Domestic violence: The scars that remain

Published: September 21, 2011

I had met Sumaira Waseem* many times for work. Vivacious, smiling, in control – she seemed to be a confident, educated woman who had it all: a home, a comfortable lifestyle, three children, a ‘nice guy’ husband and a career she enjoyed as an HR consultant. But sometimes, just sometimes, I felt her eyes did not smile along with her lips.

Over the years, slowly, we developed a friendship. This year, during one of our heart-to-hearts, Sumaira spoke out. She came out of her closet.

What I heard stunned me.

Waseem and she seemed like the almost perfect couple. He was quiet, yes, and withdrawn, but seemed caring and was a good husband and father and provider for his family.

But reality is often more than meets the eye.

These are excerpts of her story. In her own words. A modern, urban, affluent, educated Pakistani woman. A silent victim of domestic violence. The fire may have burned down, but underneath the ashes, embers still burn in the form of resentment.

She has survived, but the scars remain etched on her soul.

“The first time he hit me was hardly a few months after my wedding. Generally, he is not a temperamental man so it was a shock when I simply asked why he was late from work and a stinging slap across my face was the answer. He was immediately remorseful, begged for forgiveness and begged me not to tell anyone. I wanted to believe him – and so I did not tell anyone. But then it became a norm. On the most unexpected smallest of pretexts. And then the requests slowly turned into threats – threats of divorce, of more beating, of leaving me, of beating my eldest son after he was born.

What was confusing was that on regular days, he was not a bad guy. Sometimes a month would go by without him hitting me. Every time I wanted to and actually did believe that this was the end of the violence. But it was not.

I remember being kicked with boots, shoved, pushed, flung against walls. I remember bleeding through my nose and mouth. I remember being punched so badly in the stomach that I felt tender for days. My face often had marks and a lot of my casual leave at work was used up by me waiting it out at home till the marks disappeared, and finally I gave up work, telling the world it was because my kids were small. I was never allowed to see a doctor. Reporting to the police was out of the question. And the fear that I would be divorced was so super-imposed in my mind that I never even thought of complaining.

Every such bout was followed by flowers, gifts, dinners in fancy restaurants, promises of a vacation abroad, profuse apologies and threats if I thought of telling anyone. And also those words:

“Honey, you drove me to it”.

The controlling behaviour was very subtle. But I know that the feisty woman in me took a back seat and I was bludgeoned into submission.

I was like a zombie, I feel, in all those years that made up more than a decade. A lot of times I took the beatings to save my kids from getting a beating. And in spite of all this, I cannot understand, now that I look back, how I did not tell anyone and stand up for myself. Somehow the thought of giving up on my marriage hurt my already shrunken self-esteem. I was the strong one, the confident one, the extrovert, the woman of today. I was not a woman from a rural, under-privileged background who was unaware of her rights. They are the ones who get beaten, right? Not women like me!! Perhaps this is one of the best-kept secrets of Pakistan.

People generally thought I had the upper hand in our marriage. And I liked the feeling that they thought so. How could I tell the world that my ego and self-respect was crushed and trampled with severe thrashing intermittently? And so I would tell myself at times when I nursed my wounds or cried for hours sitting in the bathroom or sat in the same position for hours staring at an object that “this happens in every other home. This is not a biggie. I have so much to be thankful for. And I need to improve myself. Maybe I am not a good wife or mom or homemaker.”

I was inwardly afraid when he touched me in moments of intimacy, but I never dared to share this with him.

I have no brothers. My parents are old. We are a family respected for our values. I somehow couldn’t imagine my parents telling the world that their daughter had returned home with the medallion of divorce and 3 kids. And so, I continued.

Somewhere, I told myself this was a sign of bravery and courage. Today, I know better. I know, now, for sure, that denying issues and not asking for help is never a sign of bravery or courage.

Courage is what I have today – that I am sitting here and sharing this story with a friend.

