Trivialising rape: A guide for the ‘enlightened’ elite
A 15-year-old girl was kidnapped, drugged and gang raped in a hotel on Mall Road, Lahore a few days ago. The rapists later texted the parents to come pick up their unconscious child from the hotel room. The girl was rushed to Services Hospital where initial medical examination revealed that she had been raped by six to eight men.
Eight suspects have been arrested so far. The main accused, Mian Adnan Sanaullah, is the Additional Secretary General of PML-N Youth Wing.
In addition to the usual sensational media coverage, shots of weeping parents played on a loop over cringe-worthy melodramatic music, the involvement of a member of the ruling party has naturally spawned a variety of conspiracy theories starring an innocent Mr Sanaullah entrapped in a scandal by political rivals.
On January 1st, The Friday Times published as unverified and extremely distasteful story in their gossip column, called Such Gup, in which the paper dismissed the rape charges as a bunch of lies fabricated by the girl and her family. Moreover, the column also made the peculiar assertion that positive DNA tests somehow ‘prove’ that the sexual contact between the victim and the main accused was consensual rather than coerced. The write-up was deleted from the paper’s website following outrage on social media regarding the unsubstantiated accusations against the victim and downright misleading claims regarding forensic evidence.
Two days later, a leading newspaper reported that the teenaged victim had tried to commit suicide amidst mounting pressure and harassment from the police and prosecuting team to withdraw her statement. The publishing of such a bizarrely offensive story on gang rape and the refusal of the paper and its Editor in Chief, Najam Sethi, to apologise for it calls for a much needed conversation on misogyny in so called progressive circles.
One of the many consequences of pervasive religious extremism, lack of education, and intense socio-economic disparities is the rise of paternalistic discourses on the ‘illiterate masses’ being manipulated by ‘ignorant mullahs’. The antics of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and their ilk fuel such narratives where misogyny and gender based violence are reduced to and made synonymous with the lower classes and/or those susceptible to religious zealotry. Our discursive spaces are so completely dominated (and not without reason) by the need to counter violence against women perpetuated in the name of religion and tradition that we often overlook how patriarchy pervades our so-called liberal spaces. Our class-based blind spots make it easy for us to holler at Maulana Sherani when he trots out some new theory on the place of women in Islam, but blind us to misogyny when it is wrapped up in a three piece suit, and the flawless English of those who gossip about gang rape in an elite English paper.
The Munawar Hassan brand of misogyny - where he demands that rape victims must not report the crime unless they can provide four righteous, adult, male witnesses - is obviously not going to fly with the upper classes. The Friday Times gossip column is apparently the more socially acceptable way of victim blaming and trivialising violence against women in the high society. It is an example of how individuals and publications capitalise on their reputation of being progressive to sell deeply flawed and sexist narratives for political gains. Sanitised with the Oxbridge and Ivy League credentials of their writers and stripped of any religious idioms to attest to the secular and hence naturally progressive values of the paper, such stories can be far more effective in silencing women than the flagrant and artless misogyny of the CII.
In fact, they can be extremely dangerous. At a time when the CII is busy peddling the idea that DNA and forensic evidence cannot be used as primary evidence in rape cases, The Friday Times swoops in with even more misinformation about how the existence of DNA evidence ‘proves’ a consensual relationship.
Ironically, the very page on The Friday Times website that ran the offensive story, also included a link to a delightful section called “Nuggets from the Urdu Press”. ‘Absurd or ridiculous’ items from the vernacular press are culled and presented here for the amusement of the obviously more sophisticated readership of The Friday Times. Interestingly, none of these ‘nuggets’ are nearly as absurd as the labelling of the gang rape of a minor a ‘myth’ which is then ‘unravelled’ through an anonymous ‘mole’ making a series of outrageous claims about DNA evidence.
In an article published in The Friday Times a few months ago on the notorious Kasur child molestation and pornography case, Mr Sethi waxed eloquent on the heinousness of sexual assault. The effusive and lengthy feminist slogans were strategically peppered with comments on how the scandal was being blown out of proportion for political gains by the opposition and how (surprise, surprise) a land dispute was being settled through accusations of molestation. The slick article closed with an appeal to promote ‘societal awareness and resistance’ to combat child sexual abuse rather than focusing exclusively on such a sensational case. I am at a loss to understand what kind of societal activism Mr Sethi’s paper is encouraging by gossiping about gang rape and misinformation about forensic evidence.
Not only does the paper belittle rape by making misleading claims, it also considers the gossip section an appropriate place for the discussion of the gang rape of a minor. Even if the allegations prove to be false, the fact that the paper can mock such serious accusations is disgusting! We would never dream of doing a cutesy write up in the case of a murder allegation. The fact that we can do that for rape shows how the lives and dignity of women are trivialised in our society.
Overlooking misogyny when it occurs amongst the urban elite is nothing new. A recent case of sexual harassment of a female student by a professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the country revealed our sheer hypocrisy when one of ‘our own’ is accused. Apparently men with Ivy League degrees cannot be sleazy. That’s the job of the canteen wala. And let’s not forget our former president General Musharraf whose fondness for dogs and whiskey was used to establish his enlightened credentials. Our moderate dictator told The Washington Post that in Pakistan rape was a ‘money-making concern’ used by women to get foreign citizenships and become ‘millionaires’.
There is a reason why Pakistan ranked second to last in the Global Gender Gap Report 2014. And no it is not a Jewish conspiracy. In the aftermath of the Delhi rape case Twitter trolls were busy trending disgusting hash-tags calling India the rape capital of the world. There hasn’t been a squeak out of them with regard to the Lahore case.
And just look at the media stunts that follow rape cases.
Samaa TV aired screenshots of the medical report of the teenaged victim showing her name and home address on national TV.
Another channel discussed how the victim knew one of the accused, and that somehow ‘proves’ that she couldn’t have been assaulted.
The only repercussion for these channels for violating the privacy of a 15-year-old was a light warning from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).
Meanwhile, The Friday Times editor-in-chief has been busy. No, he is not busy crafting an apology or conducting an in-house inquiry on how such an irresponsible piece of writing was ever published. He’s busy blocking everyone on Twitter who demands an apology.