While I was patiently substituting for my sister in Lahore College for Women University front of the Head of Department of Education so that she may guide me for the Phd programme, I overheard her advise one of her junior staff member, a woman aged between 25-28 in urdu “mujhe lagta hy tmhare sir py saas ka saya nahi hy jo tum itni nazuk bun gyi hu” – “I am afraid you are not living under the sunny shelter of your mother-in-law which is why you have become so frail and delicate”. The words yanked me out through the eclipse of weakness to the phosphorescent world of confidence and courage. The adversities are there only to make you firm and enduring and not as a curse.
The law of obedience is yet to be explored in regards to what we know of is encumbrance and compression. When it comes to families, the one who manages to conquer the other, ultimately succeeds to subjugate. It works both ways, from time immemorial it has been tested. At one point of time you are subjected to tyrannical symmetry of your own family or of your husband’s family and later you are offered to act like a pro in the same cadre which made your life bothersome. The law of nature too affirms the aforementioned fact that after the lapse of a certain duration, things change.
Enough with the ice breakers, lets jump to the burning up-to-the-minute piece of legislation which is “The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act, 2016”. A legislation for women, Yooohooo, kudos, we did it, or wait up, is it really a law for Women Protection or a mere suggestion? Is it an effort to please the so called educated, learned and women rights champion class? Is it to breakdown the institution of family?
I strongly contend that this legislation is in violation of Article 35 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 which says, “The State shall protect the marriage, the family, the mother and the child”. And here is why I said so. The Preamble of the Act is based on the Constitution, Article 25 of which says;
Since the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, while guaranteeing gender equality, enables the State to make any special provision for the protection of women, it is necessary to protect women against violence including domestic violence, to establish a protection system for effective service delivery to women victims and to create an enabling environment to encourage and facilitate women freely to play their desired role in the society, and to provide for ancillary matters;
What strikes me the most are the words “to encourage and facilitate women freely to play their desired role in the society”. By the way the title of the Act is inconsistent with the Preamble. Let me quote it here again. It is “The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act, 2016” whereas the preamble suggests it is a law against domestic violence only. The Bill was moved by Government on 25th may, 2015, passed by the Assembly 2/24/2016 and it stands confirmed as a Law by the Governor of Punjab on 2/29/2016. It has 31 sections with more procedural provisions than substantive. The Act out rightly names the women exposed to violence by a man as “aggrieved” Section 2 (a) i.e.
“aggrieved person” means a woman who has been subjected to violence by a defendant
And who is that defendant, let’s find out for ourselves here in Section 2(n);
“defendant” means a person against whom relief has been sought by the aggrieved person
So it does not talk about the gender of the defendant, it may be your mother, mother-in-law, sister or anyone who causes you any violence. What is pretty fishy here is that the definition of the defendant comes quite at the end whereas it starts with a “d” unlike the other definitions in Section 2 which follow the alphabetical order as generally and usually definitions are in alphabetical order in all Acts or Statutes.
Moving on, Section 2 (r) defines violence in these words i.e.
“violence” means any offence committed against a woman including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime”
It lists seven offences against women, i.e.
- Domestic violence
- Emotional abuse
- Psychological abuse
- Verbal abuse
- Economic abuse
- Cyber crime
Violence as far as I can see can be committed against women in three places which are;
- Public place (There may be cases of violence at secret hideouts but we should work with the public places at the moment)
For workplace there already exists harassment laws to cater to stalking or service laws to cater to abuse of any kind if it is not sexual. Economic abuse too can be dealt with by the same provisions which are provided for men and cyber laws for cyber-crimes. Certainly this “Violence” is not the one dealing with any such issues which are already addressed in different laws.
For public place too harassment laws are provided. Criminal provisions are provided for verbal abuse, cyber-crime and stalking and the other two kinds of abuse is nonexistent unless it is sexual. Economic abuse is also dealt by criminal provisions. The “violence” discussed is surely not for public places as well.