That I have told my family.

That around the time my children were all in schools and I had had enough.

One day, I looked him in the eye and told him that I did not care if a divorce would follow – he dare not lay a finger on me.

Inside, I was trembling, waiting for the worst beating of my life – but it actually helped! That day, all that followed was verbal, not physical.

He dare not hit me now. But he still breaks things, yells and gives threats, which I don’t pay attention to.

What gave me this courage? Probably finally sharing with a few friends who made me see light. And my faith and a stronger connection with God. Going back to work and enough economic empowerment that has told me that I can take care of myself if “I” decide to leave him.”

Sumaira is still married to Waseem because of her children. She has sought counseling but he has refused to go with her to the therapist, though they both know he is the one who needs help. The last time he hit her was a couple of years ago. Yet, she cannot remove the resentment she has for him. The wounds may have healed but the scars remain.

*Names have been changed to protect the victim.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

The writer works as a Senior Sub-Editor at The Express Tribune, and has a focus on human rights, gender and peace-building. She blogs at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/ and tweets as @FarahnazZahidi (twitter.com/FarahnazZahidi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Choas A.D

    O Silent Specter,

    You watched in innocent solitude
    As black night shattered into a million skies.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Really liked the way this has been written and the fact that you have addressed a subject that needs attention. It would be instructive and educational to read comments from knowledgeable people on this.Recommend

  • B

    This is what I call ‘powerful’ writing – I’m glad the wife finally took the step. My sister was married to a guy who used to physically abuse her. Despite belonging to a very educated and influential family, my father and I could do nothing about it simply because my sister did not want to ‘ruin’ the marriage. One day I was sitting in their living room and heard my sister crying – summoned up the courage to go to their room and find out what was wrong….saw my sister with multiple bruises…havent felt more helpess in my entire life….finally, my sister agreed to get a divorce and decided to move out of the country with the kids…the reason I have shared this is not to gain sympathy but to ask everyone not to make the mistake that I made – the very first slap is enough to throw anybody out of your life…Recommend

  • hamza Shaoib Ahmed

    There is one question I would like to ask. She manages to ryte down everything but misserably fail to say what words and action make him to beat or even slap. Asking question why he is late for office and slap increased my curiosity. I can understand she is suffering but still my question is same perfect couple, good husband, perfumes and slapping and beating. Quite Odd combination. Needs to discussed more in detail. I too a married man alhamdullilah bit some times reply from partner is so tense that u really felt sorry of ur self.I must say that goes both side. But some months goes nothing and some disaster. This is showing some what mood change of women too. I am sorry I am not saying you are wrong but in your case I strongly goes favor both of you to check what is lacking.Recommend

  • sabiha alwy

    Its so important to let the person know that you will not take any nonsense, it does make a difference be it school children or married people you have to let the other person know the behavior you dislike is unacceptable. Recommend

  • heer

    This story recalls me My Feudal Lord . So touchy and painful .

    I request all Pakistani Men Please respect women … Please!
    And Pakistani women break his neck if he took a hand on you! Recommend

  • Where

    @Hamza: where..on earth does she say that they are really a perfect couple?? Read it again.. she says that they SEEMED like a perfect couple… SEEMED,, the WOMAN PRETENDED that everything was fine.. jeez man, let me guess, you think that just because there are PERFUMES involved, then beating is justified???? oh Lord, it is people like you who make me want to die! NOTHING.. NO|THING in the world .. NOTHING in Allah’s eye’s justifies a wife-beater! FACE IT.. some people do it CHRONICALLY.. JUST BECAUSE THEY KNOW THEY CAN.. uff.. You can throw WHATEVER hadith or Surat you want to at me… but it will NOT justify it … it won’t :) you can keep telling yourself that.. that may be she has a sharp tongue, may be she is a mean woman.. may be she is a loose woman.. amd from your paragraph, I feel sorry for you and your ‘partner’ (interesting, I thought they are called ‘wives’…)

