​A Room Of Her Own........

Umar Riaz 01 Apr 2016
If our society has to survive and grow, it must guarantee its women freedom from violence and oppression

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”Virginia Woolf’s majestic words delivered at the Cambridge University – where she demanded A Room on One’s Own for educated women, and guaranteed literary and academic wonders in return – have proven prophetic. Wonders have happened in societies where women achieved freedom and equality.But in our country, thousands of women are killed every year, and many more are assaulted, beaten, harassed and victimized. Millions suffer in the very households meant to give them protection. Normally, when a citizen feels insecure, vulnerable or unprotected, he or she looks towards the state for relief. Every day, the arches of our superior courts echo with the prayers of aggrieved citizens, who knock at the doors of justice for relief from wrongs done by the state or another person. The most common complaint against the state is its failure to protect life, dignity and property of its citizens.But when a conscientious government takes a special measure to protect half of its citizenry, there is a sudden uproar by a very vocal clergy. They claim to be spiritual leaders, but are always on the side of perpetrators of violence –terrorists, murderers, and now wife beaters. They are always on the wrong side of history, civility, progress and common sense, while using the name of a religion that ended darkness and brought light, ended oppression and brought emancipation, ended superstitions and brought progress.
They are always on the wrong side of history
The Punjab Protection of Women Act does nothing more or less than any other special law dealing with special circumstances, ranging from control of narcotics, anti-corruption, or the protection of children. It brings a special administrative structure to protect women who are victims of violence. The Women Protection Centers that it sets up have representatives of various government departments, such as police and prosecution, as well as medical and psychological help, under one roof. The District Women Protection Officer will be a focal person to coordinate with other departments. The new law provides that only a competent family court,under the Family Court Act of 1964, can issue interim orders for protection against monetary loss, forced eviction and violence against the aggrieved person, which is a woman in this case. Like other laws dealing with family matters, this law gives a mediation and reconciliation mechanism under the Women Protection Committee which has governmental as well as private members.The law has been promulgated after intense consultations with all the stakeholders. Having been part of the working group for its implementation, I can vouch for the deliberations about its need and applicability.The issue however is not with the law. The issue is with the mindset of monopoly over the setting of the national direction. A group of self-proclaimed protectors of honour is insisting that when a married woman is thrown out on the street, she should go for a stroll in Bagh-e-Jinnah; or when acid is thrown on a young girl, she should just apply an ointment and pray for the reformation of her attackers. The concept of family home for them is like a mini-prison, where the Sahib is a jailor and the womenfolk are at his service mentally and physically; or a graveyard, where women are buried alive in the name of marriage.Heavens will fall if her voice is heard outside the brick walls, even if she is being abused and beaten. There will be earthquakes and floods, tsunamis and dengue, and what not, if fifty percent of our population will just have a faint hope of protection. They might even have found a justification for Sati, to throw widows into their husbands’ funeral pyre, had it not been a Hindu practice.Such opposition of special measures to protect women from violence is senseless at best and painful at worst. Those who want half of the population to become slaves of the other half are doing injustice to the society and the country. A society built on such a mindset will be economically impoverished, mentally disturbed, socially suffocated and politically silenced. It will be a backwards, illiterate, regressive, hypocritical and closed society. In other words, it will be a dead society.Faiz Ahmed Faiz had dedicated his poem Aaj ke Naam “to those wives, whose bodies have grown tired of being endlessly adorned in lovelesshypocritical rooms” (unn beeahaton ke naam jin ke badan be-muhabbat riyaakar seijon pe saj saj ke uktaa gaye hain). If this society has to grow and survive, it has to ensure a room of her own for all women, free of violence and oppression.