YOU are perpetuating rape-culture and don't even know it yet

How do you describe a rape-victim in Urdu? Do you say ‘uski izzat lut gai’ or ‘uss ke saath zabarjinsi howi...

Khadija Ali November 07, 2015
For far too long we have subjected women, particularly victims of sexual violence, to our ignorance and insensitivity ingrained in our speech, linguistics, culture and even laws. The sad fact is that even after the promulgation of the Women Protection Act 2006, efforts still need to be made to challenge the horrendous rape culture we are embroiled in.

A rape victim is someone who has been subjected to a violent, non-consensual and invasive violation of her body, reducing her to a mere object of satisfaction, lust and vulnerability.

The marks of the crime are far more than physical. Many victims consider ending their lives. The self-immolation case of the rape victim, Amna Bibi, is indicative of the culture of impunity for rapists that has perpetuated in our society. While legislative proposals are under way to provide justice to rape victims, on a societal level, one is baffled by the callousness and insensitivity of state officials and citizens alike.

The phrases used to describe the ordeal of a rape victim are ‘izzat lut gai’ and ‘ismat raizi’, which translate to ‘losing honour or respect’. Such diction is not only problematic, it is absolutely shameful. Rather than putting the onus on the perpetrator for committing such a heinous crime and condemning his actions, we deem the victim to have ‘lost her honour or respect’. It is the perpetrator who forgoes his honour when he attacks someone, not the other way around.

So at the very outset, we as a society ensure that we gag victims.

For those who might disagree with this thought, let’s look at recent history starting with Mukhtaran Mai’s rape case. Our president, at the time, reduced all her strength in speaking out and reporting the crime to a cry for foreign citizenship. While Mukhtaran’s case received a lot of attention at one point, with time, her plight faded into oblivion. Now, it only becomes relevant when other rape cases make headlines. 

It is a sad realisation that we all partake, either actively or passively, in perpetuating rape culture. Rape jokes are common. Our impressive vocabularies of curses contain undertones and overtones of rape, and what is worse is that the debate of whether the act of rape itself is a ‘crime of passion’ or not is still ripe – especially with regards to marriage. On the contrary, rape is a manifestation of a power imbalance between sexes or genders. There is nothing passionate about rape; it is a violent demand for power and servitude, a violation of the powerless by the powerful. This phenomenon is often exacerbated by gender disparity in a given society. I have particularly used the term ‘gender’ to point out that it is not only women who fall victim to this crime, but also children, men and third gender people. Eye opening documentaries released over the past few years show that the phenomenon of rape isn’t limited to women in Pakistan but includes all gender identities that are vulnerable or less powerful in our society’s gender hierarchy.

So what do we do and where do we start?

According to the recently launched anti-rape campaign by Pakistan Nari Tehreek, we must refrain from referring to rape as ‘izzat lut jaana’ and use ‘zabarjinsi’ instead. While ‘izzat lut jaana’ assumes a loss of honour because of the crime committed on the body; ‘zabarjinsi’ defines the act of rape, linguistically, as an act committed through force, coercion or lack of consent.

We, the youth, are the architects of Pakistan’s future.

Let’s change the vocabulary of our linguistic dictionaries that perpetuate violence and suppression. In keeping with these notions, Pakistan Nari Tehreek’s campaign has been termed ‘Inkaar Zabarjinsi Se’ translating as ‘Say No to Rape’ for it is high time we put a stop to rape culture and disrespecting rape victims.

While this first step may seem small, its ramifications are quite wide. We must give Pakistani women the respect and acknowledgement they deserve, and stop reducing them to objects of honour and dishonour. Redefining rape in Urdu as ‘zabarjinsi’ does not only shed focus on lack of consent of the victim but also the wider ramifications where women are freed from notions of honour and dishonour through the criminal acts of others.

So, the question is: are we going to maintain our active or passive insensitivity that perpetuates rape culture, or are we willing to challenge historically established precepts of our linguistics and shift the spotlight to hold the perpetrators accountable?

Installing ‘zabarjinsi’ as the term for rape would be a good start.
Khadija Ali The author is a social activist, an advocate at the High Court and a Chevening Scholar to the University of Warwick. She tweets as @KhadijaAlii (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

Facebook Conversations


ارشد حسین | 4 years ago | Reply | Recommend So changing the phrase will bring the change? What about the Religion already imposed the Orders regarding these issues?
Khadija Ali | 4 years ago | Reply | Recommend Thank you for such encouraging words. Humbled to know my words resonated with people.
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