    And Basically, what you are saying is that if your partner makes you feel sorry for yourself, then hit HER???????????? why is that I have not heard of CHRONIC husband beaters? …? Does that mean that pakistani women all over NEVER FEEL SORRY FOR THEMSELVES?????? and only poor men do????? poor poor pooooor men.. poor men.. :| Recommend

  • Shai Venkatraman

    I like the way you have let the woman voice come through. Powerful and sensitiveRecommend

  • SS

    @hamza Shaoib Ahmed:

    I would like to answer this question as i have worked with battered women and have some background of psychology regarding the abusive men and their personalities. What is happening here is the CYCLIC abuse that never ends. Anything, and i repeat, almost anything can trigger an abusive person’s temper. It could be an argument or something completely minor, liking moving furniture in the house which the husband did not like and made him feel out of control, whereas a normal man would probably do not even notice if his wife changes something inside the house. Abuse is all about control. Whenever an abusive person feels he is losing control, he leashes out.

    The phases of the cycle go like this: tension building, abuse, honeymoon period/apologies, normal phase and then again tension building, and so on. Its kind of a disease that an abusive person suffers from and most victims of domestic violence face very similar situations.

    Point is that there is no justification to violence. NO matter what happens, no one deserves verbal, physical and psychological abuse. Arguments happen in every family, not all men beat their wives. Does that mean they are out of this world? No. they are normal, kind men who would rather fight within boundaries than to break them and abuse their partner, even if they or their partner is 100 percent right. Recommend

  • K

    @ hamza Shaoib Ahmed

    You are a real gem, aren’t you?? Ugh. implying that the wife must have said something to provoke that coward of a husband; no matter what the question or action, it does not warrant a beating. No body has the right to do that. Not unless the wife can do the same to her husband when makes her mad. He sounds like a psycho and he is abusing his wife and squarely puts the blame on her for “making him do it” and then cajoles her with dinners, presents, etc. This is a big RED flag, but I know it is hard for women to take a stand for themselves. I just hope she gathers enough courage to make her and her children’s life better, this scum bag needs to be kicked to the curb.

    – Sumaira — More Power to you. But please don’t waste your life on this sorry excuse of a human, you only get one shot a life and please please don’t waste it on him.

    @ Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam — please please encourage Sumaira to go to family counseling along with her children even if her husband still doesnt want to go; domestic abuse has a very powerful impact on the lives on impressionaable children and she needs family therapy for the sake of her well being and her children’s well being.Recommend

  • rabia

    @hamza Shaoib Ahmed
    Quite right. You ought to apologize for your opinions. When Islam prohibits beating anyone, when Allah ta’lla in all His wisdom, prohibits hitting ANYONE, even an animal on the face or the head, I wonder how you can question why the husband slapped his wife across her face, rather than condemning it? When Prophet Muhammad, pbuh instructed how to punish a wife who had committed ADULTERY, he said, physically beating her should be the last resort and even in such a case, he displayed with the help of his miswak, how to hit her lightly on the back of her hand, so as not to leave ANY MARK!!! No redness even. Please check Sahi Bukhari, do your research so that you or any one of us may not cross the line due to ignorance of religious knowledge my brother in Islam.Recommend

  • Ali

    No matter what the reason may be, hitting a woman is utterly disgraceful and not acceptable. I am sure she isn’t the only one bearing this and there would be millions of women going through this ordeal. Men need to grow up and ready to talk the issues out rather than physically abusing his soul mate.

