If Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul were to visit us today, he would certainly observe that wife-beating, which he described as a national pastime after football, has degenerated into wife-killing.
A beautiful 24-year old young woman burnt by her husband in Triolet is an umpteenth case of domestic violence causing death in a most horrendous manner. The husband took his wife to hospital on a motorcycle, left her there and made false statements to the police.
We cannot just content ourselves with expressing shock, revolt and compassion for the departed young woman and her bereaved family. No need to indulge in a blame game and shower expletives randomly on scapegoats, political or socio-cultural authorities for the barbaric behaviour of a few citizens. We all agree though that something should be done about changing attitudes and handling crime in general and particularly within the family sphere.
One suggestion is to change the law regarding complaints against violent husbands. Once a woman reports a case to the police, she should not be allowed to withdraw it. There should be follow-up of the case, which need not necessarily end up in Court after a first complaint. A workshop headed by trained counsellors, psychologists and other people who are qualified to guide and advise adults should be set up. Attendance should be made compulsory for wife-beaters once a complaint has been lodged against them.
The objective is not to punish or humiliate but to help men understand themselves in the first place, analyse their thoughts and emotions, be rational and mature, raise awareness on interaction with others, learn self-respect and self-control, deal with confrontation and conflict, and above all consider their wife as their partner and not as a punching-ball on which to vent anger and frustration. Men should be made aware that they cannot just go on taking it out on women. It is not about delivering moralizing discourses but helping immature men to grow up and become adults.
Changing the law implies that women should be made to understand that sentimental and emotional ties should not impede the process of law. That compulsory attendance of their husbands at a workshop does not bring shame and dishonour on the couple or the family. Behaving and killing like wild beasts does. Filing a complaint against violence should not be equated with betrayal or denunciation. In such cases, just forget marital love and all the sentimental stuff. Drop masks and taboos. Deal with the evil of violence squarely. You cannot change people overnight even if you love them but you can send them to a place where more qualified people can alter the way they think and behave, and drive sense into their minds.
Changing attitudes in dealing with a conflictual and violent marital relationship also applies to men. Showing up at a workshop for guidance and advice is neither belittling nor humiliating. Whatever be their social status, wife-beaters should be made accountable for their acts and accept treatment that is offered to them.
The Ministry for Women and Family Welfare is best suited to take up such measures that would help decrease domestic violence, protect men from themselves, and women from men for the benefit of the family and society in general.
Financial cost for reforming violent males? Not taxpayers’ money. It should be funded by salary cuts of wife-beaters. Hit where it hurts most. Their bank accounts. We need not always rely on foreign experts from developed countries for inspiration as regards putting up new policies. The American authorities are quite powerless in tackling rising domestic violence during football World Cup, a period of excitement, passion, expectations and high level of adrenaline!
Right now, we like to believe that we are living in a western-style democracy where everyone is free to evolve or regress according to their whims and fancies. It does not work in the West. We constantly need to address societal issues as they crop up, spot symptoms and take preventive actions, be innovative and devise means to build a more civilized society. Filling up jails is not a long-term, viable solution. Society at large and the various authorities should intervene more in promoting ethical and civilized behaviour.
Following the misbehaviour of Chinese tourists in Egypt who scribbled on statues a few months ago, the Chinese authorities issued a book with guidelines for proper behaviour. They are right. The guidelines even inform potential Chinese tourists on mores and codes prevailing in foreign lands, and advise them, for instance, not to ask strangers what they are going to eat tonight! We cannot just assume that all citizens are well informed and mature enough to know about do’s and don’ts in all circumstances.
Men and women should be more vocal in asserting their position on societal issues and not believe that all responsibility and initiative lie with the government.
Zarina was repeatedly beaten up and more than once she withdrew her complaints. The husband’s first wife died God knows how. After serving a 7-year sentence for murder, which is becoming the norm in Mauritian justice, the fellow is likely to marry again.
How many Zarinas are going to meet their brutal death before we decide to do something about it? The onus is on all of us and the specific Ministry to come up with challenging and innovative policies to address the issue of violence.