In patriarchal societies, women are treated as an agency of men, with the false concept of ‘male honor’ associated with them. This has given birth to extremely conservative societal norms for women particularly, often leading to the worst abuse of human rights.
Right to choose who to marry is designated to women by Islam and by Pakistan’s law, but as it is viewed as a ‘dishonor’ – majority women, especially in rural societies, are deprived of this right.
But how is this violation of basic right giving birth to more extreme behavior like suicide and murder?
The three issues are interlinked. While forced marriages aren’t the only reason for the rising suicide rate in Pakistan, but the interconnection can no longer be denied to look for an effective solution to the prevailing problem.
“I repeatedly asked my parents not to marry me against my will as my religion, Islam, also allows me to choose the man of my choice for marriage but my parents rejected all of my pleas and they married me to a relative” – says the 21 years old Aasia Bibi talking to the Associated Press.
Aasia from Multan was charged with the murder of 17 of her in-law members. She confessed saying she was forced to marry against her will and felt suffocated in the relationship. With nowhere to go and no one to help her break free from the situation, she prepared a plot to kill her husband and added poison in milk while serving him. He didn’t drink it and her mother-in-law used it to make lassi for the entire family – which resulted in the death of 17 members.
Two wrongs don’t make a right – absolutely. But is violation of rights and denying their personal freedom to choose for themselves a cause for propagation of such hateful, extremist sentiments? Unambiguously true as well.
The issue came to limelight, that eventually died down, in September when rising suicide rate in Chitral became a concern for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. A high-level task force was formed which carried out work in this regard and reported that arranged/forced marriages were the leading cause for high suicide rate among women in Chitral.
“Family problems, lower marks in examinations and marriages without consent are the main causes” – said Medical Superintendent of Chitral, Dr Rehman Afridi.
He added that the stigma attached to mental health worsens the situation. Almost 34% Pakistanis are suffering from compromised mental health and depression is the contributing factor in 90% suicide cases. Hence ignorance is resulting in self-destruction and negative coping mechanisms. So a multi-sectoral approach is needed to tackle the issue.
There were 21 reported suicide cases in Chitral in the year 2017, mostly women, due to marriages without consent. According to UK’s Forced Marriage Unit, Pakistan witnessed 439 reported cases of forced marriages in 2017, ranked highest among the top four ‘focus’ countries for the year, followed by Bangladesh, Somalia and India.
While we need to carry out awareness drives regarding mental health and media needs to play its critical role, it is absolutely imperative for religious scholars to play their role to aware the masses about rights given to women particularly by the religion itself.
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