The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

Patriarchy and Pakistani society – II.

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Watta-Satta marriages: this is a phenomenon where siblings of one family are married off to the siblings of another family. This ensures a mutual hold on the children of both families and ensures in theory a more practical and conflict-free arrangement for both families, in turn this ensures the maintenance of economic and social power between both families.

Family life in Pakistan is such that when a daughter is wed, she must leave her father’s house and move in with an utterly new family, i.e. the family of her husband. Now this family may or may not welcome the newcomer with open arms, but what is certain is that the family of the girl will always be at a disadvantage, in comparison with the family of the son. This is because if the husband divorces the wife, she will have to return to her own family, and being a divorcee in Pakistan is a big stigma. One labelled as such, it is virtually impossible to wed her off again for her family, as she is effectively labelled as ‘damaged goods’. The longer she stays at her own father’s house, the longer she will prove to be a financial burden for him, therefore, this is a condition the girl’s family wants to avoid at all costs. An alternate strategy that has been evolved is to marry one’s daughter to another’s son, only if they agree to marry their daughter to your son. This effectively removes the problem of superiority from the equation, leaving both families at the same level of effective power. One would notice that the only thing that has not been taken into account is the choice of the girl herself. The families use their daughters as collateral. This is a deplorable situation. It comes as no surprise that these arrangements also find problems of their own, and if such problems do occur, these families find themselves tied to each other without any room for manoeuvring. Eventually everyone loses, but the ones who lose the most are these women.

In my opinion, this ascribes to a more functionalist perspective, i.e. since society has certain institutions, and those institutions vest power in certain individuals, that power must be maintained. In order for such maintenance, steps are taken to insulate those entities that would pose a threat to weaken such a powerbase. In this case, that powerbase being the patriarchal society and specifically the father’s family, and the threat being the female child. As a solution to this, I believe the Marxist-Feminist perspective must be adopted. The problem has persisted in our form of society for years, and it cannot be eradicated overnight. However, it does require a reconsideration of core ideologies and norms of family interaction, vis-à-vis education and religion. The approach might take a lot of time and greater effort, however, the resulting empowerment will be a long-term one.

Marriage to aged men: in Pakistan today, a large number of females are married to men who are far older than the females themselves. This, in its current extreme form is nothing if not a crime against nature itself. Islamic Shariah, which grants all females the right to consent, i.e. no female can be married off to anyone without their prior consent. The effects of such unions, where the women have no right in choosing their mate, range from depression, low self-esteem, to living a life of complete misery.

Though there is a provision for the safeguard of the marital rights of women in the Constitution, there is nonetheless a deliberate ignorance of these laws by the public at large. Pakistan is and always has been a strictly patriarchal society. And with a patriarchal interpretation of Islam, there is no check left for men to abuse their power over women. There are numerous incidents of marriages being arranged at childhood and young girls being married off to older men. These marriages take place, again, for purely economic or political purposes. The reasons may range from selling the female offspring to the elder men as a commodity to fulfil the needs of the rest of the family, to paying off loans taken by poor families in this form, to pleasing an aged political figurehead for future gains. These practices in turn not only damage the mental, physical and psychological well being of the bride-to-be, but also account for the high birth rates, high infant mortality rates, and low literacy rates within the interior of the country. These poor girls are deprived of education and are quickly married off by their parents. This is carried out with the threat of violence being used against them if they do not comply.

“‘In Pakistan 42 percent of women accept violence as part of their fate; 33 percent feel too helpless to stand up to it; 19 percent protested and 4 percent took action against it,’ Government study in Punjab 2001” — (Amnesty International 2004:3).

Marriage against the will of the female: in Pakistan, the family structure is such that women are treated as secondary entities. Being secondary entities there are severe limits to their freedom and the exercise of their limited freedom as it is. This limits the extent to which the female can choose their own mate, and insist upon any choice they make in the family and societal structure.

The concept of female servitude contributing to and enhancing male honour (ghairat) is not a new concept in the Subcontinent at large. This has now come to the point where male honour is now viewed as the honour of the whole family unit. Therefore, any act committed by the female that goes against male supremacy directly, or damages it indirectly is unforgivable in Pakistan’s patriarchal society. “Gender relations in Pakistan rest on two basic perceptions; that women are subordinate to men, and that a man’s honour resides in the actions of the women of his family” — (Lewis 1994). Not only are the restrictions of women’s liberty maintained in the name of this honour, but they can also be put to death if they lose this honour.

“A man was tried for killing his daughter and a young man when he found them in a ‘compromising state’. The sessions (trial court) judge sentenced the father to life imprisonment, and a fine of Rs 20,000. The case came before the Lahore High Court, which reduced the sentence to five years, and the fine to Rs 10,000. In its judgment drastically reducing the defendant’s sentence, the appellate court indicated that his actions were justified because his victims were engaged in immoral behaviour that could not be tolerated in an Islamic state such as Pakistan” — (Human Rights Watch 1999:14).


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