By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
I have been repeatedly told that our police are insensitive to women making reports on spousal abuses. I was somewhat sceptical until reality hit squarely on my face one day. Perhaps it was destined that I see things for myself than hear it second-hand.
I accompanied a friend to the district police station along Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab, Ipoh one day. He wanted to make a police report about a road accident involving his car. It was just a minor accident but for claiming purposes, a police report was required.
While seated in the waiting area, an Indian lady, in her mid-twenties, was at one of the counters. A plump lady police corporal was attending to her. From her vocal expressions it was obvious that the complainant was in pain and had difficulty describing her problems clearly to the policewoman. I overheard her saying about being beaten by her husband over some minor infractions. She was scared of going home fearing being beaten again and pleaded to the police to do something.
The answer the police corporal gave shocked me, what more the poor lady. “You balek rumah dan cuba buat baik dengan you punya suami. Kalau tidak kami masuk dua-dua dalam lokap” (You go back home and try to make up with your husband otherwise we’ll place both of you in the lock-up). It was a threat rather than an advice.
That I am told is not an isolated case but is being repeated at almost every police station in the country. Compassion is least on the part of the Police and the reasons are aplenty. Ignorance is a major obstacle and hindrance. The other is the reluctance of police personnel to attend court to testify on spousal abuse in divorce cases.
If it involves Muslim women it is worse. Such cases in syariah courts get dragged on for years as the judges need to be fully convinced before passing judgment in favour of the women. If the husband refuses to give “talaq” (formal repudiation) the wife would have to face years of “naik turun mahkamah” (going up and down the court) to impress the judge that abuse has indeed happened and is not provoked by her. The husband can claim “nusyuz” (disobedience) such as leaving the matrimonial home without his consent. If that is the case, the judge will order the wife to return to her husband. The odds are stacked up against Muslim women and this is pitiful.
And there is the problem of belief that the husband has the right to beat the wife if she as much as retorts with some harsh words. This is not only confined to Muslims but those from other religions as well. In short, it cuts across social and religious barriers.
Although the Domestic Violence Act was passed in 1994 with an amendment made in 2012, the mood has not changed much. Apathy is the byword, as the principal players are in denial. In the absence of a proper welfare system, as in the West, it is left to the non-governmental organisations to take on the responsibility. And since their funding and manpower resources are very limited many abuse cases go unattended and unsupervised.
Statistics compiled by WAO (Women’s Aid Organisation) will stun you. According to a study conducted by Universiti Sains Malaysia in 2014 “nine per cent of ever-partnered women in Peninsular Malaysia have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. This means that 800,000 women in West Malaysia have likely experienced abuse.” The figure is staggering.
Penang-based NGO, WCC (Women’s Centre for Change) has come up with an easy-to -comprehend-four-page leaflet defining domestic violence. It gives a step-by-step guide how and what to do when one is being abused. It tells how to get an Interim Protection Order (IPO) beginning from the hospital to the police station to the welfare department and thence to the court.
In spite of all this, the overall picture is not too rosy. Much more needs to be done to change the system and laws to allow abused women some decent justice. But what are we to do when some investigating officers are themselves clueless what domestic violence is all about and what IPO stands for?