June 23, 2021
By Xari Jalil
She was a very small girl, just four years old. She lay on the doctor’s examination table, quivering in fright. Fear and pain seemed to be frozen on her face and her eyes were dark horrified hollows, and it seemed she would never laugh again.
She had been found lying near the wall of Karachi University, brutally raped. She had vaginal and anal lacerations, and she whimpered every time the doctor tried to touch her. Just four years old. Wearing a flowery printed frock, now torn and dirty, and smeared with blood.
She was just an innocent four-year-old child who wore frocks.
The case is old – it took place sometime in 2006 – and it did not make the headlines, and perhaps this is what makes it so disturbing. To know that so many children are raped every day (11, according to Sahil’s research), and to find out that these children later disappear into the vortex of news, and end up becoming only statistics.
There are others with fates even worse – like five-year-old Marwa from PIB Colony, Karachi, who was raped, killed by a blow to the head, possibly burnt and then thrown in a garbage heap, like an overused, unwanted toy.
Like Zainab Ansari and the Kasur Eight who were raped and then killed mercilessly. Zainab Ansari had been fully clothed to protect herself from the cold. It was wintertime.
There have been boys, who have suffered too. Much like the Kasur serial murders, the bodies of four children from 7 to 12 years of age, were found dumped in an area of deserted land in Chung, near Kasur. The boys had all gone missing one by one. Each description of the boy by the parents revealed they were wearing either trousers or shalwar kameez – again fully clothed. Like the young madrassah student who was raped repeatedly by his clerical teacher “to make him (the teacher) happy”.
A TREND OF MORALITY
For Prime Minister Imran Khan, clothes are a big reason to stir the beast inside a man. Any red-blooded man would feel it. If he did not, he was no less than a “robot” – a ‘na mard’.
Like General Ziaul Haq, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been trying to introduce moral codes it seems that will take us further back into the dark ages. This can be seen in public educational institutions imposing strict morality on students through dress codes. Time and time again, several universities have brought forward rules which involve ‘moral dress codes’.
In Hazara University, a public institution in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, official notices informed female students they should stop wearing jeans, tights, T-shirts, makeup, or jewellery – even to stop carrying large handbags. Male students were not spared but for them, modesty only involved not wearing ripped jeans, flip-flops, or long hair. Just a month later in February 2021, the Bacha Khan University, also a government-run institution, followed suit. Girls were also told to wear ‘abayas‘ and cover their heads.
In the recent past, many other public educational institutions have come up with similar dress codes – primarily aimed at female students.
“Female students are not allowed to put on lipstick,” read a notice in the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. In September last year, KP government authorities made it mandatory for schoolgirls in two of the cities to wear headscarves. The Haripur district education department (KP) had also issued a similar directive.
In 2019, the University of Agriculture Faisalabad officially announced that instead of Valentine’s Day on February 14, it will celebrate ‘Sisters’ Day’ gifting scarves and abayas to female students.
The notion is not new – this is how ‘good women’ in Pakistan must dress. Women in Pakistan and some other parts of South Asia are commonly seen as symbols of honour and their bodies as symbols of either modesty or of shame.
Women or girls are told they must behave in a certain manner to prove to society’s strongmen how well they uphold the virtues crafted by the patriarchal order, otherwise, they will suffer terrible fates.
What is important to note here is that most of these developments are in KP, a province where the PTI government has been ruling since 2013, with an overwhelming majority.
PM Khan, who has also been dubbed Taliban Khan because of his seemingly soft corner for the more radical elements in society (Osama bin Laden a martyr?) has a history of espousing personal views that are not just conservative, they are also regressive. This is ironic for a man who has been educated and has travelled the world over, and has even been dubbed a “playboy”! Now the PM, a born-again Muslim, has suddenly become much less liberal in his outlook.
A HISTORY OF SEXISM
Despite trying to be moral and showing the nation how pious he has become, the PM has not been more than a stone’s throw away when it comes to raising controversy. Let us examine a brief history of his sexist comments.
During the 2013 election campaign, the now-PM fell off a lift and was hospitalized. Soon after he said something which left many women perturbed to hear such a statement from one of the leading politicians.
“The doctor gave me such an injection, all the nurses appeared as hoors,” he said, cracking a smile at the joke.
He addressed Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was referred to as “Bilawal sahiba” (madam). Is this the act of a head of state? Does referring to a man as a woman, make him feel more macho?
His comments have not been restricted to domestic affairs. Rather embarrassingly, in his address at the United Nations General Assembly, PM Khan made a sexist remark, as he spoke about the problem of Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is creating divisions, hijab is becoming a weapon; a woman can take off clothes but she can’t put on more clothes.”
Khan has also been called out by his two former wives, for similar remarks that he made in an interview in April this year.
When a caller asked him what he was doing about the increasing child sexual abuse cases in the country, he replied by telling women to cover up.
“If you keep increasing vulgarity in a society, then definitely there will be this impact.” He advocated the traditional Islamic practice of women wearing a veil and said it existed so “that there was no temptation in society.”
Needless to say, on many occasions, the Prime Minister’s own silence, has made it sound as if he was protecting the sexist remarks made by others.
For example only this year, at around the same time that Mawra was found in a trash heap, a mother of three was raped on the Motorway. Lahore City Police Chief CCPO Umar Shiekh stated she could have avoided being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
He said she should have taken the more populated GT Road to Gujranwala instead of going via motorway, and that she ought to have checked how much fuel her car had before setting off. In short, holding the victim responsible.
This raised furore across the civil society and civil society demanded the CCPO to resign at once. Yet even though the PM knew about the situation, neither did he condemn the statement nor did he respond to the situation in support of women.
Besides this, Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) – largely tending to be influenced by his decisions – has been criticized for welcoming certain figures known for their sexism, and bigoted views such as Aamir Liaquat Hussain, Mian Mithu (for his alleged involvement in cases of forced conversion), and Mohammad Farooq Bandial, who was accused of raping a Pakistani actress.
A CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS?
PM Khan keeps referring to his vast experience of the West. He has travelled to several countries in his life, yet his worldview of such grevious crimes as sexual assault or rape seem to be shallow and uninformed. Multiple times the PM has said that obscenity causes temptation, even going so far as to blame Bollywood for rape in Pakistan.
As the world moves forward, Pakistan continues to struggle to achieve basic rights and objectives. Having signed and ratified many international treaties including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it becomes hard to understand this kind of attitude by the man running the country.
If we continue at this pace, we are only moving back to a time when women are relegated to the kitchen or to produce babies at regular intervals. Where others are progressing with amazing speed, Pakistan seems to be stuck even deeper in the sticky mud of regression and backwardness
“Naya Pakistan” has shown that it is “naya” (new) only in bringing in even more outdated attitudes than before. Is PM Khan picking up where Ziaul Haq left off?