The Hari Putar Dialogues - 59
(The Hindustan Times; 28 May 2009; Kuala Lumpur: Calling one's wife ugly may soon be considered an offence under a Malaysian law that seeks to protect a woman both physically and emotionally. One of the clauses proposed to be amended in the Domestic Violence Act 1994 pertains to emotional violence against women who are currently only protected against physical abuse, the Star newspaper said on Thursday. Women's Development Department director-general Noorul Ainur Mohd Nur said emotional violence was a form of abuse that scars women deeply and lowers their self-esteem, dignity and self-confidence. "It could be a case when a husband tells his wife she is ugly or humiliates her until she feels emotionally pressured," she told media at the end of a seminar on how to curb violence against women. The government is in the process of bringing the proposed amendment to parliament.)
Putar: There is a report in The Hindustan Times today that it may soon be an offence for a husband to call his wife ugly in Malaysia.
Hari: Does this mean that the husband can go to jail for calling his wife ugly?
Putar: That would seem to be the implication.
Hari: But that seems to be rather a harsh step, doesn't it?
Putar: According to the Director of the Women's Development Department emotional abuse is a form of abuse that scars women deeply and lowers their self esteem, dignity and self-confidence.
Hari: In other words domestic abuse need not be only physical.
Putar: Exactly. Calling your wife ugly, according to the Director can fall within the definition of domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Law that is being amended to expand the definition of domestic violence.
Hari: So violence can also be mental.
Hari: But can't a husband and wife have a normal regular fight. Isn't that to be expected in any marriage or even relationship?
Putar: That's different. Of course you can have a normal fight.
Hari: But in a normal fight don't you say things against the other person, which you may feel sorry about later.
Putar: That's true, of course.
Hari: What happens if the husband is called ugly by the wife?
Putar: There is nothing about that in the law.
Hari: Why is that?
Putar: Husbands are not supposed to be offended about the fact that they might be ugly, I guess.
Hari: So a wife can call the husband ugly, but the husband cannot. Isn't this discrimination?'
Putar: I suppose you could argue it that way.
Hari: What happens if the wife is actually ugly?
Putar: You still cannot call her ugly to her face.
Hari: I understand. In fact it might be worse. If she is a beautiful person and she knows that if you call her ugly she may not feel so bad about it. The law is about abuse and affecting self esteem, isn't it?
Putar: That's true.
Hari: The husband's lawyer could argue that calling his beautiful wife ugly doesn't amount to abuse, because she knows it's just said in anger. On the other hand a wife who is not so nice looking will feel more hurt, because she might believe that this is how her husband thinks and more important that she really does not look nice.
Putar: That's also true.
Hari: What happens if the husband says to his wife that her cooking is terrible?
Putar: Same principle. The idea behind this law seems to be that abuse need not be only of the physical variety. A man can physically abuse his wife but also mentally abuse her by saying cruel things.
Hari: The cooking may be terrible on a particular day. Can't the husband tell the wife that? What about genuine criticism?
Putar: That should be fine.
Hari: But who is to say what genuine criticism is and what is abuse?
Putar: The Courts are there to determine that. But I see what you are saying. They need to be very careful before passing such a law. In fact they should expand this law. Tell me somethingPapaji?
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: The Domestic Violence Law is mainly targeted at men, isn't it?
Hari: That's true.
Putar: But this lady who is spearheading the reform argues that domestic violence or abuse need not be only physical.
Hari: It would appear so.
Putar: And so calling your wife ugly or a bad cook may in certain circumstances amount to abuse.
Putar: Where it crosses the line of fair criticism.
Putar: But in that case the domestic violence law needs to be extended to apply to men as victims as well.
Hari: Why do you say that?
Putar: Because men being physically stronger much of the time can abuse their wives physically more that their wives, but as far as mental abuse or cruelty is concerned the women can give as good as they get. Or even better.
Hari: That's a thought.
Putar: What about nagging?
Hari: What about it?
Putar: Do you think over a sustained period of time it could qualify as domestic violence committed on a husband?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.