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sacw dispatch (17 April 00)

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Web Dispatch 17 April 2000 _________________________ #1. India: Feminist Activist From the Ranks of the Working Class #2. Pakistan: Crimes
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 17, 2000
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      South Asia Citizens Web Dispatch
      17 April 2000
      #1. India: Feminist Activist From the Ranks of the Working Class
      #2. Pakistan: Crimes Against women: within Chaddar & Chardiwari


      Source: IPS Gender Bulletin/
      Women as Leaders Series
      3 April 2000

      INDIA: Feminist Activist From the Ranks of the Working Class

      By Laxmi Murthy

      NEW DELHI, 31 Mar (IPS) - From breaking stones under the blazing desert sun
      in India's northwestern Rajasthan State, Shanti has defied convention at
      every stage of her life.

      "Oh that one!" exclaims the keeper of a small shop in the lane near her
      modest home, "she's not a woman, she's a storm."

      Shanti has her own explanation for the transformation of her life, from a
      village woman to a fiery feminist activist crusading for the rights of
      "single" women, a category she has helped to broaden to include deserted,
      divorced and widowed women.

      "My personal situation forced me to search for answers and led to an
      understanding of 'single women' as a category," she says. Aged "somewhere
      in my fifties", Shanti has been a widow for the last 14 years. But she
      refused to either wear widow's white or take help from her brothers.

      Her in-laws tried to grab her one-room house, but she waged a long battle
      to assert her claim, standing up to the "double standards" in Indian
      society that simultaneously sees widows as "vulnerable" (to pressure) and
      sexually "available" (to male members of the family).

      Shanti has always been a rebel. Born into a poor family, which sometimes
      could afford only dry 'rotis' (bread), she was married at 14 to a man twice
      her age, but she refused to go to her husband's home, which was unthinkable
      40 years ago.

      A shocked village retaliated by ex-communicating Shanti when she married a
      young man of her choice. They took refuge in the anonymity of Delhi,
      settling down in Dakshinpuri, a soul-less resettlement colony for the
      working class on the outskirts of the city.

      Here in the crowded warrens of the 'basti', where one-roomed homes open
      into identical one-roomed homes, the alienated womenfolk, all migrants like
      Shanti, gravitated to her to chat, to share their sorrow or just for a good
      laugh. Shanti's knowledge of herbs and medicinal plants, as well as
      experience as a mid-wife only added to her stature in the local community.

      Inevitably this natural vitality and dynamism drew her into the women's
      movement; those were the early eighties, a time of great ferment when
      "women's liberation" and "feminism" were not mere words but movements for
      women emerging into their own.

      "I was completely ignorant about the women's movement, until an older women
      >from my 'basti' who was working in a women's group introduced me to her
      work," reminisces Shanti.

      A training workshop was her first exposure to feminist ideas and to women
      questioning every aspect of their lives. Shanti says what struck her most
      about the meeting was the strong linkages between women, whether they were
      rich or poor.

      Before long she had joined as a full time worker with the 'Sabla Sangh'
      women's group. At Subhash Camp, near her home, she interacted with hundreds
      of women, assisting in their daily problems and battles with the
      authorities and family.

      Although the most common problems were the lack of regular supplies of
      drinking water, public toilets and the menace of liquor vends where the
      menfolk drank away their meagre wages, Shanti forced open the issue of
      domestic violence.

      For the first time, cases were registered with the police, while abusive
      husbands and fathers were ostracised by the community. Abused women who
      said they wanted to build a new life for themselves were given moral

      Shanti's rock-solid presence, and that of a supportive womens groups right
      in their midst, helped many women break the silence around wife-battering.
      What the women's movement gave each one was a sense of self-worth. By
      asserting the right of "single" women to register houses and ration cards
      in their names, Shanti says they've succeeded in making public the many
      women-headed households in 'bastis' like Dakshinpuri.

      Local leaders have grown to respect, albeit grudgingly, this assertive
      woman who has little regard for social norms.

      "She is not what you would call the "ideal Indian woman", but she certainly
      knows what the women of the basti want," is the opinion of the
      representative of a right-wing political party, which holds extremely
      atriarchal views.

      Over the years, inspired by Shanti, many women from the 'basti' have
      enlisted as activists. Inevitably, the politicisation process has led to
      their questioning the mainstream women's movement.

