Rejected by the Straits Times Forum.

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Censorship of Talaq

The National Arts Council (NAC) has used the argument of protecting religious and racial sensitivities in explaining its censorship of "Talaq" . Surely neither religion nor race can be the real reason because Talaq is not about the Muslim religion nor is it about Indian Muslims.

Talaq is about domestic violence that happens to take place in a Muslim household and domestic violence is a serious problem in many communities. It is therefore a social issue and not a religious nor a racial issue and should be of concern to all of us.

Nowhere in Talaq is criticism leveled at either the religion nor the community. Talaq itself makes the opposite point when the main character describes the loving home in which she grew and the fond memories she has of her father "Vappa."

Domestic violence is wrong in all religions. It took almost ten years of similar awareness raising about the issue of domestic violence before the Singapore government acknowledged domestic violence as a serious social problem. Since them many government agencies have been in the forefront of the work in dealing with domestic violence. In the mid 1990ís the Singapore government finally agreed with AWARE that domestic violence is wrong and not to be tolerated. Now NAC has banned Talaq. Why? Is the Singapore government returning to the days of pretending domestic violence does not exist?

What short memories we have! Talaq was performed in Singapore without incident on 24 December 1998 and 21 February 1999. The current ban represents a regression and increased censorship at a time when we are seeking international recognition as a Renaissance city.

All who reject the idea that domestic violence is a part of every Muslim household must support Talaq. Talaq is a play about the social problem of domestic violence. It is not a commentary on the Muslim religion. To suggest otherwise is to offend all Muslims. It is disturbing that NAC is unable to differentiate between Muslim religious values and a social commentary on the evils of domestic violence.

Another rejected letter by Sara Dean

When one is single and free or blessed with a happy marriage, it is difficult to appreciate or understand all the fuss about spousal abuse or domestic violence. Why not just walk away, why stay in an abusive relationship, one might ask.

After working for over 10 years to bring violence in the family and spousal abuse out of the closet, women non-governmental organisations are still finding that:

  • many women dare not leave a relationship because they do not have the financial resources to do so.
  • If she has children, a woman's ability to leave is complicated by the challenge of moving her children, (taking them out of school, away from friends) or abandoning her children.
  • She may not leave for fear of what the offender may do to her or the children.
  • In addition some women may not leave due to love and loyalty to the husband which may override her own pain and suffering. The decision to leave a person you care about or love can be very difficult even when the relationship is unhealthy or violent.

Arguments for the banning of Talaq, thus far, have clouded over the real issue at the heart of the play, which is spousal abuse. The facts are especially sobering considering how most women here feel they are safe from abuse on our streets and in our homes. The controversy surrounding Talaq shows that not only does abuse exists in our happy midst, when it does happen, there are people in the community who will block it from being known. I share the concerns of Mr Osman Sidek that as a result of banning the play, many may conclude that, in Islam, marriage sanctions spousal abuse and rape. I too have been deeply troubled by the comments made by Haji Ebrahim Marican.

Domestic abuse and rape within marriage is a social issue that happens within our society. It is everyone's problem and not confined to any particular religion or ethnic group. It is almost never talked about, but one thing is clear, wives who are battered are more likely also to be raped.

Rape is the term used to describe sexual intercourse committed without a person's consent and / or against a person's will. It is interesting to note that in modern Singapore today, according to the conditions of the Penal Code, no husband can be charged with raping his wife. Our law actually exempts men from prosecution for demanding sexual intercourse from his wife, even when it is through force, threats or intimidation.

Often, it is easy to view marital rape as less serious and traumatic when compared to other forms of rape. Studies , however, have shown that marital rape is frequently quite violent and generally has more severe, traumatic effects on the victim than other rape. A stranger rape, as devastating as it is, is a one-time occurrence. Marital rape however, involves a series of devastating occurrences, often spanning years. When you are raped by your husband, you have to live with your rapist!

Why would a man rape his wife? Strangely enough, it is not due to a wife's withholding of sex which is the most common myth. Most women who report being raped by their husbands also report having consensual sexual intercourse with them. If the offender is not deterred by social conventions against hitting and punching, he will probably not be inhibited by social conventions against forcing sex either.

In their interviews with battered women, (Finkelhor and Yllo, 1985) discovered these these women were often forced into having sex after being physically abused. These attacks were usually never sparked off by disagreements over sex or sexual matters but took place as a result of an argument which arose over some insignificant or minor incident. Many battered women have reported that husbands have demanded sex directly following a beating, as proof that the woman "forgives" him for beating her! Researchers who have spoken with husband-rapists conclude that these men rape to reinforce their power, dominance or control over their wife or family, or to express anger. All forms of violence and sexual aggression by men against women, take place in societies, cultures or families which is patriarchal, that is, male dominated in nature, where women are viewed as inferior beings.

