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The flip side of domestic violence

May 21, 2012

Last week, as I was scanning through news channels, I came across a report on an issue which plagues us all, brought Pakistan its first Oscar award and has been a reason of much negative publicity for the country—a disease called acid attack.

For a change, though, the report and the footage surprised me slightly since the victim of the assault was not a woman, but a man called Sheikh Muhammad Noman and the short documentary entailed the sudden surge of acid attacks against men in Pakistan.

Intrigued by the hypothesis and the arguments of the report, I went searching for content on the story. To my surprise, the crime did not receive much attention from any major Pakistani news channel, except for some minor details on how the crime was perpetrated and the summary of how Pakistani women are now seeking revenge for the unfair treatment they have been receiving since years, on online and print media.

I was wondering if the coverage, or lack of it, by the local press and non-governmental organisations would have been the same had the victim been a woman? Shouldn’t violence be curtailed at all levels, regardless of who instigates it? And most importantly, do abusers have a ‘gender’? Aren’t all victims entitled to the same treatment?

Searching for answers to these thoughts, I looked for organisations working for men’s rights in Pakistan and quite amazingly, I drew a blank. No matter how male dominated and patriarchal our society appears to be, there are no organisations working specifically for the welfare and betterment of men in our country.

Things are a bit different across the border, as Indian men have formed various NGOs to fight for their rights.

According to Atit Rajpara, President of Men’s Rights Association (MRA), “many Indian men have resorted to suicide in order to break free from their matrimonial troubles. The suicide rate of married men is extremely high and the ratio is growing by leaps and bounds every year.”

Surprisingly, the stigma of ‘domestic violence’ also affects men. “Men also become victims of domestic violence. In fact, a huge percentage of them are being subjected to domestic violence globally. It was only after we established MRA that we realised that men have complaints and they also suffer,” he told me on the phone from Pune.

Despite being used to dealing with such complaints, Rajpara says some of the cases are “beyond sanity.”

“One of the strangest complaints that we received was about a wife who had a ‘rate chart’ and asked for monetary compensation for all the domestic chores that she did separately,” Rajpara added.

When a woman abuses a man, the violence is conveniently attributed to revenge, a self-defence mechanism, mental ailment or many other justifiable excuses. At the same time, we also hold men accountable in cases of domestic abuse without giving a second thought to details and evidences. The fact that men are generally considered ‘evil’ and ‘oppressors’ is the main reason why we become irrational while such reporting crimes against men. It is not about women’s rights or men’s rights, it is about human rights, which are violated when a crime is committed. It is about constructing a better society where rights are mutually respected without any gender discrimination.

It is also extremely essential to understand that the abuse is not always physical. A sad example of emotional abuse comes from an octogenarian, who feels his wife’s years of taunting have left a ‘lifelong mark.’

“I lost my job in when my children were very young. My wife had a small boutique and that is how we were able to make our ends meet during that time. While I was always be indebted to her, but when I was unemployed she always misbehaved with me and called me ‘a good for nothing’ man in front of my children. I still feel that I am incapable of supporting my family and that is exactly how my children think. They do not respect me and my relationship with them has been altered for good.”

One of the reasons why we are such a violent and aggressive society is that we expose our younger generation to violence at an early age. Parents who are either verbally or physically abusive toward each other, in the presence of their children or otherwise, are unintentionally giving tutorials to their kids to follow in their footsteps. It won’t be wrong to suggest that violent parents lead to violent children, which means that unless we curb aggression from both the genders (yes, both) the cycle of violence will not break.

In our side of the world, men being victims to violence is still considered a taboo. Many men do not speak about their plight because for them it becomes an issue which hurts their pride. It is also important to understand that men generally lack proper channels to voice their complaints but they need to be vocal about the problems they face.

While fighting for rights, people in our society emphasise more on gender discrimination rather than gender equality. It is true that women are marginalised everyday but on the other hand, men are also discriminated on the basis of their gender. Separate queues, relaxed working hours and harassment laws are a clear indication of the gender discrimination men face every day.

In order to become civilised and control the aggression, we need to analyse our shortcomings. Expecting a solution by only analysing one side of the coin will not be helpful. Habitual violence should be discouraged and our focus should shift from women’s right to rights in general, without flagging them as top priority and least priority. Unless we are able to accept and respect human rights, we will not be able to eradicate or minimise cases of violence that stems very much from within and around us.


Faiza Mirza
The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com