the last one I read about in Pakistan involved a teenage girl who had been raped being killed by her father and brothers– limbs, lungs, and a weapon would have been little use. Sorry I don’t have the notation. From my reading of the dailies, my anecdotal observation would be that women and girls are murdered by family/ community members in far greater numbers than men. Therefore it is a DV issue, not a when does life begin issue.

    I won’t speak beyond my own experience, which is of college educated, middle income, WASP, New England, US extraction. Of the three close friends that I have known to have abortions through the years (I am 41), all have decided to terminate the pregnancy after much thought for one reason. Because they couldn’t financially afford to and the men that impregnated them could/ would not be fathers to the children, not as a part of an ‘hedonistic’ lifestyle. All have had children since, that are loved and wanted.

    My personal experience (I’m not counting the various spankings, pinches, or smacks doled out) with DV within my extended family has been that the stressor that pushes people over the edge into violence, physical and verbal, is financial. Usually alcohol is involved as well. Neither I nor my mother or siblings was ever a target, but as a child I had been terrified of my father’s rages several times. Knowing myself better, I know that that tension still effects my relationships today. Within the family, DV covers the spread of education backgrounds. The three friends I’ve known to have been sexually assaulted (2 women, 1man) were all attacked as children/teenagers. The women were raped by family members, the man by a priest.

    Extrapolating from these experiences, and Dr A’s, I think the more people would ask or talk about these things, the more they would find out that it happens in all families, across all cultures. If it is more predominant in one over the other, I couldn’t say. One observation I will make: An interest in SA cinema has led me to view 250+ Hindi/Tamil/Telugu films in the last 15 months and portrayals of violence against women and children in all strata of society is commonplace within these films.

  18. Kabir, I agree with you about being too broad and PC while defining parental abuse . My father, though very loving in his own way was (is) a strict disciplinarian. As a teacher, he could be very demanding. I remember once when I was 12 and a math-phobic rebellious pre-teen, he got frustrated at my persistent inability to grasp some algebraic concept (I just didn’t practice enough) and slapped me quite hard. I ran away for half a day, then came back and started practicing harder. I thanked him years later when I got a perfect score on my GRE maths. His swimming lessons could be harsh, but again just drilled the concepts in my mind. I realise that he always had my best interest at heart. Now, as a grown up I rib him a lot about his former Hitler-panti and he takes it sportingly. I know I encountered the kind of fear that not too many western kids of a similar background would have faced as children, but having weathered some really tough periods, I am aware that it has made me a stronger person overall. And what would Russell Peters have done if he hadn’t been occasionally been hurt real bad? My only doubt is that someone else with a different personality could have taken it not so well, and lost confidence. To quote Chanakya:

    Treat your kid like a darling for the first five years. For the next five years, scold them. By the time they turn sixteen, treat them like a friend. Your grown up children are your best friends.
  19. Kabir, I understand your point that a paranoid application of standards should not be the goal. However, I feel this is pretty obvious, no?

    In any case, I looked up some resources of discipline and hitting and that led me to guidance provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It says that the type of behavior you’re describing is very common but argues that it’s not helpful and in many ways harmful. It’s just one piece, so take it for what it is, but here is the part I found most effective in arguing that hitting is not a good idea:

    Parents are more likely to use aversive techniques of discipline when they are angry or irritable, depressed, fatigued, and stressed. In 44% of those surveyed, corporal punishment was used >= 50% of the time because the parent had lost it. Approximately 85% expressed moderate to high anger, remorse, and agitation while punishing their children.21 These findings challenge most the notion that parents can spank in a calm, planned manner. It is best not to administer any punishments while in a state of anger. Spanking of young children is highly correlated with continued spanking of school and adolescent children.20 More than half of 13- and 14-year-olds are still being hit an average eight times per year.17 Parents who have relied on spanking do not seem to shift strategies when the risks of detrimental effects increase with developmental age, as has been argued. Spanking of preschool boys by fathers with whom the child identified only moderately or little resulted in increased aggressive behavior by those children.17 Corporal punishment in two-parent, middle class families occurred weekly in 25%, was associated with the use of an object occasionally in 35% and half of the time in 17%, caused considerable pain at times in 12%, and inflicted lasting marks at times in 5%.21 Thus, striking children in the abusive range is neither rare nor confined to families of lower socioeconomic class, as has been asserted. Although children may view spanking as justified and symbolic of parental concern for them, they rate spanking as causing some or much pain in more than half of cases and generally experience anger at the adult as a result. Despite this, children come to accept spanking as a parent’s right at an early age, making changes in adult acceptance of spanking more difficult.21 The more children are hit, the more anger they report as adults, the more they hit their own children when they are parents, the more likely they are to approve of hitting and to actually hit their spouses, and the greater their marital conflict.20 Although 93% of parents justify spanking, 85% say that they would rather not if they had an alternative in which they believed.21 One study found that 54% of mothers said that spanking was the wrong thing to have done in at least half of the times they used it.20 This ambivalence likely results in inconsistent use, which limits further its effectiveness as a teaching tool. Although spanking has been shown to be effective as a back-up to enforce a time-out location, it was not more effective than use of a barrier as an alternative.32 Even controlling for baseline antisocial behavior, the more 3- to 6-year-old children were hit, the worse their behavior when assessed 2 years later.20 Actions causing pain such as spanking can acquire a positive value rather than the intended adversive value.31 Children who expect pain may actually seek it through escalating misbehaviors. Parents who spank are more likely to use other forms of corporal punishment and a greater variety of verbal and other punitive methods.22 When punishment fails, parents who rely on it tend to increase the intensity of its use rather than to change strategies.
  20. Dr. A, I agree with you that corporal punishment is not the optimum form of discipline, though I would hesitate to classify this as abuse. I guess it all depends on the family and the individual though. That said, of course domestic violence–physical, sexual, even emotional abuse– is horrible and a real issue of concern.

