Lessons from the Zainab case

It is important for us as a nation to move beyond the rhetoric and start looking for action

Kamal Siddiqi March 12, 2018
The Zainab case was unique in that the rapist and murderer was arrested but also because it started a national debate on child abuse. PHOTO: Reuters/ File

As we look back at the Zainab case that took place in Kasur earlier this year, there are a number of lessons that we learn. In the lessons, we have to understand the dynamics of the case. It will help us fight for justice in the future as well.

Lesson No 1: Government can deliver when it wants to. The most important lesson, to begin with, is that the government can move mountains when it puts its mind to it. Results can be achieved given the right resolve. The problem with rape cases, as with many other crimes, is that they are not a priority in the government’s agenda. Punjab was once referred to as the rape province of Pakistan not only because of the number of rape cases that took place but also because there was almost never any follow up and in most instances the perpetrators would not be caught.

Lesson No 2: Public protests matter. Had the public not protested on the roads and had media not taken up the issue the way it did, the Shahbaz Sharif government would have swept it under the rug like it did with the Kasur child abuse case that took place only some years earlier. The police investigations were never fair and the manner in which high ranking police officials managed to slow things down only resulted in justice being denied.

Lesson No 3: The power of social media. Whether we like it or not, it was the social media that really stirred things up. The clip from the CCTV that showed Zainab being led away by an unidentified man went viral on social media. It not only brought the attention of the mainstream media to the case but also the people who then ended up in protesting the incident. It is thanks to technology that we were able to muster the kind of anger that is needed to demand justice in such a case.

Lesson No 4: Politicians will play politics. Whether it was Tahir ul Qadri leading Zainab’s funeral prayers or Rana Sanaullah coming in to lead the investigations, politicians will use every high-profile case to exploit it to their advantage. This does not necessarily mean they have any intention to solve the case or catch the perpetrators. It simply means that they will show the public that they share their sorrow and are doing everything in their power to help. Which may not entirely be the case.

Lesson No 5: The police will try and protect the guilty. As happened in thousands of such cases, the local police will try and protect the criminals. That is because they are able to make money that way. The same happened in the Zainab case where the police actually started to harass Zainab’d family instead of assisting them in the investigations. The hyena-like mentality that our local police possesses ensures that they will happily side with those who pay them more. And what is worse is that the government does not seem to take any notice of this. Policemen are suspended but rarely dismissed or arrested for their negligence. Even as we speak, the SHOs that made a mess of the Kasur child abuse case are being reinstated to their previous positions.

Lesson No 6: Finally, the most important lesson to learn is that evil lurks very close by. As much as we like to believe otherwise, in most child abuse cases, it is someone that the victim knows or trusts. This can be a close family relation or someone who is known to the family. This is exactly what happened in the case of Zainab. Parents cannot leave their children to the care of those they barely know or to the care of equally young children as in the case of Zainab. Campaigns have to be launched to make people aware of the not just the prevalence of child abuse but the fact that it is usually someone close by that is the perpetrator.

In conclusion, one can say that the Zainab case was unique in that the rapist and murderer was arrested but also because it started a national debate on child abuse. It is important for us as a nation to move beyond the rhetoric and start looking for action.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2018.

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