West Asian women: Silent victims of persecution

The woman concerned — whose identity has been protected by a British court — got a reprieve when a judge granted her asylum in the United Kingdom. Her crime? She got pregnant from her non-Muslim British boy-friend.

Despite being remotely linked to the royal family, the woman in question was too scared to return to her home country, Saudi Arabia, where she would have had to stand trial for committing adultery, a ‘crime’ punishable by death either by beheading or by stoning. Here, ironically, vices of all kinds thrive despite the presence of a moral police called Muttawas.

The rich and powerful get away with anything they do with some exceptional cases where the ‘fallen out’ rich — as in the above case — are made to pay the price to reflect fairness in the system.

In this case, the woman, who will now stay alive, had been married to a member of the royal family but reportedly began a relationship with a British man during a visit to London. The woman after giving birth secretly in the UK, took her case to the immigration and asylum tribunal.

Such is the stranglehold of the wealthy oil producing countries, that asylum status of their citizens is not publicly declared by even rich democratic countries. It is believed that the woman in question had the support of some male family members, a rare case in this part of the world.

Sexual exploitation of women is quite common, but even the media — controlled by the government — rarely reports them and if they do, only in a low-key manner.
Compared to this Saudi woman, an Iranian woman in her late 20s was not so lucky. She was arrested recently in the UAE after she confessed that her newborn baby was not legitimate. The hospital authorities were harassed for carrying out her delivery procedure. She is now reportedly languishing in a jail in Sharjah.

Such incidents are not new in the region, where adultery is common but mostly women take the brunt and are routinely flogged for minor cases such as being in the company of unrelated men. Even in cases of rape, the women are given ‘part punishment.’ The so-called human rights groups have been criticising the governments for being harsh on the fair sex but they are easily silenced.

Show of impartiality
Usually poor expatriates and local citizens suffer the most from police high-handedness as confessions obtained from them are accepted as ‘final’ before declaring the punishment. In some cases, the rulers resort to punishing the rival or dissenting family members to settle personal scores and reflect their ‘impartiality.’ In 1977, a member of the Saudi royal family, 19-year-old Princess Mishaal, was executed after admitting to adultery. The film ‘Death of a Princess’ made on her life was so controversial that the British ambassador in Riyadh was thrown out because the film was shown in London.
The women live in constant fear in this part of the world despite submitting to all kinds of rules that curb their moments, job and educational opportunities, and freedom to choose their life partners. At times, the exploitation goes to unimaginable levels with new laws invented to further shackle them.

Last year, a cleric in Saudi Arabia went to the extent of asking women to wear a full veil, or niqab that reveals only one eye because he believed that showing both eyes encouraged women to use eye make-up that was too seductive. No human rights group seems to be powerful enough to take on  the rulers or the clerics in this region. Given a choice, one wonders how many would like to be born as women in such societies.
(The author has lived and worked in West Asia)

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