ONE of the more neglected -- both by the government and society at large -- areas of public life in Pakistan is the institute of Darul Aman. It is supposed to be a 'shelter home' for women who need security from even their own near and dear ones.
In Punjab there is a Darul Aman in almost each of its 35 districts and almost all of them remain overcrowded, as violence and discrimination against women is rampant in our society.
For example, Multan's Darul Aman is made for 30 women but there are more than 80 of them while in Sahiwal space for 15 is filled with 35 inmates. The same is the situation in Lahore and other cities.
Leaving one's own home for an unknown destination must be the severest of pains and an act of last resort for any human being, particularly for a woman and that also in a society like that of ours heavily tilted against the female face.
It means when a woman leaves her home (it may be of her parents or her husband), she would be facing very hostile environment and unbearable life. And searching for more favourable and friendly environment she would reach Darul Aman. But alas!in many cases she finds herself in a worse situation. Darul Aman is a 'shelter home' but mostly it would acquire the shape of a jail.
Last year the situation saw a little bit improvement when the Punjab government recruited new in charges of Darul Amans who are mostly women whose behaviour has started sending positive signals about the institution. But in some cases where men are still in charge, the situation resembles hell.
Most of the inmates of Darul Aman are there through courts but it is rather unfortunate that even courts are under the influence of patriarchal society and are not fully sensitive to the emotional and environmental needs of the victims.
These hapless women are admitted in Darul Aman by court orders but in some emergency cases the court process proves counter-productive as the victim needs immediate protection.
Also these women cannot leave Darul Aman on their own without court orders, and when they wish to do so sometimes, they are given in the hands of their relatives who were the primary cause of their leaving the home. And in some such cases we have heard the news of the victim being killed.
Some international organisations such as Medicine de Monde (MDM) are also working for the betterment of Darul Aman inmates but the basic responsibility of making these 'shelter homes' worthy of their name -- which at present are neither shelter nor home in the real sense of words -- lies with the government.
Pakistan is signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which puts added legal and moral responsibility on the shoulders of the government, central as well as provincial.
They need to take immediate and effective measures to improve physical and environmental conditions of this institute of importance. There is immediate need to improve the hygienic condition in all Darul Amans. Next the quality of food should be improved.
Moreover, the inmates should be provided free, proper and prompt legal aid which should be coming forth from the provincial government. Also there should be proper and pertinent arrangement for mental and physical rehabilitation and vocational training so that when a victim of domestic violation leaves this shelter home, she is an efficient and effective member of our society and not a psychiatric patient.
A bill passed by the National Assembly some time back against domestic violation is a refreshing sign on the part of the government but the real test would be its implementation as there already exist some women-friendly laws on the statute book but they are not being acted upon.
Last but not the least is the role of courts, especially superior courts. Recently superior courts of the country have taken cognizance of the plight of the more vulnerable sections of society and passed very courageous and unprecedented orders for their security, welfare and rehabilitation in society.
One hopes that the same courts will take care of the interests of this most oppressed and suppressed section of womenfolk (who are already a disadvantaged part of our population) and issue orders/guidelines for improvement and better working of the institute of Darul Aman.