Making Outrage Matter

Published: September 21, 2013
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The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore 
saroop.ijaz@ tribune.com.pk

The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@ tribune.com.pk

It takes a lot to shock us. This is, perhaps, a natural consequence of living in a brutal and brutalised society. Yet, every so often there is evil, not merely a crime, not an atrocity, but pure unadulterated evil which stares us in the face. The gang rape of a five-year-old child is that undiluted evil. After, every high profile case of rape, there are apologists, who insinuate that maybe the victim should have been more careful, covered herself a little more, been less social. Yet, how do you make an excuse for the gang rape of a five-year-old. You don’t.

Everybody responds with outrage. “The perpetrators cannot be humans”, “It is a disease” etc. In short, that this is an abomination, something so out of the ordinary that stunned shock is all that we can muster in response. As if it was the first child that was gang raped in this country. As if we do not know of the perpetrators. The standard headline in the Urdu paper and television news bulletin is always “Na zameen phatti, na asmaan gira” (Neither the earth imploded nor the sky fell). As if, it was for the cosmos to respond. As if, all we can offer is passive outrage.

There can arguably be some debate on whether news outlets should name the rape victims or not; here there is none. Horrific tragedy sells, mikes shoved in the face of the mother of the victim, even the victim herself. Intrusive and repulsive questions are asked on air. PEMRA is toothless, but the gallant warriors of the free media decided to maintain silence on the conduct of their colleagues and their own organisations. There are old stories about Fleet Street reporters on Foreign Desks who would stumble upon scenes of carnage and inquire, “Anyone here who has been raped and speaks English”. The papers after the Lahore gang rape have woken up to the idea that rapes (even better if gang rapes) need not be tucked in a three line story in the inner page. In the coming few days, we might see rape stories more prominently featured in newspapers and television programmes, till the next controversy strikes. Then we move on. The next controversy is always around the corner. I am not in any way qualified to talk about rape with any authority however, the “rapists are not from us”, and “they are not human” trope is identical to “these people blowing innocent people up cannot be Muslims”. Syed Munawar Hasan is very human, very Muslim and in addition also the chief of Jamaat-i-Islami. He believes that rape should not be reported because it strikes at the moral fabric of society. Bear in mind, it is the ‘reporting’ of it and not rape itself that is irksome. The members of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) are fine specimens of mortality and piety. They believe that DNA evidence should not be admissible as primary evidence in rape cases; we are told that they are willing to reconsider now. However, they believe that the Women Protection Bill 2006 is un-Islamic and unnecessary, since of course women are sufficiently protected here. On a separate note, the august body also feels that old people homes are a heathen practice. The flip ideological side of the Jamaat-i-Islami chief (at least, in superficial terms) is the patron saint of enlightened moderation; General (r) Pervez Musharraf who said that by talking internationally about her rape, Mukhtaran Mai was “washing dirty linen in public”. Senator Israrullah Zehri, while commenting on women being buried alive observed that it was a part of his culture. Rape, misogyny and chauvinism seem to transcend ideological barriers in Pakistan; it is where the polar opposites converge. Satire (or what passes in its name) in primetime television is cheap shots at all successful women in public life.

The establishment of this country felt doubly threatened by Shaheed Benazir Bhutto; firstly she was braver than all of them combined and she was a woman. They never forgave her. They are no mood to forgive Ms Asma Jahangir either. Talking about Malala or Aasia Bibi brings the worst in us. Outrage is good; it can lead to a movement, at least, an organised response. The shameful series of incidents in India and the response to them illustrate some of this. However, outrage is a limited resource. The roots of misogyny are religious, cultural and institutional. The courageous women activists have fought the good fight for years; however, without the consistent support of most of us, whose involvement is periodic and short-lived outrage. Article 17 of the Qanun-e-Shahadat (Evidence) Order 1984 stipulates that in certain financial transactions the testimony of two women is equal to one man. The Hudood ordinance is notorious enough. The Qisas and Diyat laws brought to light by the Shahzeb Khan case haunt the victims of honour killings daily, where the killer, the killed and the heirs are all from one family. The fight has to be assailing these laws; laws do reflect society’s prejudices but also shape them. One example is the practice of Sati and how the British did not wait for the requisite societal support to abolish it. The prohibition on Sati gradually decreased the social acceptability of it (while being aware that a colonial state has the leverage to take unpopular decisions, the precedent and the historical process still has some value). Burning women or killing them is nobody’s culture and if it is, the state has a responsibility to eradicate it.

Asking for public executions of the perpetrators is the gut reaction; it is also the easy reaction. These laws and practices will have to be fought one by one, specifically and consistently. We are miles away from abolishing them. Yet, let us at the very least acknowledge that these rapes and killings are done by fellow countrymen, completely human, living in our culture which enables this. Syed Munawar Hasan can and should be boycotted by all decent people till he apologises. Media houses can be compelled to change their policy by a critical mass shunning the rape apologists, chauvinists and sensationalists; because at the end they do care about ratings and profits. If we are finally outraged; let it not go to waste.

Post Script: Writing about rape, misogyny in Pakistan one is already aware of the helplessness, the repetition of clichés and the futility. Yet, reading a recent news report of five sisters attempting suicide (four of them dead) by jumping in a canal because their father could not afford the dowry to get them married, the spirit sinks along with the four women. If this judgment on the state, on us as a people does not really shock every fiber anymore, the battle may already have been lost.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Sep 21, 2013 - 11:54PM

    Beautifully composed column/article. It makes us students thumb up for the writer.

    Recommend

  • Shahbaz Asif Tahir
    Sep 22, 2013 - 12:34AM

    Weekly. non sense, as usual. Like Kamran Shafi, everyone is bad,
    except PPP. Non sense

    Recommend

  • csmann
    Sep 22, 2013 - 12:43AM

    Insensitive society leads to inhuman crimes.

