UK-based Pakistani scholar Ayesha Siddiqa recently tweeted a video of women who were allegedly stripped in Faisalabad. She expressed that, “This is not Kashmir or Palestine but Faisalabad, Pakistan – women caught stealing are stripped naked and beaten. Is the state dead and unable to dispense justice even punish people that mob justice has become the only way.” Although based on the latest news, the CCTV footage shows that the women undressed themselves, this is less about the incident and more about the response to her tweet.
Dr. Siddiqa’s tweet instigated a torrent of responses, where many men asked her to blur the faces of the naked women, as they expressed their shame. Others said that the culprits were already behind bars, and so she should remove the video. Additionally, the customary Hindutva brigade was miffed that she brought in the equation with Kashmir. In all these responses, the concern of the Twitterati has been about their respective narratives pertaining to shame or nationalism, with no concern for women.
The litmus test of identifying what people are after is quite simple. Had any of them been concerned about the welfare of the women, they would have contacted the local trader organisation on the vendors, petitioned the local government authorities for action, or more generally, collected funds for women shelters. None of the Twitterati had expressed any such calls to action.
I’m not sure why the Hindutva brigade is perpetually obsessed with a country seven times smaller and weaker than India. Regardless, they are irrelevant, and Pakistanis should mercilessly ignore them. They have more in common with Islamists, who are obsessed more with Syria, Myanmar, Palestine, Kashmir, anyone and everyone, except the oppression of their own people.
Similarly, the Hindutva Indians are more concerned about Pakistan than addressing the 101 problems of their own nation. But India’s problems do not concern Pakistan. Indian Muslims are more than capable and have remarkable agency to address their own concerns.
Returning to Pakistani Twitterati, it is true that the faces of victims are blurred and their names are concealed. However, the naked bodies of the women are not shameful. Many male Twitterati have seen naked women bodies in pornography that is ubiquitously rife in the age of internet. What is shameful is the objectification and control of these bodies. So, some men are ashamed because the video has pricked their conscience.
Others are ashamed because such an incident besmirches their nationalism. They are more concerned about the image of Pakistan than the oppression of its women. And that is why they are swift to state that all the culprits have been caught, as they go about competing with their equally jingoistic Indian counterparts. This is more about male competition than a regard for women.
But the biggest shame is neither of the men who consume pornography profusely, nor of the self-styled defenders of Pakistan. It is of those people whose bay-hisi (insensitivity) has rendered them incapable of any positive contribution. I am referring to the people who film such incidents without remorse and the bystanders who stand by without a single word of protest. And this is not just about the Faisalabad market case but of the recent lynching of Priyantha Kumara and scores of such incidents, which occur from time to time in the Indian subcontinent.
So where do we go from here? I do not expect any positive contribution from those who wail about the myth of Muhammad Bin Qasim attacking Raja Dahir on the plea of an oppressed woman. Such people often belong to groups that perpetuate blasphemy laws and the oppression of minorities. Like the Hindutva Indians, they are more interested in subjugating others to their own faith, than addressing any human rights violations of the oppressed.
Additionally, mere outrage, whipping oneself in penance, or putting Pakistan or Islam down, do not take us anywhere. This is raw negativity that drowns us in a bottomless abyss. What we need is to infuse the younger generation with hope, self-esteem, and courage towards positive action. We may not be able to turn the tide individually, but we can take a stand with our individual small efforts. If we fail, then we fail trying.
To recapitulate, the young deserve a narrative that Pakistan is worth taking a stand for. And a part of this narrative should include that it’s not the bodies of naked women that is shameful but the insensitivity of bystanders whose conscience is dead.