If you are a woman living away from your family in Pakistan, you must know a thing or two about the need to stay low. Showing a little bit of courage or bravery can deem you by society as characterless. Even simply being independent can make you termed unworthy of a “good match” (yeah, since society decides if a woman is good enough for a good life partner).
Coming from an upper-middle-class family in south Punjab, I was aware of such hard realities but refused to be a part of it. My parents are some of the very few people of that area who themselves are educated and dreamt the same for their children. To make this happen, all of our siblings were sent to the metro cities for higher education. My eldest sister was the first to leave home and went for her MBBS in Lahore. Although my parents were very open-minded, they still had their concerns about sending their first child and that too a daughter alone to a completely strange place.
It became easier with every child moving out for them, but when it was my turn, I could see the same fear in my parents’ eyes as it was for my elder sister. My being the youngest in the family quadrupled that fear. With a hefty heart, they sent me away for studies. During my four years of education in Lahore, every time I visited home, I could see they were counting the days of my return. I would tell them to stop worrying and just get done with it, but some things never change.
I couldn’t understand what my parents were so afraid of until what happened last month. I still can’t believe that this happened to me. I always considered myself very strong, courageous, and an ambitious person who’ll always know her rights and has the power of standing up for herself. This all changed when I found myself in a situation where I should’ve spoken up but couldn’t.
I was living as a PG in a posh area of Lahore to be as close to my office as I can. The house was owned by some journalist I didn’t know anything about. I had interaction with his wife, who managed everything. My friends (girls) came to pick me up on the evening of 29th March to go out and get some food. When we came back home, the owner was standing outside the gate asking her maid to do something. Seeing my friends getting out of the car, she started abusing my friends and me for trying to get into her house. According to her, only I was allowed inside the house. She went inside and locked the door. My friends left and told me that they didn’t want me to get in trouble. Filled with embarrassment and rage, I entered the garage and knocked on the door. That woman came out and started beating me (yes, I couldn’t believe it either). I was stunned, and she was just beating me to the point that I started bleeding. She dragged me to the gate to throw me out and make an “example” of me when I saw some guy standing at the gate of the garage who was watching it all. He jumped inside and tried to stop that woman.
All this time, she kept on abusing me and beating me. The moment she stopped, I called the police helpline, my brother, and my friends who came to drop me off. Her husband reached before the police or my brother and started giving me life threats. He wanted me to let the thing go, but the whole thing wound up in the police station, where I filed an FIR against him and his wife.
I had to stay at a friend’s until we get something out of our FIR. After four days of running to the station, finding a place to live, and waiting for my stuff that was still at that journalist’s house, we were told that our case was weak and we shouldn’t pursue it. The SHO said to us that he’s doing us favour that even after all that pressure on him from some influential people, he’s still not filing a case against us. Yeah, that journalist wanted to file a case against me that said I was drunk and assassinated my character as much as he could. Everything in his report had things that’d tear me apart in this society because I’m a woman. Every word told me that I was worthless. My brother, who was very supportive for those five days, gave up. He told the SHO to stop everything and get us our stuff back from their house. We collected everything and left Lahore for good.
My mother cried when I reached home and told me that it wasn’t the mistrust that made her scared but the true face of this society that she always feared. It took me 25 days to write this article and get everything out of my system. The trauma will stay with me, and I might not be able to get out of this ever.
However, this whole episode makes me wonder one thing. While that woman was abusing me, she said that us working women are worthless. We don’t stay at our house, have to live with people like them, and no one cares about women like us. We don’t have any value in society. Her attitude made it apparent that she thought she had the power over me. Is this what everyone thinks of girls who live away from their families? We are told that our society is becoming open-minded every day and has more acceptance than before. However, are they still not accepting the women who leave their house for studies. It wasn’t the first time I heard those words though. I could hear it in the daily conversations where someone said “oh call that girl. She lives in a hostel. She’s available.” I heard it when my sister’s husband said “You educated girls don’t know how to make a family.”
We might have come a long way to be a progressive country, and we are trying so hard to get accustomed to modern ways. Yet, there’s a great level of discrepancy in the mindset of our people. Women being judged on weird grounds is the strangest of all. When it comes to women, especially working women, we are so quick to judge. We don’t think twice before assassinating the character of a woman who works hard to pursue the career of her dreams. A woman is characterless if she goes out with her friends. A woman is characterless if she comes home late, no matter what the excuse is. A woman is characterless if she doesn’t have a man from her family alongside her to help out that damsel in distress. A woman is characterless if she’s bold enough to raise her voice for the truth even. A woman is characterless if she tries and be open-minded without believing in the orthodox ways of living life. A woman is characterless if a man gazes at her in the street. A woman is characterless if she endures roadside comments, irrespective of what she wears and how she dresses up. We, as a society, have failed. We are not liberal, and we don’t want to be called conservatives. All of this only makes it more difficult for women.
Laws are being made to provide safety to women, but what about the rules that our society made itself? What about the judgments women get daily from the people at the workplace or in the street? Why everything a girl does is brought into the limelight, and everyone in the universe gets busy deciding her character? And who are these people who have the self-acclaimed power to call a woman characterless?? I wish I had all the answers. I wish I had the solutions.
About the Author: This article is written by Eman-e-Zehra. She is a freelance copywriter and working as a copywriter for MailMunch- a Silicon Valley-based company in Lahore. With everything that happened, she decided to stand up and share her story exclusively via Boss Women Magazine. Eman has shared these details on her own accord to raise awareness.