Muna’s ordeal


Women mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Lahore, November 25, 2010. (Getty)

Found this old report I wrote about a young woman who miraculously survived horrific domestic violence, published in The News on Sunday, 18 January 2004. What has changed in Pakistan since I reported on it and what hasn’t? Posting it here as I couldn’t find it online.
Beena Sarwar

Imagine being beaten and tortured to the extent that you fall unconscious. You wake up in a hospital, sustained by drips and tubes, breathing painfully through a ventilator. And the person who did this to you was the man you fought your family to marry.

This is the story of young Muna… known to the press as ‘Bismah’ because that was the name given to her by her husband, Imam ‘Tony’ Baksh when they got married six years ago.

“He said he didn’t like Muna,” she says, lying limp in bed at Mayo Hospital, Lahore, a day after the ventilators and tubes were removed.

What about her, what name does she prefer to be known by? “I like Muna,” she answers.

“That’s the name I gave her, Muna,” adds her mother, Mariam, who looks barely older than Muna as she cradles a three-year old boy, her youngest son from her second marriage.

The man who changed Muna’s name apparently had her so much in his power that she didn’t dare protest when he began beating her up just a couple of months after they got married.

“He would get angry at the slightest thing, and if his mother interfered, he’d yell at her too,” says Muna, now about 20 years old. They have two daughters — a one year old, and a two-month-old, both still in their father’s home with his mother. “He would beat me if the baby’s nappy was wet. I’m not going back now.”

Muna says he also had another woman in his keep. “Once he made me listen to a girl’s voice on one of those small phones. She was saying, ‘Tony, where are you? Why don’t you come here, where are you stuck?’ Then he said to me, ‘You see, other girls are calling me’.”

But putting up with another woman was the least of Muna’s problems. Doctors were appalled at her condition when she was brought unconscious to the emergency room on January 6th. There appeared to be some ‘blunt trauma’ to the head or chest. Medical examination revealed that her entire body, from head to toe, was covered with the scars of cuts, beatings, bite marks and cigarette burns, including injuries to her private parts, that she had apparently been enduring for years.

She was immediately placed on a ventilator “but we didn’t expect her to survive”, says Dr Kaleem, a young medical officer at Mayo’s intensive care unit. “Her GCS (breathing) was at 4/15, while the normal unconscious state is at 8/15

Why did she stay with Tony for so long? It’s the old story of passive dependency, where the perpetrator of violence has the victim so much under control that the victim will do anything for a word or a look of praise or approval. Besides, where could she go? Her mother had re-married, and Muna had fought with her entire family to marry Tony. “You chose him, now put up with him,” was their refrain when she complained.

Having studied uptil the fifth grade, Muna met Tony, who comes from a well known, and influential, wrestling family (named for the wrestling great Imam Baksh, his grandfather), while going to sewing and stitching classes near Lahore’s Data Ganj Baksh area. Her mother and maternal grandmother Kulsoom opposed the match, but she was determined, says her mother, Mariam.

“He had money, we were poor,” says Mariam, who was widowed when Muna and her sister were still little. “Muna would tell us, I have nothing to do with you now, this is my family.”


Acid attack survivors Naziran Bibi and Naila Farhat. File photo. Getty Images

Mariam had struggled to bring up these two girls, enduring poverty and hardship, and at one time living in a charity home in Faisalabad. Some years ago, she married again, and now has three small sons and a baby daughter. Muna’s other sister is happily married, but Mariam’s second husband Akram has threatened her with divorce if she tries to bring Muna back home.


“She married of her own will, we tried to stop her but she wouldn’t listen. Now she must do as she pleases, go to some shelter home or back to her husband,” says Mariam categorically.

“I’ve never seen a case like this before,” says Nadia, a young nurse at the intensive care unit where Muna was kept for the first two days. “What kind of a society do we live in?”

It was proactive care from the doctors that helped revive Muna. They took the initiative to contact well known rights advocate Asma Jahangir – who rushed over with some other activists, and ensured that an FIR was registered against the husband – but he has not yet been arrested. Ms Jahangir has assured Muna that she will have a place to stay and legal help once she is fit to leave the hospital.

“It was only when she felt reassured that her recovery really began,” says Dr Kaleem, who is proud to belong to an institution where the poor are cared for without charge.

As usual, it was only when the media picked up the story that officialdom swung into action, with the Chief Minister promising all the necessary legal aid as well as Rs 50,000 in financial help.

It is only some high-profile cases that receive even this much attention from the government – whether it be Zainab Noor (who still has to carry her colostomy bag around) in Rawalpindi, or young Muna in Lahore.

According to an estimate by the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, as many as 90 percent of women in Pakistan suffer some form of domestic violence; while another estimate puts this figure at between 70 to 90 per cent. The violence ranges from verbal abuse to the occasional slap, to threats of various kinds, to severe beatings and sadistic torture. Most cases are never reported, and the abuse usually continues as families are reluctant to take back daughters whom they have managed to marry off after much expense and trouble, even if these women are willing to brave social stigma and the threat of having their children taken away from them.

Mere lip service to the women’s cause will not end such cases. The system needs to be overhauled and some kind of institutional support available for women on a much larger scale than exists presently – legally, socially, financially and in terms of police support.

As Asma Jahangir says, “There are mafias within mafias. People are scared. This case just shows how difficult it is to get justice, and how vulnerable women are. It’s just not good enough that someone has to pull strings before the police will even register an FIR, that kind of action should happen automatically, for everyone, regardless of their reach.”


The writer recently reported this case for Geo TV News, where she works as a producer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: