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Plight Beneath the Veil

M.S. Ganesh

By Rashida Patel
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2003, pp. 247, Rs. 395.00

Edited by Mohammad Yasin and Tariq Banuri
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2004, pp. 221, Rs. 375.00


Domestic violence, that pandemic phenom- enon that besets the girl child and pursues her into womanhood, is a crucible. It tests her mettle and her mental fatigue till the iron enters her soul or her soul is cast into irons. Whether the chadar is maili on this side of the LOC or that, the plight beneath the veil is much the same. It is the universal epitome of woman’s subordination. It moves from the symbolic to the sadistic. In metaphor, it is the English idiom of a woman, a dog, a walnut tree or the old Russian custom of the bride’s father tapping with a whip and handing it over to the groom. In action, it is assault, battering, acid-burning and pyromania. The imagery of justice as a blindfolded woman completes the cruel irony; she cannot see or realize justice for herself.   There are two perceptions of this social imbalance. One is to address it as a core issue and analyse its dynamics towards a resolution devoutly to be wished. The other is to relegate it as a peripheral, marginal and incidental problem that can be taken care of by a macro level governance exercise in social statics. The first of the two books under review takes the former, empathetic approach. The second barely touches upon woman’s rights and gives domestic violence not even a passing reference. The author of the one is a woman activist lawyer: the co-editors/ contributors of the other are made of academia and research in political science and economics. They not merely broadcast on different channels, their airwaves are different.   Rashida Patel, an advocate, author of four previous books on the issue, and president of the Pakistan Women Lawyer’s Association (PAWLA), makes no secret of her assessment that in the existing milieu in Pakistan, “women are the poorest of the poor and the most oppressed of the oppressed” (p.xvi). Thematically, she places domestic violence at the heart of her discourse.   Patel is forthright: “….Violence against women has reached crisis levels in Pakistan. It is an obstacle and deterrent to development. Domestic violence in Pakistan is deemed to be a private matter and as something that does not belong in the courts….. Social taboos and lack of family support for shelter leaves women no alternative but to bear their lot.” (p.113). Much of the social sanction to and acceptance of domestic ...

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