The Minar-e-Pakistan tragedy on Independence Day has not only brought national embarrassment, but also reaffirmed that the Pakistani society is full of sexual predators and their supporters. Man has crossed all limits when it comes to unleashing sexual atrocities, while the state watches on.
The psychological, social, and practical baggage emanating from sexual assaults is immense. But the victim of the Minar-e-Pakistan assault is just the latest to be left helpless.
In Thatta, a dead body of a 14-year-old girl was raped. In Khairpur, a 14-year-old girl was kidnapped and raped by an influential money-lender owing to her father’s failure to repay borrowed money. Earlier this month, another 14-year-girl was raped at gunpoint in Khazan.
In June, an elderly woman was held hostage at gunpoint and subsequently subjected to sexual assault by influential people in Muzaffargarh, to avenge her son’s love marriage.
These are just a few among countless examples. Pakistan is undoubtedly witnessing the spread of sexual terrorism.
Following the Minar-e-Pakistan incident, many female celebrities have initiated a hashtag, ‘Yes, all men after a woman’. When 400 are complicit in a crime committed against a helpless individual, women are justified in painting all with the same brush.
Indeed, the system has failed women and children, who are bearing the brunt of domestic and sexual violence.
In the Minar-e-Pakistan incident alone, many questions arise: where were the law enforcement agencies, and the park’s own security, that too on Independence Day?
“Rape in Pakistan is often institutionalised and has the tacit and at times the explicit approval of the state,” says women’s studies professor Shahla Haeri.
Recurring cases of sexual violence lead to widespread public anger. However, public reaction has failed to put decisive pressure on the state to halt sexual crimes.
Experts dub it a reactive strategy when the public demands hanging of perpetrators. This angst fades faster than imagined.
Sexual violence is under-reported given the associated stigma. According to Aurat Foundation, 2,297 cases of violence against women were reported in Pakistan last year. These include murder, kidnapping, rape, gang rape, honour killing, and domestic abuse. 57% of the cases were reported from Punjab.
There are at least 10 rape cases reported in Pakistan every day with over 22,000 reported to police across the country in the last six years, out of which 85% in Punjab. The province, hence, is the epicentre of sexual terrorism. Note that sexual coercion even with captives is tantamount to war crimes.
In 2016, the National Assembly passed a legislation to imprison rapists and perpetrators of honour killings for 25 years, addressing a legal loophole that had allowed many culprits to walk scot-free. Despite the law, sexual crimes are surging. And so are honour killings, which continue to see extrajudicial executions by feudal lords and jirgas.
Mere legislation won’t fix the problem. The society, and those at the helm, need to look at regressive cultural and social norms that fuel sexual violence.
Even as the loud misogynist Khalilur Rehman Qamar concedes that feminists were ‘right’ and women in Pakistan are indeed mistreated in public spaces, many still refuse to see the light.
In a recent talk show, speaking about the Minar-e-Pakistan incident, PTI senator Nauman Wazir Khattak said, “We cannot go against the rules of modesty mentioned in sharia. I don’t know how this girl was dressed when this incident took place.”
He seems to have taken a leaf out of PM Imran Khan’s book of rape apologia, having said recently that women dress’s has direct impact on sexual violence.
For such under-developed minds, the words of Justice Mansoor Ali Shah should be an eye-opener. “A woman, whatever her sexual character or reputation may be, is entitled to equal protection of law. No one has the license to invade her person or violate her privacy on the ground of her alleged immoral character”.
Women’s struggle against sexual victimisation will not end until the mindset that sees woman as an object of sexual pleasure is changed. While establishing true gender equality would require time, right now it is pertinent that the state declare a sexual terrorism emergency to protect its women.