Yesterday, I read with despair and bewilderment about 9-year old Nurul Dahyatul Fazlinda Mat Haizan who was first subjected to an acid attack by her father and would later meet him in prison with “tears of joy”. The reason why Nurul Dahyatul would weep for joy upon meeting her violent father as if reuniting with a long-lost loved one is bewildering and raises a lot of question marks.
Attacked while asleep by her father who “flew into a rage” during an argument with her mother, the disfigured girl has presumably forgiven her father’s violent deed and accepted his action as pure “accident”. Nurul Dahyatul is not the only one who sustained injuries; her mother and two other siblings also suffered from burns.
Yet despite the traumatic event, Nurul Dahyatul and her mother appear adamant that the man who kept chemical weapons in the family home, who would go as far as to disfigure his family and subject them to psychological distress, has reformed and is by nature gentle and worthy of their love and devotion. Nurul Dahyatul’s mother, Ku Huzaimah, also believes that because Nurul Dahyatul was his “favourite” child he had never meant to hurt her.
Nurul Dahyatul and her mother represent a part of similar cases in Malaysia that invite suggestions of delusional behaviour. In June, a Malay woman insisted on posting bail for her husband after he had raped their daughter three times. The woman explains to the incredulous court room that “As a wife, I know my husband is problematic”. In another case some time back whose details I cannot recall, a Malay woman defended her husband even after he had murdered their daughter. Her reason for standing by her man? Because they were still bound together by wedlock.
Why do some people defend their violent partners, fathers, and relatives?
It is common in abusive relationships to have the abused defending and returning to their abuser because of a number of reasons; mainly fear, emotional blackmail, and diminished self-esteem. Here we have three women and one girl who would tell the world that they resume with life post murder, rape, and disfigurement with the perpetrator almost as if nothing had happened. I can only hazard a guess that the fear of challenging a man at his weakest point – due to imprisonment, humiliation by the press – and domestic retribution can force a woman or girl into the role of defender of the man’s scarred ego.
Despite being a ubiquitous fact of life, divorce is still deeply stigmatising and even taboo in Malaysia. Perhaps it is not far-fetched to suggest that for some divorce is far worse than living with an abusive, murderous, and misogynistic man. Another familiar theme underlying the cases is the gentle man beneath the exterior of the beast who can do no wrong, the myth of the protective husband and father who had momentarily lost his head, the fantasy of the household that will perish without the presence of paterfamilias, and the myth of accommodating wives and daughters. Perhaps Nurul Dahyatul’s tears of joy are not so bewildering after all.