Pakistani council for Islamic Ideology is a powerful group of clerics that ensures conformity to Islamic laws in any new bill meant to be introduced in the parliament (Majlis-e-Shoora). Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani of this August religious bodY has suggested in a 75-page draft bill that it is right for a husband to beat his wife ‘lightly’ on grounds of disobedience to his commands, and for:
- Not dressing up as he desires
- Turning down a demand for intercourse (for whatever reason except a religious one)
- Not bathing after intercourse or after menstrual periods
- Not wearing a hijab
- Interacting with strangers
- Speaking loudly (The decibel limit will be decided by the husband?)
- Giving cash to someone without husband’s permission
- Using birth control pills without the permission of the husband
Women will be allowed to join politics, but will not be permitted to receive foreign officials or non-relatives.
Though the seventy-five-page bill will become law only when passed by a majority of the legislators, the law is already in popular use all through the world (why only Pakistan?) except that the word ‘lightly’ finds no place in practice.
Gosh, aren’t these Islamic laws terrible? Of course. But they are at least conditional, and are kind to the wife in setting a condition that ‘forceful beating will not be allowed”; the stick used will not be thicker than one’s little finger (or twig of an al-siwak – possibly what in India is called Miswak tree ). These laws do not find a place so far in any order of a Pakistani High court or a Supreme Court judge. Wife-beating (after trying out sex-deprivation) is suggested in the Quran. So the position in Pakistani criminal law is rather vague; I have never heard of a husband being punished for beating his wife in Pakistan
Nor have I ever heard of a husband being sentenced for beating his wife in India.
Justice Kothandram Naidu Bhakthavatsala of Bangalore High Court ruled in 2012 in a resounding statement that it is OK for a husband to beat his wife , the only one condition being that he should be providing for her. That’s the law in force in practice, implied the judge, and that’s OK. The law in force I often noticed in the lower-middle-class community in Bombay is that the drunken husband beats his wife to extract money out of her even if he does not provide for her, instead she provides for him by doing domestic work in half a dozen households.
“Why are you still talking about his beatings?” asked the learned judge of the suffering wife. “I know you have undergone pain. But that is nothing in front of what you undergo as a woman. I have not undergone such pain. But madam (Justice BS Indrakala) has,” said the Honourable Judge. If you can bear childbirth, meant the wise judge, you can take a beating whenever it pleases your man who brings rice and lentil home. Justice Indrakala, a lady judge who conveniently came in as a shining example of feminine tolerance was his fellow-judge on the bench.
As far as I am aware, the judge did not chastise the husband for beating his wife; nor did he advise him to use only a thin stick as did Mohammad Khan Sheerani in his written draft law.
There was some commotion in the media about the judge’s remark, and an attempt to file a massive petition to remove the judge – but the Supreme Court has not struck down those golden words. That Justice Indralekha, a lady judge, takes the beating is reason enough to accept the practice as de facto law. Bhaktavalsala was taken off Family Court cases for speaking out a home truth. Nothing has changed in the status of wives since his removal.
What is more, this unwritten law sets no preconditions for beating a wife. That you feed her is reason enough.
Have fun, India, joking about the terrible laws next door. When they joke about your female infanticide, dowry murders, street rapes and the old yet still secretly practised widow-burning, you can quote a few Sanskrit stanzas just as they quote verses of the Quran.