If there isn’t already a name for our reaction to Fakhra Younus’s death, I would like to propose one: isolated indignation. In my dictionary, isolated indignation is the temporary but potent rage one feels following a quick perusal of social media feeds or the local news. Isolated indignation leads to much re-tweeting and reposting, a little reporting, and a negligible-but-nonetheless commendable amount of revolting.
I don’t doubt the sincerity of anyone who indulges in isolated indignation — a brief spate of online activism has its merits and every word spoken out against an injustice has its place in a greater discourse. But because isolated indignation is a fleeting sentiment, fueled both by our need for instant gratification and our unwillingness to get our hands dirty, it is a mostly ineffective tool for lasting social change.
Lasting social change is what I assume we are after when we agitate — and this would require that our effort to change attitudes is a sustained one with clear objectives. Unfortunately, we face a dual problem: not only do we rally for change with imprecision, but we also misjudge the task’s enormity. And so, during the few days that we rage against the injustices done to Fakhra, we call for the creation of a system where retributive justice is dispensed swiftly, impartially and always. If this were the kind of system that existed back in 2000 when Fakhra was allegedly doused in acid by a vindictive husband, her tormentor would have been incarcerated irrespective of being a Khar and the world would be a better place, right?
Not quite. When we talk about Fakhra Younus, we must understand that her story did not begin with an act of violence and it will not end with her suicide. The number of wrongs that contributed to her tragedy are far more numerous. It was wrong that marriage seemed to be the only way for her to secure a future and respect for herself. It was wrong that her husband abused her and it was wrong that this abuse did not end when she left him. It was wrong that Khar was able to escape without any consequences for his actions and has not yet faced the Court.
Correcting one of these wrongs will only cause a small hiccup in a system intent on devaluing women. So, while criminalising acid attacks is a step forward, individual actions that we too often dismiss as harmless parts of our cultural fabric — like voicing disapproval of women working or discouraging a female child from pursuing education — will accumulate and counter that success.
A few days after the fact, Fakhra’s tragedy is already fading from the headlines. If we’ve exhausted our weekly quota for indignation on Fakhra’s behalf, there are several new stories we could focus on. Just yesterday, a woman in Multan was burnt by acid in a domestic dispute. This is where we must push for new legislation on acid attacks to be implemented. Barring that, if we cannot get more bodies in the street agitating for justice today, then, at the very least, we must begin propagating and living out certain ideals in our own lives, like believing and investing in women’s economic and intellectual potential and perhaps, most importantly, standing behind these rousing issues for the long haul.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2012.