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Friday, February 20, 2015

Embracing the Flames

Afghanistan, a country that is primarily located at the centre of Asia is also considered as one of the most dangerous countries of the world after decades of wars that have ravaged this once-beautiful country. It is also one of the countries of the world where a large number of women burn themselves to death. In 2010 there were about 22,000 burn cases that were recorded in the hospitals acrossAfghanistan according to Ms. Suray Dalil, the acting minister for health ofAfghanistan. Among them, 2,000 people were admitted to the hospitals as in patients - thereby pointing to the serious nature of the injuries. Naming several top notch hospitals in the Capital Kabul and Herat, Ms Dalil said that about 234 people had died there in the year 2010. The beginning of 2011 was welcomed inAfghanistan by 850 patients being treated for burns in the first 5 months.


The number of women who resort to self immolation is shockingly high. Various cases are brought to the hospitals where women are severely burnt. Until recently, majority of such cases were heard in the western Heart province near the border with Iran. However this issue is increasingly becoming national, than a regional one. Some women are treated in the hospital for burnt feet, inflicted by spilling hot water on them. Some others burn themselves by lighting an oil lamp, and yet another burnt herself by falling against a hot water heater. Now the crucial question which arises is why such hideous acts are committed.  These acts are committed by women who are the victims of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. The outcomes of these acts are often fatal.

What is ironical, is that majority of the population of Afghanistan are followers of Islam. The Islamic religion preaches that all males and females are to be treated alike in all the spheres of life. About 1400 years ago Islam preached that women too, like men must be given rights to vote and are all equal before god. Women too must be given various rights such as the right to inheritance, right to work and even right to choose their own life partners. However despite what their religion preaches the women of Afghanistan have not been able to enjoy these rights for centuries now. Afghanistan witnessed the rule of the Taliban for a brief period between 1996 and 2001. The condition of the women during that time was deplorable. They were denied the basic rights and ill treated to a very large extent. They were forbidden to work or even leave their houses without a male be it a brother or husband. They were ordered to cover themselves from head to toe including their eyes. They were even forbiddened from consulting male doctors during times of illnesses. Women who held prestigious positions and were doctors or teachers had to soon give up their professions and found themselves on the streets either as beggars or some even as prostitutes in order to feed their families. After the fall of The Taliban rule in Afghanistan many people have agreed that the condition of the country especially in relation to the condition of women has improved. Women have been allowed to go back to work and they are no longer forced to wear the burqua to cover their body. However despite all these changes which seem to have been made for the better still many challenges remain whose solutions are yet to be found. Women are still being denied certain rights in the rural areas where the male members do not allow their wives, sisters and mothers to take part in the public life. They are still being forced into marriages. In many parts of the country, girls are still being denied of education and many schools for girls have been burnt down. Cases are known where girls have been poisoned to death for daring to go to school. Many a time young girls who still adolescents or teenagers are married to men who are about 40. Even such young girls are not spared from sinister remarks that are thrown at them and are beaten ruthlessly by their husbands for no fault of theirs. Men are who are addictive to drugs often beat their wives because they do not have enough money to buy heroin. It seems that most men find their wives only as a tool for ventilating their anger. Women are invariably blamed by their husbands when things go wrong – when the crops fail, when a child falls ill, women are invariably made the scapegoats and are punished often ferociously. All these factors have forced many women to end their repressed life by setting themselves on fire. 

A recent study has shown that in most of the cases women burn themselves as a result of domestic violence or because they have voiced their thoughts that challenge the authority of men and have been punished severely. The women who survive after trying to kill themselves in the scorching flames state that they did not intentionally try to kill themselves. Most of them state that the accident occurred when they were cooking. They are very often threatened by the family members to not say anything to the outside world that would put their family name to disgrace. In such cases the only way that a woman can survive without telling anyone her miseries is to not survive at all. The main problem that seems to arise is that the law of Islam is left to be interpreted by the people. Most of the women are staunch believers and followers of Islam but they end up as the ultimate victim of the very same religion. It is highly ironical that a religion that preaches equality and brotherhood and equal respect to men and women is interpreted by the people in the very opposite sense.

However it is sad and unfortunate to see that it is not only Afghanistan which alone witnesses abuse on women and make them seem trifle. These acts of crime happen much closer home too. For instance, Punjab, which is one of the richest states in India, witnessed a horrible and heart wrenching abuse on a woman named Mukhtaran Mai in the year 2002. In the village of Meerwala the Panchayat falsely accused her 12 year old brother having an affair with a woman who belonged to a higher cast. In order to punish him the elders of the village ordered the accused sister Mukhtaran to be raped. As 100 people watched this horrific scene where four men dragged her screaming through a cotton field. They finally pushed her into a mud walled house and assaulted her for more than an hour- all for mo fault of hers. Jharkand, another state in the Indian subcontinent witnessed the torture of Ramani Devi after being branded a witch by the so called “witch doctors”.  In Ghana when crops fail or children die of mysterious illness the people suspect witchcraft and as a result many women have lost their lives owing to false beliefs.

In Guatemala, a country in Central America, men can escape rape charges if he marries his victim if she is above the age of 12. A wife who is beaten by her husband can prosecute against him only if the wounds that are caused by the beating are visible for more than ten days. In the same country, girls and women have been found with insults carved into their flesh and bodies of young girls and women have been found badly mutilated, raped murdered beheaded and dumped on the roadside. In Gujranwala, which is about 135 km from Islamabad, mob threw petrol bombs at women runners who were participating in a marathon which was taking place because they were running along with men.

Apart from these countries a few well developed and industrialized nations are also witnessing abuses and torture that women have to bear. For example- The fundamental Christians in USA, Muslims in the UK and Europe, certain Ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel, and Catholics in Ireland also ill treat women in various ways.    

 As Khaled Hosseni has rightly mentioned in his highly acclaimed novel “ A Thousand Splendid Suns”- “ Like the needle of a compass always points towards the North, a man’s accusing finger always points towards a woman.” Hosseni's prophetic words ring true not only in Afghanistan but in several other countries as well.