Aasia Bibi is a 21-year-old woman from Multan, Pakistan, who was forced into marriage two months ago. Soon after, she tried to run away, but was forcibly returned to her in-laws house. She then seems to have tried to murder her husband by poisoning his milk, but since he refused the glass, her mother-in-law used the poisoned milk to make a batch of lassi, which she served to 27 members of the extended family. 15 of them have died, and the rest are in the hospital in critical condition.
I don’t remember the last time I felt sorry for a woman who caused the death of 15 people. What she did was terrible, but there’s a slight difference between senseless violence, and the violence women enact on the partners who abuse and trap them. The latter seems to be born of nothing but desperation, helplessness and the feeling that they have no other options, and are usually the product of society’s failure of women: forcing them into marriages they don’t want to be in, turning a blind eye to their abuse and giving them no where to go when they want to leave such marriages. In these cases, you feel like society has failed the women, not that these women are threats to society at large.
It’s also hard to explain the kind of systematic mental and physical torture that these women experience to a court. Courts all over the world tend to a pretty male-centric view of what a “crime of passion” is: a crime committed in the “heat of the moment” (the most common example is of course a husband walking in on his wife with another man, killing her in immediate rage, and all is forgiven). But such an understanding of momentary anger or loss of control doesn’t take into account the kind of helplessness and trauma that years of abuse can inflict, or the actions such trauma can motivate.
It’s not like it was a permissible plan for her to murder her husband, but you feel sure that it wasn’t her plan to murder 15 members of husband’s extended family. Considering that she didn’t receive a helpful response from her family when she protested the marriage and tried to run away from her marital home earlier, it doesn’t seem likely that she has any support system in the world. As commentators on social media have said, I just hope she gets decent legal counsel, because boy, is she going to need it.