Rania Al Baz: speaking out against domestic violence!
Rules operate along very ambiguous lines in Saudi Arabia. Domestic violence is something which happens on a daily basis, but nobody wanted to talk about it. Even women were hesitant to talk about the abuse which they suffered in the hands of their chauvinistic men. But then again, Rania was always a very different girl. She was the daughter of an entrepreneur, and she was well educated and attractive. Television started calling when she was eighteen, and with the help of her father, she got into the television world as 'The Kingdom this Morning’s' presenter. She went on air, and she immediately became famous, because of her charming personality and her subtle defiance of the more conservative norms which operated in Saudi Arabia. She did wear a hijab, but she would always choose the more contemporary and flamboyant ones, and she would not make special efforts to mask her attractiveness.
Rania met her husband, Mohammed al-Fallatta at the studio, fell in love, and they got married, but things started to sour very quickly.
After her marriage, throughout the duration of which she had three children, her husband started to get progressively more violent and suspicious. He was incredibly possessive, and her very overt attractiveness, her job, which entailed her to be exposed to the whole country, and her ambitious nature did not go down well with him, and he started to beat her up on a regular basis, till it all reached tipping point on the 12th of April, 2004, when he came back home to find her talking to someone over the phone. He lost his patience and lashed out at her, by grabbing her, and slamming her head against the marble floor. Her face suffered fourteen fractures, and she was almost dead that night. When he was slamming her face down on the ground, he made her recite a prayer which is supposed to be repeated three times before the person in question dies.
Fallatta was taking her in his car to dispose her body, when she regained consciousness, and a very panic-stricken Fallatta dropped her off at the hospital and made a run for it.
It was Rania’s father who took pictures of her disfigured face, and after she recovered from her coma (after four days), she took a decision which would change the course of her life. She decided to go public with the pictures by releasing them all over the internet. the response to this act was overwhelming, because empathy and sympathy came pouring in from all over the world, and more importantly, an issue which had been brushed under the carpet in Saudi Arabia, had finally been flung out in public for everyone to face.
The multitudes of women who had been suffering in silence, slowly started speaking up. Rani not only obtained a divorce, which was almost unheard of in Saudi Arabia, she also gained custody of her children by agreeing to reduce Fallatta’s sentence in half.
All of these developments are historic in Saudi Arabia because domestic violence is not something which is talked about, leave alone contested in court. The sexist orientation of the society considers it a man’s right to beat up his wife as and when he chooses to do so. A woman getting a divorce from a man on her own accord is equally rare, and momentous. Rania Al Baz tried to return to television after this incident, but she is still very unpopular in her country because of how she “betrayed” her husband, and because of the “shameless” way in which she paraded herself on television. While a number of people attribute Saudi Arabia’s rigidity and extreme patriarchy to the Islamic laws and norms, Rania stated in The Guardian that “...none of this is about a religion, it is about society...” It is the society which is mired in patriarchy, in repression and sexism.
Rania might have become unpopular due to her actions, but her ways have opened up avenues for many other women who have been suffering in silence for years in Saudi Arabia. Through her “shameless” acts, Rania has become a beacon for others who want to stand up and protest against a crime which reduces Saudi Arabian women to the status of baby-producers and punching bags.