Putting a garland on a rapist is bad politics

Published: June 9, 2018
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The writer is co-founder of the Women’s Advancement Hub and tweets @AishaFSarwari

The writer is co-founder of the Women’s Advancement Hub and tweets @AishaFSarwari

In 1976, film actress Shabnam Ghosh’s house was broken and entered into and a ‘dacoity’ took place. This is a euphemism for rape. In that pre #MeToo era this popular Bangladeshi film actress who made Lahore her home and Lollywood her profession lived on in Lahore, even after the 1971 secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan. The ‘dacoits’ — now we would call misogynists, incels and rapists, tied up her husband and young son and raped her in front of them as an extension of the war. In Shabnam’s own words on a national television channel: “I had to leave the country immediately, go back home to Bangladesh.”

Her trauma however is washed over like the trauma of millions of women of that generation. Their consent and their agency never counted and even years after — their pain and humiliation are a non-issue. That was the era when marital rape was kinky and child marriage was just marriage.

One of Shabnam’s rapists was an entitled man armed with privilege called Farooq Bandial. On the last days of May 2018, as politicking and election fever takes over political parties in Pakistan, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), touting justice, gives him a party ticket to run.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan, known to have courted all the fair maidens globally and locally their jinns, well into his mature years stands next to Bandial with a congratulatory handshake and a grin on his face. Well, because, if Bandial had thug-life then, imagine his clout among the bros now? Which party wouldn’t want that — in this era where things are pretty much the same as they were then — the winners are men who know how to escape the state’s wrath and are above it. It’s invaluable for any party.

The same day Bandial joins the party, thanks to #MeToo, all the ruckus about women’s rights and the fact that feminism has rebranded itself as thug-life too, the PTI comes under fire on social media. The word on the internet street is: why give a party ticket to a rapist? Great thing about this movement is that 1976 can come up in 2018. Statutes of limitation don’t apply in the online courts of #MeToo. The law that is manufactured to protect men from the law, now is also getting pressured enough to protect the women from the men.

The credibility is shifting: the perpetrators are not the victims anymore. Feminism is actually quite gangster. The men are scratching their heads. Especially the bald rotund ones who’ve seen better days when women had no voice growing out of their throats like a strong creeping vine. They are wondering where the plot was lost — how the heroes became the antiheroes and the people who played the parts of servant girls are overthrowing the king by telling stories. Sheherzade’s back it seems. A thousand and one stories that are compelling, so compelling, people are listening. Retweeting. Liking. Sharing. Reposting. Damn.

Political parties like the PTI are recognising that it is best to listen to social media and the backlash against Bandial’s nomination. So they kick him out saying, we now know he’s a rapist. While the fact of the matter is, truth be told, they always knew he was a rapist — just that now it’s bothering voters.

In the light of #MeToo a few more names need to be taken in the culture of complacency that compelled Farooq Bandial to be so draconian with a gentle beautiful film actress, loved and revered. One, SM Zafar, Shabnam’s legal counsel — a man revered as just, honest, uncompromising and one who speaks truth to power.

We throw around these accolades without referring to any thesaurus it seems because this so-called social justice warrior pleaded Shabnam’s case, got the ‘dacoits’ apprehended, sans Bandial, and then wrote a letter to then head of state General Ziaul Haq. Counsel SM Zafar asked Zia to pardon the culprits from the death sentence in a letter dated October 1979. On the grounds that the earlier political head, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, created a culture of sanction to harm Bangladeshis and get away with it. He said they were merely “influenced by the prevalent atmosphere of licence and free for all attitude sustained by the previous government.”

In layman terms, SM Zafar said: Let it go because the ‘delinquents’ didn’t get the new memo that hate crime and rape is a not a national service.

Two, the PTI is not alone in its passing of the baton to ultra bigots and rapists, other parties, the PPP, the PML-N and the rest of the lot are just as complacent. However, the Naya Pakistan agenda promised everything other than the old memo. Yet, we see it is just old wine in an old bottle. No thanks.

This is a plea to not vote for parties that claim justice and reward lawbreakers. To not vote for them even when they succumb to social media pressure and withdraw a rapist’s running candidacy, because votes should be given to those with independence of thought — a thought philosophy that is preferably not guided by a windsock.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2018.

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