      Shanti offers a critique from below: feminist theorists, she says, are busy
      attending seminars and workshops, and write books about our experience
      while we still struggle with our lives.

      As if to illustrate her point, a desperate woman arrives at the Single
      Women's Centre run by Jagori, which Shanti joined five years ago.

      The woman says her daughter was very ill, and she needs 5,000 rupees for an
      operation. "If I don't lend her the money, her daughter will probably die.
      For us this is the dilemma -- provide help or work only at changing the
      larger picture."

      Not for one moment does Shanti regret the years she has spent working with
      women, although she wonders about its effect on her six children.

      "Full-time feminism leaves little scope for child rearing. My notions of
      motherhood underwent a sea change." But her innate optimism pushes away the
      misgivings. "It is always tough to swim against the tide ... My women
      friends in the basti are my true support," she says.

      As she rejoins a group of women at their weekly meeting, Shanti breaks into
      a song she has composed: "Alone I haul the domestic cart. Let the world
      dare to call me weak...". (END/IPS/lm/an/sm/00)

      News on Sunday / The News International
      15 April 2000


      The Marital Rape --

      Violence sanctified under contractual legitimacy

      by Shafqat Munir

      Rape is a serious crime against women whether it happens in or outside
      marriage. But, it is not

      acknowledged as crime when happens in marriage. Like incest, we are not
      bold enough to accept

      the fact that marital rape takes place in routine in most of the families.
      Normally, people involved in
      marital rape do not even realise that they used to rape their wives. The
      victims of the marital rape

      even do not know whether they are being subjected to this sort of rape
      rather they feel that

      whatever is being done is permitted in marriage contract.

      Marital rape is the worst form of domestic and gender based violence
      against married women.

      Though no scientifically documented data is available on the marital rape
      in Pakistan, a vast

      majority of Pakistan's male spouses (husbands) assume that they are the
      masters of their wives.

      They do not give importance to consent and choice of their wives while
      having sex or taking any

      decision to have babies. An overwhelming majority of husbands, under one
      or the other pretext,

      do not like to share moments of enjoyment which is otherwise protected
      under the UN Convention

      on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
      Generally, it is

      viewed rather preached that women's enjoyment do not matter while having
      sex with husbands

      and she is supposed to satisfy the male partner. This sort of
      discrimination against women

      violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human
      dignity. Article 16 of the

      CEDAW which deals with marriage and family reads as: "Women shall have
      equal rights and

      responsibilities with men in matters relating to marriage and family
      relations in particular:

      * To enter into marriage; * To choose a spouse; * During the marriage and
      its dissolution; * As

      parents, irrespective of marital status; * To choose freely the number and
      spacing of their children

      and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them
      to exercise these

      rights * With regard to guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption
      of children; * The same

      personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a
      family name, profession and

      occupation; * With regard to ownership, acquisition management,
      administration, enjoyment and

      disposition of property. In daily life, due to shyness and traditions, our
      women do not speak out

      or report sexual abuse by husbands considering they are entitled to do so
      and the victims are

      destined to obey. Though another worst abuse of women is not found in
      Pakistani society, in

      some parts of primitive Arab society, circumcision of women is a well
      established tradition. Under

      this inhuman act, they use to cut off the labia minora or clitoris of a
      female to what they call

      cleanse her from sin. They do this cruel act just to make their wives
      'pure' by depriving them of the

      part of skin or bodies which cause pleasure or sexual enjoyment for women.

      But in societies where women are not circumcised, they are deprived of
      having enjoyment by
      resorting to one-way sexual intercourse. This tantamount to marital rape.
      Some sadists go to the

      extent of inserting outside objects in genitals of women. This is worst
      kind of marital rape. A

      human rights watchdog organisation Human Rights Watch in its report "Crime
      or custom?

      -Violence Against Women in Pakistan" has presented a set of
      recommendations to the

      government of Pakistan on human rights violations of women. It said: "The
      Offence of Zina

      Ordinance, which codifies Pakistan's current law on rape and
      adultery/fornication, does not

      provide an adequate legal avenue for victims of rape to obtain justice and
      should be repealed."

      Analysing the situation on ground, the recommendations say The Zina
      Ordinance discourages

      rape victims from filing charges by presenting the threat of potential
      prosecution for adultery.

