Unapologetic acid attackers: 'She asked for it'
Destroy her face and you will destroy her whole; acid attacks are the ideal recipe for female subjugation.
A few weeks ago, the tragic news of Fakhra Yunus’s suicide garnered extensive amounts of local and foreign media attention; women rights activists spoke up, politicians did the routine condemnation, lawyers demanded justice for a victim who no longer existed, who left precisely because people had forgotten her; her perseverance ran out as the general apathy of her society ran high. We all had become oblivious of her long before she killed herself. That is far worse than any kind of death – when your own people render you irrelevant.
But this isn’t about Fakhra. This isn’t about Bilal Khar’s denial of involvement in the acid attack carried on her, or how he cannot be charged since he has been previously absolved. This isn’t about the hundreds of Pakistani women – or even Indian, Afghan, Iranian, Bangladeshi, American, and British women – who become victims of acid attacks and other forms of violence perpetrated by men.
This is about how – much to our misfortune – hate against women continues to flourish not only because the misogynistic society we live in teaches our men to view women as objects, but because our institutions and popular personalities – ministries, curriculum, media publications, clerics – directly and indirectly assert the notion that a woman is a secondary being, that a woman asked for it when she got raped, beaten, or murdered. All thanks to this culture of blaming and shaming the wrong person, the real criminal is rarely brought to justice.
The question is: Why is there a trend of acid attacks carried out chiefly by men against women?
In order to understand this grotesque malady of the (male) mind, I studied crime reports, mostly from the South Asian diasporas, and gender studies dedicated to the investigation behind misogynistic violence. In a society where a woman’s significance and relevance is determined by what is on her face and what lies between her legs, the vulnerability of her existence is highly defined for a potential attacker.
As repulsive as it sounds, the attacker knows that a woman’s ‘market value’ and strength as a human being is utterly destroyed when she is either attacked with acid or raped. Add political connections to the equation, the woman is completely silenced. It is the ideal recipe for female subjugation.
However it’s not just shallow societal standards of a woman’s importance that reinforce the idea of her little worth; it is the elephantine size of the male ego.
In almost every culture around the world, men are rarely taught a realistic fact of life: A woman 'can' and 'will' say no to his requests and demands. Whether we are studying the conservative societies of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Cambodia and Bangladesh, or presumably liberal societies of USA, UK and Australia, men are rarely made to believe that a woman’s autonomy is as valid as that of a man’s. When his ego is bruised, a man’s wrath takes form of a reckless, blind machine of violence devoid of any conscience.
Another factor behind the abundance of acid attacks is stated by Hannah Bloch, writer of 'The Evil that Men Do':
“Acid, nitric or hydrochloric, has long been the weapon of retribution for Pakistani men against disloyal, disobedient or overly determined women. One reason is that acid is cheap and readily available.”
However, it is a lot worse when popular figures endorse, even subtly, violence against women. Rhetoric – if wielded effectively enough – is a powerful weapon. A week ago, an Urdu columnist Javed Chaudhry cleverly narrated a hyperbolic version of an acid attack. Whether it was an indirect narration of Khar’s crime against Fakhra or some incident from Southern Punjab, the message was clear:
She “provoked” the man to such heights of brutality. After reading that distasteful column, one could easily imagine Chaudhry rephrasing himself:
“Bro, what the dude did was totally not cool, like, it was really not right but, like, she asked for it, bro. Like, why did she make him so angry?”
In Pakistani media, one could easily say that the regard for general ethics runs inversely proportional to the level of viewership one has (or wants to have, for that matter). Chaudhry maintains a strong fan following; imagine the effect of his column when he basically reinforced the she-asked-for-it mentality many Pakistani men already have and act upon.
The worst part is that the editors of the publication never issued an apology for such an inappropriate, insensitive and disgusting column. The appalling ignorance remains unaccounted for as its repercussions grow worse.
For someone who is an unapologetic supporter of human’s rights and security and especially of women’s wellbeing, reading and studying about this kind of violence in Pakistan gives me a dull heartache. Its multi-branched contributive factors make me think:
Where do we start to end this? Are our legislators blind to the atrocities committed in this country? Are women simply not important enough to raise objections? How long will political-backing and misogynistic figures continue to control law and order?
Activists and human rights supporters continue to demand a criminal justice system that is supportive and sensitive to cases of violence against women; that legal and judicial outcomes are just, transparent and equitable for all. But then why aren’t these conscientious voices paid heed to? How many women have to suffer for a bill, so based in common sense, to gain legitimate status?
It says a collective lot about a country when the state becomes indifferent to the malicious and brutal satiation of misogynistic ego, when a woman’s face is no longer just a face but an open target of a man’s animalistic appetite for revenge and dominance.
Read more by Mehreen here, or follow her on Twitter @mehreenkasana.