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     Volume 11 |Issue 38| September 28, 2012 |


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The wife-beaters in town

Syed Badrul Ahsan

Two young women did the unthinkable in Iran a few days ago. They punished a young cleric severely when he took it upon himself to tell them that they ought to cover themselves properly. You could say the young man brought the humiliation upon himself. He could have stopped himself from striding over to the young women and reminding them of what they must do with and about their bodies. One of those women, properly outraged, simply told him to cover his eyes. Well, he didn't heed the advice. He thought he was doing God's duty and contributing his bit to ridding the world of sin. Which is when he told those women a second time that they ought to cover themselves in the prescribed manner. And that is when the infuriated women pounced on him. He was pushed to the ground, after which the women went into something like primitive karate, leaving him stunned and, of course, wounded, not to say shamed.

We have all our sympathies for the young cleric. He ought not to have been subjected to the kind of assault those young women gave him. But, all things considered, you are tempted to ask the cleric what business he had of telling those women how they should be wearing their clothes. His probable answer will be that in the Islamic republic that Iran is, it is his moral responsibility to rectify wrongs when he sees them. And that is precisely where the problem lies. In conservative Muslim society, men generally tend to adopt a superior attitude to women. That again might be considered okay. But a real difficulty comes up when men begin to prescribe what women should wear and how they should carry themselves. The worst is when it is the state which defines the role of men or, in other words, tells them it is all right to lord it over women. Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and others, have been doing this job for decades, to our consternation.


It is rather strange how condescendingly and outrageously women are treated in societies like ours. There are educated wife-beaters around us, men who have been to Mecca to perform Hajj and yet have not become better human beings. These men count the tasveeh beads all day and then not miss any opportunity to humiliate their wives. You see these men putting on a sophisticated appearance in public, even making it a point of demonstrating their false love for their wives by putting their arms around them. And once they go back home, they go back to beating the wives again. Once that is done, they do their ablution, spread their prayer mats on the floor, and remember God in all their wickedness. These are men who live in this city you and I inhabit. These men live to make miserable the lives of their families.

The tales of suffering women are legion. Men who once seduced young women and made them elope with them have grown villainously old, unable to deal with the intellectual superiority of their wives. These are shrewd men who make it a point to keep up normal, even friendly links with their in-laws, never letting on how badly they treat their wives back home. But there are women, Bengali women, who have hit back in absolutely justified manner. An elderly educated woman once revealed the truth to her happily startled audience: after a lifetime of beating at the hands of her husband, she picked up her slippers one day and had them land on his face right and left, in the presence of the servants and the security guard. And that did it. Never again did the husband assault the wife. He spent the rest of his life in the manner of a beaten, old, toothless tiger.

Should every woman who gets beaten by her husband pay him back in his own coin? Here's the answer: she should either go public with a complaint before the proper authorities or, if she is brave enough to do that, simply strike back. These husbands find nothing wrong in finding flaws in their wives, even going to the extent of questioning their moral character. Some of these men carry hypocrisy a little farther: they make their way to something called farmhouses in the company of women young enough to be their daughters, away from the wives they reduce to pulp day after day. And then they get caught by the police. The shame they have regularly subjected their wives to are then, ironically, visited on them.

And that is the unvarnished truth. There are men who, like the mullah in Iran, take it upon themselves to educate women on the raiment that must cover their corporeal beings. And then, in Bangladesh, there lurk in many sad homes across this chaotic city beastly men who fiendishly go looking for women to humiliate through physical assault or verbal abuse or both. The state must have a responsibility in putting these men away, in making the home safe for their women. If it cannot do that, tens of thousands of women will be reduced to psychological wrecks. A few will try not to lose their sanity. A few others might end up reversing conditions, when they cannot take it any more, by humiliating the men who have humiliated them all their married lives.

We must cheer that last band of women. If the animal in men refuses to be cowed down, show them the ferocity of women driven by righteous anger and push them up against a wall. Those young women in Iran and that elderly woman in Bangladesh did the right thing. They have sent out a message to all suffering women: Let fear strike the black souls of men whose manliness consists in beating their wives, in insulting them in public. The prayer beads these men use, the religiosity they profess, the hypocrisy they flaunt every day --- all of these must be exposed. These are men who destroy lives. They go mad before they die. And they die screaming, frothing at the mouth as the last breath escapes them. #

The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.



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