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Outrage In Pakistan Over Bid To Allow 'Light Beating' Of Wives

Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Chairman Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani addresses a press conference in Islamabad on May 26.
Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Chairman Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani addresses a press conference in Islamabad on May 26.

A suggestion that men should be allowed to "lightly beat" their wives from an Islamic religious body was met with outrage in Pakistan on May 27.

The suggestion was included in a draft bill released by the Council of Islamic Ideology on May 26, which was posed as an alternative to a law giving women greater rights and protection that was enacted in the province of Punjab in February.

The Islamic bill says: "A husband should be allowed to lightly beat his wife if she defies his commands and refuses to dress up as per his desires; turns down demand for intercourse without any religious excuse; or does not take bath after intercourse or menstrual periods."

Leading the outraged response to the proposal, the country's biggest and most influential newspaper, the English-language daily Dawn, published a satirical article with a list of things people could beat other than their wives -- including eggs, the bottom of ketchup bottles, and the Michael Jackson hit Beat It.

The article was a rare example of media satire on matters laid down by Pakistan's conservative Islamic authorities.

The draft bill was also slammed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which condemned it as "ridiculous" and called for the council of "zealots" to be disbanded.

"It is difficult to comprehend why anyone in his right mind would think that any further encouragement or justification is needed to invite violence upon women in Pakistan," the group said.

Women have fought for basic rights for decades in Pakistan, where so-called honor killings and acid attacks remain common.

Online comments were even more blunt and derisive.

"This body should be dissolved, preferably in acid," wrote one Twitter user.

The Punjab women's protection law that the Islamic council seeks to change is aimed at curbing domestic violence against women. It defines "violence" as "any offense committed against a woman," including acts of emotional abuse, stalking, and cyber crimes.

The law provides a toll-free help line for women, and establishes residential shelters for abused women. It also allows courts to order GPS trackers be attached to violators of the law to monitor their movements.

The Islamic Ideology Council, which was formed in 1962 to advise parliament on the compatibility of laws with Sharia, has previously spoken out against the Punjab law.

The council's recommendations are not binding, and it has drawn widespread criticism in the past for other rulings -- including in 2013, when it suggested making DNA evidence inadmissible in rape cases.

Following the wave of criticism on May 27, the council's chairman Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani insisted that the group wants to protect women from violence and believes that "light beating" should be used only as a last resort after other ways of persuading a woman to comply with a man's wishes fail.

"Light beating does not mean violence," he told a press briefing in Islamabad, saying it can mean hitting one's wife with a handkerchief or hat in a way that leaves no bruises or scratches.

"The issue has been blown totally out of proportion. Everyone condemns violence. People need to be educated to stay away from violence," he said.

"Fathers and husbands do not have permission to cause physical damage to their daughters or wives... They should avoid inflicting any kind of physical injuries."

With reporting by AFP and The Express Tribune
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