      These laws are also seriously flawed because they fail to criminalise
      marital rape and to establish

      the crime of statutory rape or sex with or without the consent of a minor.
      Furthermore, the

      definition of rape encompassed by the Zina Ordinance is incomplete; the
      definition of rape should

      include anal and oral penetrations as well as penetration by foreign
      objects such as sticks, bottles,

      or knives. The Human Rights Watch recommends that the former provisions of
      the Pakistan Penal

      Code on rape should be re-enacted into law with amendments to make marital
      rape a criminal

      offense and to incorporate the broader definition of rape given above.

      According to the Human Rights Watch report, it is estimated that eight
      women are raped every 24

      hours in Pakistan and 70 to 95 percent of women have experienced domestic
      violence. Few women

      report the crimes and fewer still see their attackers brought to justice.
      Though the report did not

      particularly given data about marital rape, it can easily be calculated
      that when 70 to 95 percent

      women face domestic violence (visible), most of them usually face marital
      rape (invisible). Rapes

      are reported to some extent, but marital rapes are not reported as both
      the attackers (husbands)

      and the victims (wives) usually do not realise that rape (sexual
      intercourse without consent of

      wives being the one sided pleasure game) is being done in routine. This
      has been commonly

      observed that those husbands who commit domestic violence against their
      wives use to have sex

      with them even if they (the victims) do not like. Such sort of marital
      rape is common in our society,

      but it is not reported or complained about due to legal lacuna and social
      and legal protection to

      wives. In Pakistan, a horrible case of marital rape and abuse was
      unearthed in February, 1994 in

      which one Qari Muhammad Sharif, Imam of a local mosque in village Jhammat
      in Attock district

      committed the worst kind of sexual torture and raped his wive Zainab Noor.
      According to the

      medical evidence authenticated by a Speedy Trial Court in Rawalpindi, the
      victim had lost atleast

      three organs of her body--vagina, anus and urinary bladder. Moreover she
      lost her honour. The

      Speedy Trial Court awarded 30 years rigorous imprisonment to Qari Sharif.
      Her life became

      miserable as she lives on artificial system that too after her
      reconstructive surgery in London. She

      was sent to UK on the directives of the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

      Zainab Noor had narrated her tale in a dying voice: "I was beaten and
      dragged in the house for

      hours till late in the evening. Then he (Qari) took me to bed, tied my
      hands and legs with a rope,

      inserted two iron rods in ... attached two electric wires with each of the
      two iron rods and

      connected them with the switch board. There was no electricity due to
      loadshedding. The moment

      electricity came, he switched it on and played havoc.{ Though ill-fated
      Zainab survived but with

      only a miserable life, an abnormal life. This case had created a lot of
      debate in Pakistan. The human

      rights activists and international women bodies condemned this act. With
      this case, a weak voice

      against marital rape and torture was raised which became louder and the
      Human Rights Watch
      mentioned marital rape in its recommendations for declaring it a crime. The
      vulnerable women, the

      poor illiterate house-servants, used to face threats by their husbands on
      suspicions. One such

      survived victim told this columnist that her husband has threatened her of
      dire consequences for

      suspicions that she might have some outside relations. "One day, my
      husband tortured me in the

      day and at night, he asked me for a sex. On my refusal, he brought an iron
      rod and threatened that

      he would do what Qari had done with Zainab Noor. As soon as he positioned
      the rod, I managed

      to escape and called in neighbours," she said. Many more cases could be
      documented which

      relate to violence and sexual abuse in marriage. Since, there is no law
      which guarantees women

      against marital rape, no victim even reports such rape to close relatives.
      That is why the Human

      Rights Watch on the basis of a research in Pakistan's two major cities
      Lahore and Karachi has

      recommended to declare marital rape as crime so that the victims can report.

      There seems to be two sorts of marital rapes. One in torturous and
      intentional manner and the

      other in terms of having one-sided sexual act in which woman has no role.
      There is need to change

      approach towards women's sexual feelings and needs. Fulfilment of these
      needs, as in case of men

      is done, is not against the spirit of religion or law rather depriving
      women of their enjoyment in

      either way is clear violation of basic rights of women. In any case, the
      married women be protected

      against marital rape and torture. Their right to choose and consent must
      be honoured as they are

      not a commodity in custody rather they are fully grown human beings who
      enjoy all rights equal

      to men.
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