WHEN Fatema Sohail published a disturbing account of physical, mental and verbal abuse that she suffered allegedly at the hands of her husband, actor Mohsin Abbas Haider, it came as a shock to many. Yet her words were simply an echo of what millions of women suffer silently within their homes all over the world. Unlike in other countries, however, police cases are rarely registered against the abusers in Pakistan, due to the perpetuation of a culture of shame and silence. On her Facebook account, and then later at a press conference, Ms Sohail recounted several instances of cruelty and battery by her husband, where she was “dragged”, “kicked” and “punched” violently, including, shockingly, when she was three months’ pregnant with their child. Given that women here are often not believed when they speak up about injustice and abuse, she displayed photographs of her bruises for the world to see as hard ‘evidence’ of the crime. Some within the show business industry also corroborated her account, while many vocalised their support for her as well as for other victims of domestic violence. It takes a great deal of courage and strength to come forth with such stories in our society, where matters like these are quickly hushed up and brushed under the carpet. Regrettably, suffering is normalised as part of the experience of being a ‘good woman’. Indeed, violence against women is also normalised in film and television. So amongst all the outpouring of support, there were the expected comments from the self-appointed upholders of ‘tradition’ telling her to not discuss ‘matters of the home’ in public — ill-begotten ‘advice’ that most Pakistani women have had to endure after suffering unforgiveable violence against their body and spirit — while others questioned her truthfulness and her account of events.
The fact is that those who abuse once will do it again — over and over again — and women from all social strata are vulnerable to it. Fatema Sohail is extremely brave to leave a situation that was dangerous for her and her child, and for taking a stand against the worst of patriarchy. Hopefully, her actions will encourage other women in a similar situation to do the same, to not blame themselves nor accept blame by others for the behaviour of men who should do better. It is time to speak up, and this is the right time to begin the conversation against domestic abuse.
Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2019