    One could argue in fact that emotional abuse is particularly horrible, because it’s hard to figure out that it’s even happening, as it leaves no marks on the body while having often life-long detrimental psychological effects.

  21. Phillygirl, as a rule I don’t comment here– but I want to thank you for bringing attention to this

  22. 118 · katiekateQNS on August 11, 2009 04:04 PM #112 I agree with your point on communication averting violence,

    Yay :D . Why, fank you.

    but then you lost me. I’m perplexed by your equating abortion with honor killing; seems like two completely different hot button issues to me.

    Well, in my mind, they’re both ways for people to edit difficult and controversial situations they weren’t prepared for out of their lives.

    “At least SA honor killings are carried out against people who have fully formed limbs, lungs, and access to a weapon.” I seem to remember the last one I read about in Pakistan involved a teenage girl who had been raped being killed by her father and brothers– limbs, lungs, and a weapon would have been little use.

    They’re a lot more useful than the amniotic sac, wouldn’t you say?

    Sorry I don’t have the notation. From my reading of the dailies, my anecdotal observation would be that women and girls are murdered by family/ community members in far greater numbers than men. Therefore it is a DV issue, not a when does life begin issue.

    It is illogical, the killing of only women because of their engaging in sex acts with inappropriate participants. If killing criminals in one’s family is their idea of justice, then justice has not been served if only one criminal of the duo is killed. I think it’s more of a vigilante sort of thing rather than domestic violence. What :p!?!? “when does life begin” never came into it :p!

    I won’t speak beyond my own experience, which is of college educated, middle income, WASP, New England, US extraction. Of the three close friends that I have known to have abortions through the years (I am 41), all have decided to terminate the pregnancy after much thought for one reason. Because they couldn’t financially afford to and the men that impregnated them could/ would not be fathers to the children, not as a part of an ‘hedonistic’ lifestyle. All have had children since, that are loved and wanted.

    Judging from what you told me about your economic level, I am going to assume that your friends are around that same level. When you sacrifice a baby so that you don’t have to reduce yourself to eating Cup Noodles for 18 years and making the best of a one-parent situation you yourself are 50% responsible for, what is the word for that, if not hedonism?

    My personal experience (I’m not counting the various spankings, pinches, or smacks doled out) with DV within my extended family has been that the stressor that pushes people over the edge into violence, physical and verbal, is financial. Usually alcohol is involved as well.

    I agree with the alcohol part. That’s the case with members of my own extended family, and it saddens me that they don’t want to admit that alcohol played a role.

    Neither I nor my mother or siblings was ever a target, but as a child I had been terrified of my father’s rages several times. Knowing myself better, I know that that tension still effects my relationships today.

    That’s very unfortunate, to have to carry that emotional mark with you into adulthood. Sometimes people don’t realise the long-term effects of the things we do and say on children.

    Within the family, DV covers the spread of education backgrounds. The three friends I’ve known to have been sexually assaulted (2 women, 1man) were all attacked as children/teenagers. The women were raped by family members, the man by a priest.

    In your personal opinion, would you say the effects of sexual assault are worse for a man or a woman, assuming both were assaulted as young adults?

    Extrapolating from these experiences, and Dr A’s, I think the more people would ask or talk about these things, the more they would find out that it happens in all families, across all cultures. If it is more predominant in one over the other, I couldn’t say. One observation I will make: An interest in SA cinema has led me to view 250+ Hindi/Tamil/Telugu films in the last 15 months and portrayals of violence against women and children in all strata of society is commonplace within these films.

    250!?! Wow, that’s dedication :p! Hindi movies are so misleading though. If I’d nhever met an Indian, I’d think they were the most flamboyant, brown versions of Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire ever to have walked the Earth. I’ve found that in real life, they’re total let-downs in that regard :p. What say you?