    Such instances are now being widely reported and personally, this is one of the most disappointing and heart breaking issues i get to read about.Recommend

  • grey

    it is heartbreaking to read the rare documentation of what i personally feel is a moral and psychological disease of this society. archaic in its abuse of power over relationships as sacred as marriage and parenthood, i sometimes wonder who we are as a people. who are we indeed? is this the character we posses? where instead of safety and security, the image of a man promises only poisonous things: betrayal, lies, abuse, physical pain, emotional blackmail, sexual deviancy, twisted games, hypocrisy…dare i wonder where the gentlemen have gone? and what becomes of the next generation that witnesses these horrors in one way or another? i suppose at some point, they ‘man’ up too. Recommend

  • Yggr

    Agreed with the writer though not fully. I mean like logically if the guy is normal with no mental conditions then there must be something else not written here. I agree that it was his fault 99% of the time but atleast put the rest 1% blame on her.

    The problem started in the initial days of marriage everyone needs his/her space to settle in and when he thought he was being cornered he retaliated although violently (which is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE) but she should not have gone with but she did and reserved her self from complaining. If she shown the courage in the early days he wouldn’t have dared to beat her again.

    But again I think this has a social aspect as well “we” as a nation are very frustrated and have no activities to channel out this frustration and when moments like this come along we get rid of our frustration by reacting violently against our servants, wives, children and even our parents. So there must be something we should do about it. BTW any suggestions on how to overcome this…….Recommend

  • B

    @hamza Shaoib Ahmed:

    Nothing at all anyone does should warrant abuse – verbal or physical. This story is very similar to my parents. My father has shattered my mother to the point that she’s too scared to leave him. And the kids? We hate his guts. When I look at him, all I see is a monster who crushed my mother and her spirit. At the same time, he’s been a very generous provider to his wife and his kids.Recommend

  • heer

    @hamza Shaoib Ahmed:
    Mental sick people have dual personalities ! They do exactly the same wht author described. Brutal and the next moment they apologies . Recommend

  • zahra.mohammed

    @B: would you be interested in sharing your story with us? email at blog@tribune.com.pk

    Recommend

  • A

    @zahra mohammad

    If she wanted to she would have. Invasion of privacy at its height!Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    As a doctor and a writer, I’ve made far too many attempts to shake Pakistanis out of their persistent state of denial concerning the horrifying prevalence of physical and psychological domestic abuse in this country. I’ve quoted numerous studies, facts and statistics, but they refuse to listen and attempt to divert attention to domestic violence in USA.
    .
    Sumaira, by the way, depicts typical signs of the Battered Woman Syndrome, which is commonly observed in Pakistani households: eagerness to forgive the spouse despite knowing that he’d never change his behaviour; loving and fearing him at the same time; being afraid that something terrible would happen if she ever leaves her husband..Recommend

  • hamza Shaoib Ahmed

    @Rabia & for ABCD k etc.
    Thank you very much for commenting on my post. Some of you are really offended. BUt try to understanding what m saying. Did I said to hit the wife is justified?. You got it wrong. What I treid to pin point is the individual psyhcology, character that implies his grooming style and most important culture. For me this is shame and cowardness to hit wife or vice cersa. Try to understand my point. M trying to foucs on indivisual pshycology that goes both to husband and wife. By the way this is not only Pakistan where this happens. For those who are saying urghh!!!. I have met one women in houston working as bar tender. She divorced his husband because of the same case and some other more dignifed issues which i can’t mention here. So this situation is not specifically Pakistan its all over the world. Yes now mashallah more and more voices are coming out in our society. But we need to look in to more deep instead of emotionally crying and yelling other.

    @ for those who always jump in to religion convincing themselve by accepting some of prophet tenets and rejecting rest of it and then preach in the name of ISLAM as they are the only soul bearer while shopped using the VISA credit Card. Plz read the surah baqarah and surah nisa in quran. Both these chapters have well written verses regarding marital issues. Allah Subhanatallah knows very well about humna pshycology both for man and women. He made it clear in Quran do read them. And plz before jumping on some one comments try to understand what he is trying to say. We need a solution for this not just a debate to show indivisual emotion and talent. I shared this column with my wife and we discussed this positively today when and were these situations arises and how to manage.Recommend

