Ernest Dempsey — Talking of the human refusal to call young animals “children”—a psychological ploy to carry on killing animals for
quelling the palate’s lust—in my previous column, I missed the point that humans do kill their children, their very own children. And brutally so. The killing of a three-month-old baby girl by her father in India has again made it painfully clear that humans can be terribly dangerous to their kind, including their own children. The child in this latest case lost her life to the brutal attack because the man had wanted a son—a male child—and a daughter making entry in his house, as his responsibility, was not acceptable. All he needed was excuse enough to get violent and put into action what was on his mind.
This tragedy once again shows the power of hatred against the female gender ingrained in traditional cultures of the sub-continent (India and Pakistan) where daughters are more often than not considered a burden and sons are welcomed as future bread-winners and supporters in old age. What this incident also shows is the helplessness of women and their fear of walking out on their husbands—or asking for divorce. This “Save Marriage” code of life stems from multiple social factors.
First, and don’t be surprised to hear it, religion: divorce is considered extremely undesirable in religious dogma, akin to the last option you can pick in ending a marital mess. Hindu and Muslim cultures both have demonized divorce so much for centuries that even today the poorly educated, lower social classes find it more than just a “little death” to have a divorced woman. Islam pressures you to get married and stay married.
Secondly, by Islamic law, if a woman asks for divorce, the man is exempted of meher—the amount of alimony fixed at the time of marriage (in written) which is to be paid by the husband in case he raises the step toward divorce. So abusive men often use the stratagem not to initiate the divorce process, but let the woman ask for it through a court. Women are thus at a loss and, if no reliable person is there to fall back on, try to manage the troubled marriage instead of asking for divorce.
Then there is the threat of life or safety from the husband’s side as well—in some cultures, even the man can be at risk of life for divorcing a wife. Revenge can be brutal; Fakhira is one example of many women who are subject to extreme torture, physical and mental, when they decide to part ways with the husband. Adding to the odds against women, the second sex is placed after a man in cultures in terms of the social respect she receives. Chances of divorced women finding a respectable place are few in the majority of less educated classes.
No wonder then that women like Reshma Bano—the mother of the victim of brutality—find it hard to walk out on the husband who comes home only to abuse and vent out his frustration or anger on his subordinate family. Poor women do want to save the marriage. But in this effort, they sometimes lose the most precious gift of nature, of God, of the universal spirit: their own child. Reshma Bano could have violated society’s rules by leaving her husband for good when he fist attacked the infant. But she wanted to save the marriage, stay in bounds, be the good woman of sick societal scriptures, the woman who saves the household. She should have, but certainly never had, thought that this madness could go to such extremes. And it did!
Heart-rending as this tragic case stands before us, the lesson is so urgent, blood-filled, and immediate: break the limits; break the marriage before it breaks you into pieces you may never be able to gather all your life.