How far would you go to feed your starving child? Or what would you do if your husband came home drunk every night, beat you repeatedly and sold you to another man for eight consecutive years? Carry a knife? Resort to drugs? Kidnap? Kill? Instinctively, you would take ANY measure necessary to protect your loved ones and yourself from such suffering.
These are the unfortunate circumstances of women in Karachi Central Jail. Lifelong abuse, torture and suffering seem to be the recurring theme in poorer communities where a woman’s value or dignity is defined solely by a man. ‘If you have a good husband your life is good, and if you don’t- your life is ruined’ claims one of the prisoners. And yet this is only a minor reflection of a society overloaded with instances of abuse.
What recourse? Abuse and corruption from higher authorities; mainly from certain elements in the police force and the government are the most tragic form of cruelty that these women have to often face. ‘You cannot even go to a police officer for protection; chances are they will laugh in your face and say you deserve it. Sometimes they’ll even rape you’, claims one of the prisoners. Bribes and ‘favours’ have become such standard practices of those in power, that the rich invariably walk free. So what do the poor women do when the very authorities and institutions which are supposed to be protecting and fighting for their rights and freedom further violate them?
The answer is: resort to crime….and repeatedly, until survival can be ensured each day of your life…..
A HAVEN OF JUSTICE IN A MURKY POOL OF SOCIAL ABUSE
Pakistan has only a handful of Legal Aid Centres, mainly located in the province of Sindh. One such centre, run by the Ex-Chief Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, provides free legal aid and a comfortable and progressive jail environment for prisoners to serve their time.
Set up in 2004, the Karachi Central Jail Legal Aid office provides rehabilitative services – Koran classes for the Muslim women, and Bible classes for the Christians. There are also education facilities of learning English, Urdu and Art classes every morning. The prison has kitchens to which the inmates have full access; sewing machines, ironing boards and other facilities needed for tailoring are also provided. Alongside all these additional services, basic necessities are always aat hand – three meals per day, soap, tooth paste and other daily needs. Such a life would seem luxurious to women suffering everyday in our brutal society.
Each nation under its constitution has an obligation to provide legal aid to those who cannot afford it. Justice Nasir’s Legal Aid Services have been set up in conjunction with the Sindh government and although the expansion of such services was attempted, efforts to set up the same in Punjab proved fruitless. Early this year, the Legal Aid office received a notice from the Karachi Bar Association that the office had no legal authority and should seek permission from the bar council, followed by threats and protests to close down the centre. It is tragic that there are but a handful of institutions/individuals who have come forward to help the vulnerable and weak in an organized and formal manner. Pakistan is in dire need of such facilities – facilities which can secure some measure of self defence for the average citizen.
Pakistan is also reputed to have one of the highest (if not the highest) rates of honour killings. Coming out from jail, most women have an unimaginable fate where families view them as fallen women, thus outcasting them from society. Many prisoners claim to have a better life in jail as at least they will never be hurt or abused as they are in open society.
So why condemn possession of drugs, prostitution and murder in self-defence, yet take little notice of the degradation of women?
The sad reality of this nation is that its heroes, including its women, are not the ones leading it, but the ones enduring its cruelty.
(No pictures are allowed to be taken within Karachi Central Jail)