  • hamza Shaoib Ahmed

    @Where:
    Plz calm down. Offcourse not. Hitting and beating is cowardness in other words I say not able to listen the truth. What I am pin pointing is the individual psycology and culture. I am sorry if I offend you. Alhamdullilah I love my wife and we both have discussed this issue and infact it is the talk of day. We both concluded this is wrong in any case. Sorry if i offend you but plz read my posted comment again. thanks.Recommend

  • hamza Shaoib Ahmed

    @SS: exactly. You have explained and elaborated more of my veiw point. Thanks againRecommend

  • hamza Shaoib Ahmed

    @Where:

    Can u explain this. One of my best freind she was also suffered from the same scenario her husband beats her almost every day for almost no issue and nothing. She was inch close for divorce. Any how the conlusion cam out to be the husband was suffered from Schizoprenia and he become violently paranoic. Yes again this was in highly elite society. He get treated later on admitted to hospital. He is fine now and he doesn/t remember much how he used to be but one thing for sure now he is most thankful to his wife for bearing him and understanding the sickness he went through. I hope you have enough sigh of relief now. ThanksRecommend

  • Garbargotala

    THIS actually made my cry :(. Prayers and best wishes with you ma’am. Stay strong and instead kick him in the nuts someday, just cause he came home sweating like an ox and smelling like old socks! ;)Recommend

  • http://www.chanelno5.wordpress.com Shifa Mwesigye

    I just do not have enough courage to stay around and take the beating like Sumaira and live a miserable life the rest of my life resenting and dreading intimacy. To all the women who stay in there for the kids, you have great courage. And to the rest like me who walk, make it work, you can make it work. You do not have to wait to walk out with one eye or a broken leg or be lifted out in a coffin. Here in Uganda the coffin is a constant in many domestic brawls. Sumaira I can relate on all levels. Only that I had enough and walked.Recommend

  • Friend

    Oh God! I hate this! Why do these Pakistani males do this? Don’t they have any mercy in them? If they are facing a lot problems and are stressed out they should actually SHARE that with their wife instead of making her suffer the brunt of it all, this way both can maintain a healthy relation, but seriously I don’t think these sort of males can ever understand this and they will always make the poor wife suffer :( This actually happens with so many women that I want to advice them: NO ONE WILL CARE FOR YOU UNTIL YOU CARE FOR YOURSELF-SO PLEASE JUST WARN HIM THE FIRST TIME AND DON’T GIVE SECOND CHANCES PLEEEASSE! Just know that these men just don’t deserve you. LEAVE HIM!Recommend

  • Farzana Siddique Narejo

    very impressive article.. i must say woman had a lots of courage and ability to come out of something so horrible.. in my opinion women empowerment is very necessary in today’s world.. its time for the world to come out of the mentality of females being weaker gender. however, for this its necessary for female to educate themselves and to be able to stand on their own feet, so that they can help themselves in bad times and are not afraid of any threats whatsoever..Recommend

  • Huma

    In your case sumaira, as you mentioned, after couple of months of marriage your MAN started beating you, abusing you, hitting you, etc etc.

    My question is; WHY didn’t you leave the MAN at that timeeeee at that very first time you saw his real facee???? WHY NOT??? Why did you spend years with him and wait for having babies with him?? whyyy???? YOu Should have taken your decision of moving forward…

    For all those WOMEN who got married and see the real face of there MEN after couple of months of marriage, i would request them to take the first step at that time!!!!!! Do not wait for your life to go on with a MAN who is worthless!!! Recommend

  • fsn

    @huma:
    that require lots of courage and will power. i belong to an educated, but even in my surrounding i see lots of female who are brought up with this mentality that men are superior to women and my reason for a female’s existance is to get married and have kids. in such system, it is literrally impossible for females to work against that mentality that their basic aim in life is to protect themselves..Recommend

  • KolachiMom

    Oh God!!! This brought back so many memories. My mother taking a beating for nothing, to save us kids, because she said something, because she didn’t say something. It took her almost a decade to leave that horrible man we were forced to call our father. Like @B we HATED him. My siblings and were affected mentally/emotionally by it way into our adulthood, some of my siblings still have issues. This country needs laws NOW, so these controlling and abusive sickos can be kicked out where they belong.