What is left is home and there you may experience domestic violence, economic abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse or stalking in exceptional circumstances but not the cyber one. Almost six of the types of violence fit the home situation which makes this law a law against domestic violence primarily and peculiarly. I see not a thing in the whole Act providing any details about the modus oprendi for seizing or capturing those stalking women or attacking or battering them in public. And to support this argument I shall quote some bits from Section 7 under the head of “protection order” by which the Court gives protection to the aggrieved person against the defendant in the following ways;
- not to have any communication with the aggrieved person, with or without exceptions;
- stay away from the aggrieved person, with or without exceptions;
- stay at such distance from the aggrieved person as may, keeping in view the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case, be determined by the Court;
- wear ankle or wrist bracelet GPS tracker to track the movement of the defendant twenty four hours, seven days a week;
- move out of the house;
- surrender any weapon or firearm which the defendant lawfully possesses or prohibit the defendant from purchasing a firearm or obtaining license of a firearm;
- refrain from aiding or abetting an act of violence;
- refrain from entering the place of employment of the aggrieved person or any other place frequently visited by the aggrieved person;
- refrain from causing violence to a dependent, other relative or any person who provides assistance to the aggrieved person against violence; or
- refrain from committing such other acts as may be specified in the protection order.
I do not see these remedies are aiming towards anything but domestic violence. What has been dealt with is private place violence which is quite rampant owing to the culture and norms we have nowadays or may be it is assumed by the provisions. One other thing worthy of being mentioned here is that the provisions i.e. (d), (e), (f), (h) of the abovementioned section do not even remotely suggest that the defendant can be a woman. Furthermore the provisions with heads such as Protection centres and shelter homes, residence orders and power to enter are some more provisions discussing domestic violence.
One other striking issue here may be the right to information under Section 23 which says;
The Government shall, within seven days of acquiring any information pertaining to violence against the aggrieved person shall publish the details of the case and the steps taken for the protection of the aggrieved person, on its website accessible to the public free of cost, subject to certain exceptions. It appears to me a little awkward to wash the dirty linens in public.
Another issue of importance is that this is a “Penal Law” for family matters and there has not been provided any ADR i.e. Alternate Dispute Resolution to sort out the family issues which is alarmingly dangerous for family institution.
The Legislation provides extensive protection mechanisms to secure implementation of the law which we never see in cases of inheritance, honor killing or rape;
- a district protection committee
- a helpline
- women protection officers
- protection centres and shelter homes
- various remedies of orders of protection
- residence and monetary support for victims
In contrast with the Domestic Violence Law in Sindh, Abira Ashfaq in a recent Dawn Editorial writes that the Domestic Violence Law in Sindh extends its protection to not just women, but also vulnerable men, the elderly and children in the context of a domestic relationship. And she also criticizes the Act on the ground of being dubious regarding its name as Protection against Violence Act rather it should be Domestic Violence Act in the following words;
By not limiting the law and its protection to cases of domestic violence only (but to cases of vaguely defined “violence”), the assembly has been overly ambitious with the side effect of creating a watered down statute that undermines the seriousness that should be accorded to domestic violence and its prevalence in Punjab.
I feel that our State is only conspiring to create battlefields for its subjects in their homes instead of protecting them. This legislation may take refuge under the sub Article 3 of Article 25 of the Constitution, 1973 which says, “Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the protection of women and children”. But I am going to press upon the protection of Women (and children by and by) through protection of the “Family Institution” rather giving them pseudo security against their families on the basis of domestic violence. We must not criminalize the very existence of a regular familial relationship and shoo people away from it. Are we going to use laws to improve the standard of living or deteriorate the same? Installation of a GPS tracker to keep check upon the men for an emotional or psychological abuse would turn the lives of the women miserable and not of the State. If your son or husband shouts at you or abuses you what course of action would you take? What remedy would you suggest? Calling cops upon the boy? Putting him in chains? Why make marriage a hard nut to crack? Why does not the Government take steps to improve the family relations? Getting a divorce had been made so effortless already, why procure deliverance and patronage for it as well? All these questions are there for us to find answers. We need to reassess the utility of education and law made in consequence; we need to funnel it all in order to figure out what is best for us and not what looks best for us. Are we going to suffer at the hands of our own creation, which consist of alluring and bewitching laws? The decision is ours and we are going to channel our education for the benefit of our society, our family, ourselves. We are not going to use knowledge to our own disadvantage, to destroy ourselves by following and appreciating such pseudo empowerment laws. If we want to empower our women and children, we need to secure them. We need to promote family culture, bring down all such campaigns which talk about individualism. We need to encourage cooperation between men and women, educational talks, scholarly discussions and achieve peace between us without making more offences out of our mundane relations. Not all people may be educated and enlightened through such ways but making such laws will sensitize every impressionable mind (whether criminal or non-criminal) about the criminal nature of relationships.