The position of women in the world is more fragile than that of men. From the cradle to the grave, women are subject to myriad problems, and vulnerable to numerous physical and psychological maltreatments. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm rightly remarks: "The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says 'It's a girl"'. Though with the rise of human rights awareness and feminist movementsthe overall condition of women is gradually improving, it is much below the expectation line.
The position of women in Bangladesh is doubly fragile, first for being a woman and second for being a Bangladeshi woman. They are prey to both physical and mental abuse. The condition of the women in the villages is far worse. Like the sittingducks, they are easy targets for the male hunters. The shattering blow to their womanhood first falls down upon them in the guise of dowry. Although a penal offence, the dowry system is rampant in rural Bangladesh. Daughters are liabilities to the family while the sons are assets. The parents feel relieved of their liabilities by marrying them off for dowry in cash or kind. The full payment of this dowry sometimes takes longer time or the venal husbands grow greedier for more. Both cases lead to tortures on the wives that range from physical punishments to mental torments. They are routinely abused by their nearest and dearest. The corporal torture sometimes stays suspended, but mental torture is a constant companion. The bruises on the body caused by beating disappear in course of time, but the marks of mental sufferings are everlasting and more excruciating. The women grin and bear it. They cannot protest because they have to live with their tormentors under the same roof. The US journalist Evelyn Cunningham precisely puts it: "Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors". The former US Attorney General has authenticated it by saying that 'to many American women live in fear of the very people upon whom they depend for love and affection. Instead of providing refuge, the walls of many homes serve as prison bars'. This is what we call domestic violence. It is an astonishing fact that in every 12 seconds, an act of domestic abuse occurs in the United States.
As far as Bangladesh is concerned, almost all homes, more or less, are private prisons where women are serving different terms of imprisonment. Statistics show that about 90 percent Bangladeshi women are abused by their husbands, and it is rising at an alarming rate. The highly controversial feminist writer, Taslima Nasrin has very humorously described the thing. As she puts it: " Women violence is like waking up in the morning; like going for a pee; like brushing teeth; like drinking tea; like buying half a pack of cigarettes from the local stall; like going to office everyday by bus; like having a short nap after lunch; like having an idle chit-chat on the rock; like squeezing khoinee on the palm and putting a pinch of it in the mouth; like a couple of pegs in the evening; like watching a cricket match on the television; like going to bed after night meals giving belches and scratching groins?. Women violence is so regular, so normal!"
By domestic violence, we mean abuse or battering that occurs in a family by one partner against the other, for the purpose of maintaining supremacy. Though domestic abuse often includes physical battering, it also includes sexual abuse, psychological battering, verbal abuse, threats and intimidation, isolation or restriction from family, friends and other support systems, deprivation of physical and economic resources, destruction of property, financial exploitation, jealousy and passiveness, stalking or monitoring of behavior etc. This battering may begin with threats, name calling, abuse and/or damage to objects or pets, and escalate into restraining, pushing, kicking, slapping, pinching, tripping, biting, throwing, or grabbing and evenlife-threatening with criminal behavior such as choking, bone-breaking, or the use of lethal weapons.
But how long can flesh and blood endure these years of domestic battering? The helpless women sometimes give up completely, and seek refuge in suicide. There are numberless suicide incidents resulting from prolonged domestic violence. When the burden of torture becomes unbearably heavy, the victims kill themselves by hanging with scarves around their neck or by taking poison. Following things are the routine procedures. The forensic analysis of the dead bodies testifies to the suicide, and they are laid to eternal rest. Although their men are the root cause for their abnormal death, the long arm of law cannot touch even the tuft of their head. The men however, shed crocodile tears to the deceased's near ones, but do not forget to wear the wedding crown before the funeral rites are properly observed. This time the rate of dowry is lower than before. But it is there. They are males and therefore the 'golden rings', which are better even if curved. This is a socio-cultural stereotype where are rooted the seeds of all forms of women exploitations. The society is always forgiving of men's behaviour towards women and therefore the 'curved rings' tend to gain the upper hand. The author Raine Eisler agrees: "For the most recorded history?men's violence against wives was explicitly or implicitly condoned." Though domestic violence is a punishable offence, the women batterers are doing this with impunity.
As far as legal positivism is concerned, the law- making process is an open-ended process that develops through different socio-political and cultural phenomena. To guard against all possible occurrences harming human existence on earth, laws should be made, altered, and implemented in keeping with the flux of matter, space, and time. Moreover, the creation of law is not enough in itself to ensure its effectiveness. The total success depends on how effectively it canbe enforced. Only for the lack of proper implementation, people are not fully enjoying the fruit of law in many respects. However, if people cannot have any means within the law to get legal cure or if there is no specific law for certain things, what would they expect from judicature? Improper implementation of law makes things bad but no-law makes them worse. Domestic violence against women in Bangladesh is such an issue. There are laws about physical domestic violence, but no specific law about mental abuse.Hence the victims of psychological abuse are the worst sufferers. It is however time for the issue to be seriously addressed. Circles relating to our law-making and enforcing processes have to play a key role in this regard.
If any physical violence is meted out to a woman in the society, our legal system at least takes cognizance of it. But cases of mental violence are usually outside of the province of the prevalent law. There is no direct legal management as such to impose effective sanctions against the mental tormentors. The victims of mental tortures cannot justifiably bare their soul to the law-enforcers, and hence get no legal cure. If one tries for legal justice indirectly, they fail to produce adequate evidence of her mental persecution. So the blind law does not hear their cries from beyond the absence of concrete evidence. Finally, they come back home with empty hands and sore heart. The torture multiplies, and justice cries in the wilderness. It beggars belief how things could be that bad.
But how long will this go on to continue? How long will the silent cries of these helpless women go unheeded? The buck stops here. It is time to take it into serious account. Women constitute the half of our total population and take equal part in the overall development of the nation. How can we expect a perfectly developed nation without a perfectly developed woman population? Napoleon Bonaparte shows women development as an essential prerequisite for national development. To quote: "Give me good mothers and I will give you a good nation." Abigail Adams, the first Second Lady and the second First Lady of the United States, clarifies: "If we mean to have heroes, statesmen, and philosophers we should learn from women." The former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan echoes the same view: "When women thrive, all of the society benefits and succeeding generations are given a better start in life." So, there is no room for underrating women's role in social development. We should not turn a deaf ear to their sorrows and sufferings any longer.
But how can we help it? The laws relating to the trial of women oppression in our country should be enforced fairly and squarely. New laws should be made to try the mental torture cases in particular. The government, the law-makers, and the members of the civil society should come up with the introduction of specific law regarding mental torture on our women. That is sure not going to be the panacea for this problem. As a matter of fact, the problem is related to the very culture of the community. So, there should be efforts to change the cultural attitudes towards women. American author and activist Charlotte Bunch agrees. In her words: "Sexual, racial, gender violence and other forms of discrimination and violence in a culture cannot be eliminated without changing culture." Above all, women should not only be hanging on the charitable favours to be extended to them from time to time as 'the second/weaker sex'. They should learn to stand on their own feet, and detect their real enemy, and wage fight. An eminent contemporary feminist Betty Friedan points out: "Men are not the enemy, but the fellow victims. The real enemy is women's denigration of themselves." Friedan also shows the way to emancipation. In her own words: "The only way for a woman, as for a man, is to find herself, to know herself as a person.(not as a woman).There is no gainsaying Friedan's prescription with regard to Bangladeshi women in and world- women in general.r
writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University. Email: [email protected]