    This woman is brave, and I hope she finds it within herself to be braver for her children. Keeping them in an environment of verbal abuse is not doing them any favors. And, as the saying goes ‘A good father is one who treats their mother with respect.” – Still, it is her decision to make, her many fears/burdens to overcome. And, I hope she does. Best wishes to her, and her precious children.Recommend

  • Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

    @ Shifa Mwesigye
    Hey Shifa, wonderful to hear your opinion. You as a woman are an inspiration for women like Sumaira who have suffered. You give them strength and an example to follow. At least the issues are coming out of the closet. Hang in there girl.Recommend

  • YASIR

    Please respect women and i agree with HEER…..

    Pakistani women break his neck if he took a hand on you!Recommend

  • Battered wife

    When a woman is in that situation, she is in oblivion and does not know how to come out of it. Its a vicious cycle. She feels things will improve but they don’t. Message for all the women out there who can relate to this story: Please tell friends and family and get help before your sanity and self-esteem is destroyed permanentlyRecommend

  • uzma

    @rabia:

    The punishment for adultery, according to the Quran (24:2), is to flog both the adulterer and adulteress a 100 times each.

    The punishment you were referring to was probably the one in verse 4:34, which says “And as for those women whose ill-will [44] you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; [45] and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them.”

    Correct me if i’m wrong, but whereas the punishment for adultery applies to both men and women, the punishment in 4:34 allows men to punish their wives but it does not address how a women should hold her husband accountable for his “ill will”.

    Anyway I don’t understand why people can’t just say that REGARDLESS of whether Islam allows beating or not, or allows it but discourages it, or allows it but only ‘symbolically’, BEATING IS WRONG.Recommend

  • rabia

    @Uzma
    Dear Uzma, the punishment of flogging is only put into action if four eye-witnesses have been produced etc. You will find more details in Surah Noor if you are interested and if the husband only suspects “ill will” which constitutes also this, that he feels his wife is not being sincere to him – then light chastisement is permitted. This is what I have understood from all the books, translation and tasfeers that I have read. May Allah forgive me if I have erred. AmennRecommend

  • SS

    I live in a foreign country. I came here after my marriage and im studying in university. I had a very similar experience, twice i almost died. But luckily i got out of it within the first year of marriage. Im fine now. I had a lot of help from people in this country. I just wish Pakistan had an adequate system to tackle such problems.Recommend

  • Raja Islam

    How about spousal abuse that men are subjected to. It does not happen to women only. Can be physical or verbal or both. This is clearly an issue that is not raised or discussed as whenever the question of abuse comes up the assumption is wife beating.Recommend

  • Zainab S.

    I like when you said “I was not a woman from a rural, under-privileged background who was unaware of her rights. They are the ones who get beaten, right? Not women like me!! Perhaps this is one of the best-kept secrets of Pakistan”.

    And it is true. We never want to believe, or even hear stories of domestiv violence against someone like the lady in this article .. since .. we just like to trust what is apparent. I have known women who have tolerated physical, verbal and emotional abuse, and have decided to never share it with anyone because they feel ‘if they can’t make this situation better, they would rather not know about it’ .. or .. ‘I am doing this for my children’ .. or .. ‘He has a lot of good attributes’.

    I have not been in such a situation, which is why I always say, maybe life does bring such helplessness, or relationships do. But then .. what have we as a society done, to empower men this much, that they feel free to cause physical and emotional hurt to women. Are we really in the 21st century, where there are cries of demanding women to be treated equally? Recommend