The symbolism could not be starker. The illustrious occasion of Independence Day, the hallowed venue of Minar-i-Pakistan, the site of the Pakistan Resolution, the sacred Ashura week, in the neighbourhood of the shrine of patron saint Data Ganj Bakhsh. Thousands of young people, waving the green and white flags. The great national poet Allama Iqbal in his resting place, under the world famous Badshahi Mosque, as the witness.
One may ask: this is not the first time women and girls have been gang=raped, kidnapped, molested or disfigured. Mukhtara Mai, Zainab, Khadija, Noor Muqaddam, the list is endless. So what is especially shocking about that “Tik Tok girl,” as the reporters insensitively keep calling her?
From Pakistani Taliban blowing up schools and shrines to insurgent attacks and desecration of Hindu temples and Christian houses, it is always an enemy from the East or West. It is always a conspiracy. As always “No Muslim can commit such acts.”
We may condemn the 400 monsters, and the equally vile ones supporting them. But must we not get to the crux of the matter? Surely there must be something fundamentally sickening, stinking within the very foundations of our morality? Why is it, that every time a woman is sexually harassed, raped, molested or murdered, a vast majority believe it is the woman’s fault? It defies all logic, it is devoid of any reason. If the Taliban had shot a boy, there would be an abundance of sympathy, compared to the shooting of a young girl. You may disagree with Malala, but what kind of a twisted mind would claim that she invited the TTP fanatic to shoot her point-blank in the head? When Noor Mukadam was brutally beheaded, she deserved it as she was in a ‘relationship’? And now, we see government ministers more focused on banning Youtubers from the parks than hunting down the wolves lurking in there. What is the reason that a vast majority must always blame the woman? And yes, it is a majority.
My Facebook wall is flooded with more posts ridiculing and demeaning the poor young woman who was molested on Independence Day, rather than showing some sympathy for the ordeal she went through. You can take a survey of the local market, shops and dhabas: the majority will be laying the blame on the woman. It is also not just the men, many women also promote such nonsense. It is our society as a whole which has rotted, it is our value system which has been corrupted beyond recognition.
If you look closely, there is a deep-rooted contempt for women. Any woman. It may be your sister, mother or wife. There is a fundamental belief of their being not just second-class citizens, but second-class human beings. They are likened to pets and children, incapable of rational thought, to be ‘protected’ and kept indoors like a baby kitten, or admonished, ‘lightly’, like a child. They need to be monitored, groomed, covered up, lest they go astray or are tempted. Imagine looking at your mother, the first woman you interact with, the deepest love any human being will ever experience, as an unstable, wild animal, a lesser form of creation needing to be tamed and controlled. What psychological impact it must have on the growing up sons!
The same people spouting hatred on a macro scale are actually projecting their own inadequacies on a micro level. They feel a need to control their wives, some of whom may have asked for some amount of freedom. With many in struggling jobs, they are only able to experience power and authority when they exert it on their wives, mothers and sisters. They are the easy scape-goat for the mockery, humiliation and violence which a man of a vulnerable class may experience in the outside world.
The implementers of these laws: the law enforcers, the legal fraternity, the politicians and the religious leaders: all are indifferent and contemptuous towards these laws, if not outright hostile
But what causes this sick mentality to spread and sprout? Surely these are just the symptoms of something deeper. What is at the core of this sickness?
The first and foremost issue is the acceptance that ours is an unjust and discriminatory patriarchal system. Nothing will change if we keep on claiming that all is well, that our religion, our Constitution and our society provides total protection to women. We have to stop deluding ourselves and the world. We have to admit and look inside rather than blame the world.
It is our very laws and justice system that support, cause and promote such primitive mindsets. Not to mention our religious jurisprudence: how can you talk about women’s rights without addressing the fact that a woman’s testimony is half of a man’s? The reasoning behind it is that women are inherently less rational than men, particularly in important legal matters, especially during ‘that’ time of the month. Imagine a court of law having such reasoning. How considerate! Or let’s look at the famous property laws, the woman receiving a quarter of inheritance compared to a third for a man. An avid feminist, of all people, once gave me the reason that it is because the woman also receives property from the husband. Is that a given? How many men do you know who have listed their properties in their wives’ names? The law should not be going to such lengths specifically to accommodate men. The law should be equal. In the event of a rape, you must have four adult Muslim witnesses. Does the law expect invitations to be handed out to observe a rape? And then, consider the ‘light’ admonishment of your wife. A (moderate) feminist, again of all people, defended this law in a discussion with me once, pointing out that the force of the admonishment is equivalent to a small branch, or feather. The point is: even a full blow won’t probably actually break a bone or cause long term damage. The ‘force’ of the blow is not the issue. The issue is: what gives you the right? Are you training your dog or donkey? Are you disciplining your 5-year-old child? This may not be an actual law, but it is part of our culture, something that our law frequently looks to for guidance.
Yes, some progressive laws have been passed in recent years, on honour killing, domestic violence and work-place harassment. But in practice, they hardly have made a difference. The implementers of these laws: the law enforcers, the legal fraternity, the politicians and the religious leaders: all are indifferent and contemptuous towards these laws, if not outright hostile.
Romance is something that the culture of our own land is based upon. The Heer Ranjhas and Sassi Punnus of folklore are beautiful stories, full of passion, reflecting the essence of creation. And yet, here we are, completely vulgarizing it, labeling it as some sort of filth, suppressing the core of a human being. We lament when it manifests in the outrage against Valentine’s Day, when harassment is justified because the woman is accompanied by a partner or a male friend. When culturally male and female lovers are supposed to be stoned to death, why the surprise upon seeing the mass hatred towards any boy-girl ‘friendship’? When ‘good’ and ‘pious’ women must dress ‘modestly’, and avoid provoking male sexual feelings, why the surprise when the ‘improperly’ dressed are considered game for fondling and poking on the streets?
As a man, I always thought I could protect those around me. I consider myself tall and strong. And yet I would take care to ensure not going with females to small streets, isolated places or localities where I feared a monster might be waiting for his prey. But what can I do if these monsters in their hundreds appear in a public place, in broad daylight?
When our great and wise leader brings the dress of women into the discussion about rape, it emboldens these monsters. And when you turn a blind eye to the causes behind this sick mindset, the lust of these beasts grows. Maybe this horrific incident will force us to address our fundamental problems, the central rot within the very core of our society and culture. The world seems to be worried about the treatment of women under Taliban rule. Perhaps everyone should worry about our own closet-Taliban here too!