    Recommend

  • Parvez
    Sep 22, 2013 - 1:21AM

    I couldn’t agree more………..but again you stop short of naming ALL the bad guys.
    Apart from what you have said, the money that streams into our madrassa system, into the coffers of the known religious extremist sympathisers like the JI and JUI-F and the influence wielded by so called friendly Arab states on parties like PML-N and PTI, all go towards creating the dysfunctional society that we have become.
    Until and unless the more of the visible voices don’t stand up, matters will not change.

    Recommend

  • Fateh Mohammed
    Sep 22, 2013 - 1:52AM

    While being interviewed on tv Syed Munawar Hassan was informed by the interviewer that there is lot of hate propaganda against the west in Pakistan and this is causing or may cause serious problems to Pakistani diaspora . Syed Sahib ‘ s prompt reply was that all those Pakistanis who live in the west should return home immediately .

    There is no doubt Saroop Ijaz writes on real issues of Pakistan and writes extraordinarily and pointedly well . I wish all the power to his pen .

    Recommend

  • someone
    Sep 22, 2013 - 4:06AM

    I think that it is impossible(too politically incorrect) to do sociological studies of Muslim societies. Without such studies, and systematic identification of social ills peculiar to Muslim societies, there is nothing to work on collectively except rhetoric. And this rhetoric can easily be overcome by ‘Islam is perfect, Muslims are perfect’ counter rhetoric, taking everyone back to square one.

    Recommend

  • Mariam Q
    Sep 22, 2013 - 5:19AM

    Thank you so much for writing the article. Yes, it is frustrating not to be able to do something to help. I was more upset and angry about the fact, that the tv actually showed the face of the minor 5 year old, who is already scarred for life. There should be a law to protect the minors from the heinous paparazzi media. The media is sensationalizing the whole tragic incident purely for rating.
    I can go on and on! Keep writing, at least you can fight injustice through this!

    Recommend

  • Water Bottle
    Sep 22, 2013 - 7:00AM

    You cannot fight rape unless you have a secular system.

    Because the biggest backer of misogyny in every country is the religion. At least those who speak for religion.

    These people cannot be shut up if not for a secular system.

    Asaram Bapu, who is a thug, a criminal under the patronage of politicians is a prime example. And the bleeding fools of India still believe in Sai babas, Asaram Bapus, Nityanandas, that guru, this swamy and other monsters who hide behind the veil of religion.

    This problem is 100 times more among muslims. Because every individual muslim of the world is under the clasp of one or another Mullah.

    Recommend

  • logic europe
    Sep 22, 2013 - 11:25AM

    Thanks sir. You are brave JI has lost the plot
    They will be the first to suffer when Taliban take over

    Recommend

  • Toticalling
    Sep 22, 2013 - 12:51PM

    I condemn rapes, more so with kids, but we should refrain to use the words: “The perpetrators cannot be humans”, “It is a disease”
    WE kill other people. History also shows that wars have killed millions and the wars are still not out of fashion. Is that also inhuman? WE steal, we lie, we let others starve. Is it all not human?
    Our genes have evil in them and the reason we do not always do all these evils is that we have learned to control our dark side. The additional problem in Pakistan is that genders are separated and merely the sight of female on the streets gets attention by many men. One way to reduce that pressure is to allow women get out more often, just like other countries do. On a average day, if I look at those walking in west, nearly 50% are women and hardly anybody stares at them.
    I agree it will not stop rapes, but definitely reduce the number. Is it wrong to suggest something that really matters?

    Recommend

  • Sep 22, 2013 - 1:01PM

    When talking about Sati and other reforms in the Hindu law – it did not happen because of the British. Even the mughal governments previously tried to clamp down on the practice. The laws relating to child marriage, widow remarriage, Sati abolition, equal divorce rights for Hindu women etc etc came because of social reformers from within the community. The men (mostly men) who were brave enough to question the status quo often becoming victims of ostracism.
    As long as you think of rape and dowry as women’s problems, status quo will carry on merrily.

    Recommend

  • ashar
    Sep 22, 2013 - 1:46PM

    ET I agree with @Shahbaz Asif Tahir, this is nothing more than opinion building and that is not the job of a newspaper.

    Recommend

  • Gp65
    Sep 23, 2013 - 8:39AM

    @ashar:
    A newspapers gives news AND opinions to interpret the news. When you come to the OpEd section, you should expect to find opinions and that is exactly what this brave author gives week after week.

    You can disagree with the author and provide rationale for doing so. I certainly disagree with some of the OpEds. But to say that the author has no right to express his views makes little sense.Recommend

  • garthis
    Sep 23, 2013 - 11:36AM

    I’m so sad and ashamed that I have no words to condemn this act of terror against the most decent people one can find in this tragic world. I was born in that unfortunate city and feel responsible in a sense that I can’t do anything about it. My late father who always believed in the Christian mission hospitals and doctors used to go to churches, read bible and exchanged gifts with them. Christian in Pakistan are very decent people who just want to serve anyone irrespective of their religion or creed. I personally believe this nation has very little time on their watches and soon they will all be punished collectively. The state has already collapsed and its institutions are crumbling due to extreme form of corruption, nepotism and lack of professionalism. Army used to be the last resort in the past but they too have become so corrupt that they don’t share even an iota with the rest of the nation. Army has its own hospitals, schools, universities, factories, banks, radio, TV channels and even wedding halls. Politicians on the other hand are busy buying properties in London, Spain and America. People have been left at the mercy of thugs, criminals, members of mafias and above all terrorist. So what’s next? I won’t give another 5 years to this country, they don’t deserve freedom.

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