No end to violence

Published December 7, 2022
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

LAST month, a man came home to his wife and children. The home had two floors. He stopped on the ground floor and met his mother. Then he proceeded upstairs where he lived with his wife and three daughters, the eldest of whom was 16. He then sat down for a meal with his daughters, but a fight broke out between him and his wife.

His eldest daughter started to cry because she and her sisters were tired of their parent’s constant fighting. This angered the man so much that he allegedly killed his eldest daughter in a fit of rage. Then he proceeded to kill the two younger girls while they slept.

Finally, he killed his wife as well. He then proceeded to take pictures of the dead women and sent them to his creditors who had been hounding him for the repayment of loans he had taken from them. After that, he proceeded to try to kill himself as well but was unsuccessful and is alive today.

The story of the Malik murders has now been reported by many media outlets. According to the Dawn report, the suspected murderer typed out a note on a mobile phone and it is his version of what happened. When the police arrived at the scene, the man was also bleeding so he was taken to the hospital.

The funerals of his wife and daughters, killed because of one man’s rage, were held and the four women buried. The man, who appears to have recovered from his injury, has now been taken into custody.

The horror of these murders and those of so many other women before them just curdles the blood. How can a whole family living in an ordinary home and likely leading ordinary lives end up in this condition?

What goes through the heads of men who can kill their children in their sleep and force a mother to hear the screams of her children as they die? And, in the majority of such events, the man always lives.

The bullets they fire at themselves miss the mark, but the blows and wounds they inflict on women are always accurate.

In this case, the suspected murderer chose to slash his own neck. Would it not be to show that he too had been victimised by his creditors? Such self-harm is not unknown. The women are always silenced, and the men always live. The bullets they fire at themselves, or the way they slash their own neck, is always just off the mark and not enough to annihilate. Conversely, the blows and wounds they inflict on women are always accurate.

The Malir murders took place during the ‘Sixteen Days of Activism’, a project that was initiated by the United Nations in 1991 and which attempts to draw attention to the continuing problem of gender-based violence all over the world.

Every year, the UN and its affiliated organisations hold special events around these days, including conferences and meetings to bring the issue some attention. The events are held at the UN headquarters and at many other locations around the world.

However, the murders of women continue to increase, not only in Pakistan but all around the world. It is interesting to note the cases in which men murder women and then either pretend to kill themselves (and fail) or say that they don’t know where the wife and children are.

This latter trick was what the husband did in the famous case of Shannan Watts. After saying that his wife had taken his two daughters somewhere, the husband-murderer finally confessed that he had killed his wife and daughters and had stuffed their bodies in an oil barrel. The lives of a family were extinguished just like that.

It is hard to not question the value of days of activism and awareness. In Pakistan, when women coalesce around this issue and try to create space for a conversation, they are thwarted at every turn.

The Aurat March receives tons of criticism when it promotes slogans of ‘mera jism, meri marzi’ or ‘my body, my right’. This slogan which is a simple cry for bodily autonomy and freedom which all humans should be able to enjoy is condemned for being too scandalous.

How dare women ask for something like autonomy over their own bodies when society has decided that they exist to please others? How dare women take up space in public and draw attention to just how vulnerable they are to male violence?

Through this sort of pointless and shameful derision, in which, sadly, many women themselves play a role, tacit permission is given to the rest of society to go on hurting women.

That is the reason why it is so difficult to have faith in change. Even after decades of yearly commemorations and countless conferences and panels and discussions, progress seems elusive and the effort to end gender-based violence becomes pointless.

Add to this the fact that the UN has not even been able to eliminate such acts in its own ranks. According to a report published in September of this year; there have been at least 1,800 instances in which UN soldiers have been accused of sexual assault.

The worst situation is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is little information available regarding which country the soldiers are from (troops are also serving in this mission from our part of the world) but perhaps it does not matter. All men everywhere seem to be united in their efforts to hurt women.

There has got to be a better way. UN bureaucrats may carry on as usual, offer up more or less the same solutions (which have obviously not worked). One wonders whether there will ever be a day when women can enjoy the same level of security that is available to men.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

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