Such inequality excludes women from the positions of power in political and economic spheres. Often their views and concerns on many matters pertaining to society and the role of rights of women, are clearly not represented. This means women are often not only left out of the decision-making process on issues which affect society as a whole but even those issues which pertain directly to those involving women. Take for instance the recent high-level inter-ministry working committee set up to discuss the declining birth-rate. The 11-member committee, headed by top civil servant Eddie Teo, had 10 men and only 1 woman on the panel. Often, the lives of women are defined by the rules and laws set down for them by men.

Many feminists and sociologists argue that as long as society is dominated by the patriarchal system, there will always be gender inequality. And gender inequality will inevitably contribute to violence against women and rape. It must be acknowledged that every woman has a right over her own body and to make decisions about having sex, using birth control, becoming pregnant and having children. She does not lose these rights is she marries. As such she should have a say in how she wants her body to be treated, even by her husband. She is not his property to be used or abused at anytime he desires to do so. Unfortunately, the lack of protection by law and the false understanding that this issue should be kept within the bedroom and not discussed in the open, has forced victims of violence and abuse to remain silent. By blocking the play 'Talaq' for whatever reasons, we condemn the victims of violence to their silent suffering. Singapore for all its sophistication and advancement, will have fallen behind to the rank of developing countries where indeed, societies are still fighting for basic rights of women.

I refer to the article, "Ministry reveals details of Talaq ban" (ST, Nov 15).

I am sursprised to hear from Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee that Agni Kootthu (Thetare of Fire) had staged the earlier performances of the play Talaq in Tamil - first in December 1998 and twice in February last year.

Agni Kootthu never staged the three earlier performances in Tamil. The first performance was staged by Mdm Nargis Banu, the performer and sponsored by AWARE and funded by the Lee Foundation. The two other performances in February 1999 were staged by the Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society, and one of it (21 Feb 99) was funded by the National Arts Council.

And, under no circumstances did I later change my mind and agree for a second preview on Oct 23. I only agreed to the second preview when the National Arts Council acceded to my initial request made on 16 Oct before I called off the first preview, to invite three women members from the public on behalf of Agni Kootthu. Finally, we had two women members from the public for the second preview. ST has also carried an article on the comments of one these women members on 27 Oct, Life.

Following the preview, Agni Kootthu was never informed of the ' reported recommendations' made by the National Arts Council, Drama Review Committee or even Islamic Religious council of Singapore (MUIS).

I hope at least these 'official facts' get reported in the media.

Yours sincerely

Aware's Press Release
[This press release was not published nor reported on by the Straits Times]

25 November, 2000

For more information, please contact:
Tel: 779 7137
Fax: 777 0318


AN AWARE Press Statement to mark International Day Against Violence Against Women: Nov. 25th 2000.

Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) -- 24 November 2000 -- In the interest of justice, equality and community, the spirit of S21 and strong families AWARE feels an obligation to issue the following statement on the silencing of Talaq as we mark International Day Against Violence Against Women.

On this day we remember the millions of women who suffer in silence - the pain, of physical abuse and mental anguish - that's inflicted on them because they are women. They suffer in silence because they have been disempowered; because they have no where to go and because men hold the reins of power over them, their right to speak and to be heard.

It has taken many years of struggle and awareness-raising programmes in Singapore to break that silence, to offer safe spaces for the victims and to get laws enacted to provide for greater protection to victims of violence. For instance, because of these laws, an increasing number of complaints are filed in the Family Court. In 1996, 1,306 cases were reported; in 1997 the reported cases grew to 2,019 and in 1999 to 2,280.

Statistics also show that spousal violence cuts across all ages, races, religions, occupational and educational background. But there are many that go unreported. Many families suffer in silence. We, therefore, have to continue raising awareness and empowering the victims to break away from the cycle of violence and break the silence. Drama provides one of those means of breaking the silence.

It is therefore, disturbing, that "Talaq", a social commentary on the evils of domestic violence, has been silenced and thus silencing the right of the victims to speak and to be heard.

We thought we had moved away from those dark days of silence. This episode serves to remind us that the struggle against violence is an on-going one and that men in power can silence women's right to speak against oppression by any means within their power. IN this case men have used race and religion to silence; the licensing and funding authorities have succumbed to their arguments and banned the play "Talaq".

Domestic violence is not acceptable in any religion. Using religion to silence a social issue, such as domestic violence, makes a farce of our education, and our progress and our claim as a first class home for all.

Nov. 25th 2000

Association of Women for Action and Research
Blk 5 Dover Crescent #01-22 Singapore 130005 Tel: 779 7137 Fax: 777 0318
Email: / URL:

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