Domestic violence of course is a global phenomenon. However, domestic violence in Bhutan, the country that the world sees as an embodiment of dharma-world, where principles like compassion and non-violence are an expected daily practice of the people, hence, more than anything else, it is a matter of shock.
A couple of weeks ago, as one of my tasks for the week, I took up domestic violence in our homes to report. I met a lady.
Pema who is 31 years old today wished for years longing to lead the life she does at this juncture. She is a tea-woman at the office of RENEW. Finally, it seems for her the poetic justice is arrived at.
All her married life, a preposterously 12 years to be exact. For these many years, she bore the brunt of violence inflicted on her by the man she loved and cared the most, in silence. Because then, the fear of leaving him was greater than the fear of staying. She was worried for the lives of their three children. But, as time passed by, her husband’s infidelity, violence and drinking habits worsened and it was then that the fear of staying became greater than the fear of leaving him. So, just when the time was right, she filed for divorce and availed the custody of her three children.
She is a changed person today not because she has stood up for herself and for her three children but because for a time she said that she felt hollow-empty like a bottle of beer lying on the street, cracked and reeking of its bitter contents. She said that she does not have the same heart or mind now. The way she sees the world is forever changed.
However, the pain of separation and the disappointment of not being able to work out her relation with the man she dearly loved often pained her maimed heart. It was impossible for her not to delve into past. She often found herself depressed.
While at that time when she was down and broken, jobless and homeless, hungry and almost completely depleted by life’s misgivings, a centre established especially for the poor replicated on a slab of otherwise useless marble as 'RENEW,' an acronym for Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women helped her recreate life.
With the money she earns, about Nu.8000 to Nu.9,000 a month, she tries to keep her family happy. More blessings for her, the shop is rent-free!
RENEW was conceptualized by her majesty the queen mother, Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck in the late 1990’s when she traveled extensively into the remotest areas of the country. Having interacted with women from various walks of life, her majesty came to realize that regardless of who we are, where we belong, women generally faced one common problem-violence at their homes.
As the story developed, I met Aum Chimi Wangmo who is the executive director of RENEW. We fixed up an appointment for an interview. Precisely, our rendezvous was slated the next day towards the dusk.
She told me, “So, it was the need of the hour, no government or non government organizations catered to such marginalized victims and her majesty formally established RENEW in 2004 with financial support from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to cater to the needs of the victims of domestic violence and essentially to complement RGoB’s goal to achieve Gross National Happiness (GNH).” True, GNH after all is about civility and quality of life.
To say simply without gushes of fast paced air whooshing out and recognizing that RENEW has changed victims like Pema’s lives would be like insulting the institution for we would be attributing and saying the least.
What had happened with Pema and why did it happen is something only god will know because when i asked her so as to make myself content, she gave me a look that deserves pity and love.
However, as i ponder on her matter it occured to me that things did not go wrong and break her heart so that she can become bitter and give up. Bad things (beatings from her husband) happened to her to break her down and build her up so that she can be all that she was intended to be, and right along aptly came RENEW!
"In fact in our society, people tend to accept domestic violence as a part of their married life. Alas! that does not hold accountable to the perpetrators. Society tends to look at domestic violence as a private affair, and usually these victims get advised by the local mediators to compromise and not to provoke," Aum Chimi said.
Domestic violence is not prevalent in Bhutan as we are a Buddhist society is but a myth. The study carried out by RENEW found out that 77% of the respondents have experienced domestic violence within the past 3 years.
Statistically speaking, RENEW alone receives at least 2 cases of domestic violence in a day.
On the other hand, the medical forensic unit at Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital (Thimphu) in 2007 – 237 cases of domestic violence cases have been treated, and in 2008 – 335 cases were treated. As on August 2009, 306 cases have already been registered with the Unit, the number no doubt is on a steep rise.
On an average, the Women and Child Protection Unit (WCPU) with the police and the hospital sees one – two cases everyday. According to them, some cases are missed out because the victims do not turn up after initially reporting the case.
To my utter amazement, i found out that the reason for such negligence is fear and shame!
The fear of shame and embarrassment, fear of retribution by their partners, lack of family and social support mechanism, concern for children, and the fear of ending their marital relationship are the reasons for failing to come out in the open. Further, what is more agonizing is that all these three organizations that cater to victims of domestic violence agree that the reported cases constitute only a fraction of the problem prevalent in our society.
Alcohol is the main reason for violence in our homes, however, of late, stalking due to advancement of technology and usage of cell phones according to the report from National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC). Craps! what ever the reason, violence in any form or with any reason is damnable-it is the greatest betrayal of human rights!
I could not hold up conciously when i learned that there is an absence of domestic violence act in Bhutan. I could not proceed with the story. For about 2 hours, i sat in the canteen staring at my coffee cup which was long empty. I have a very tumultous mind because i am always unable to tame my emotion. But i need a bread for a living afterall, so i gathered strength, i thought may be i can though on an individual level or personal initiative pester the concerned ministries/organisations (NCWC in this case) to come up with one. I was aware i could make a difference, however small.
While our constitution says “Law shall not discriminate against on the grounds of race, sex, language and religion.” There are plenty of jokers out there who take it for granted that it's okay to lay hands on women and children. Further, there are also certain legislations obvious to anyone who can make out that a is for apple what Z is for Zebra. There are words and clauses that undercuts this rather beautiful stipulation; well I am saying this in terms of women’s fundamental human rights.
This sure is getting somewhere now. Bhutan’s penal code provides penal offence in general but does not provide for domestic violence as such. Domestic violence law will substantiate the penal code and will provide further protective mechanism to the victims of the violence in particular.
I was further disappointed when i came across the fact that though Bhutan had submitted 7th periodic report to the CEDAW (Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women) committee on 23rd July, 2009 in New York and the committee consisting of officials from NCWC recommended having domestic violence law in place. The cold fact is, it still is in the draft process. It will be a year and until that time, wife bashers will be wife bashers!
Now face the music. Concerned organizations often find themselves handicapped to handle domestic violence issues before the matter is submitted to the court for adjudication. this is like, "wait till the cow comes home."
The domestic violence bill will need the undaunted support of our parliamentarians and policy makers so that the greatest of human rights violation is averted for all times to come.
God bless humanity!