A million ‘What ifs’ and ‘If onlys’, cross one’s mind when thinking about the gruesome cases of rapes and murders in our country. I have imagined the episodes a hundred times over, mentally. With every media report and every bone-chilling piece of information presented before us, about the incidents, my thoughts embark on this agonizing path of desiring to magically change the past events. Each time, I have concocted different, less horrifying outcomes. I have spun storylines in which at least the victims’ lives could have been spared- wishing and daydreaming about how, by the tiniest shift in occurrences, the woman might still be alive. And each time, snapping out of my fantasy, I must inevitably face the harsh reality: it has already happened. It is in the past. It is too late. What’s more, the crimes do not stop. The atrocities continue to transpire on a daily basis.
We as a nation have been psychologically marred forever. There was a time, not so long ago, when I drove around town, routinely, not feeling the extreme anxiety that I feel now. Now, when I know that after a woman was gang-raped in front of her kids, on Motorway, the authority in-charge commented, “Oh but it was her own fault!” The victim was blamed for traveling after dark, without a male companion, on the motorway and unfortunately running out of fuel. Talk about adding injury to insult!
The general public went on to comment that she was stupid. Well, that may be true, I suppose, on one level. What business did she have, thinking this is a civilised society? It is a jungle where beasts roam, not just in the form of those predators, who have had no schooling, but also those who come from educated backgrounds- the highest ranks of the wardens assigned to our protection by law.
It is the same society, where a TikToker, while attending an event at Greater Iqbal Park, was harassed by some 400 men. She was touched all over her body by hundreds of hands, like a piece of meat, hurled up into the air like a plaything; her clothes were torn off and she was sent running for her life, as these obnoxious men just ogled or groped or tore at her. Again, she was blamed in a million ways: her actions brought on this unruly behaviour from the crowd; her clothing was inappropriate; her motives were devious; her character was shady. How preposterous is this? Should these arguments even be voiced? Does anything merit such brutal treatment?
If at this point you want to rebuke me and tell me, not to generalise; not everyone is bad; not all are monsters; stop defaming Pakistan, stop blaming the government, then let me stop you right there to have a peek at the statistics: Punjab Information Commission states, on behalf of the Punjab Police, that in the last six months, there have been 9,529 kidnappings of women, 2,439 rapes and 90 women were killed in the name of ‘honour’ in the province of Punjab alone. Let us not belittle the victims or their families and let us not forget that these are just official numbers, whereas the actual figures are far greater- unimaginable!
On Feb 6, 2022, a 28-year-old woman was shot to death by her brother. This happened just a few days after she was gang-raped by four men, belonging to an influential family of her village, Behk Lurka in Sargodha. Police had registered a case against the suspects, but failed to take any further action. Their side of the story is that the suspects already had an interim pre-arrest bail. The woman’s brother was reportedly infuriated by police’s inaction. In his rage, he, along with two accomplices, shot his sister dead and when later apprehended, he disclosed that he was going to kill the four alleged rapists as well.
Can you even begin to comprehend why the brother of the victim acted in this way? What is the belief system that he was brought up in, where he felt compelled to kill his own sister, for the crime of being a victim? How many more deaths will there be for ‘honour’? What kind of honour forces a brother to destroy an entire family and that too, his own?
A 14-year-old girl was raped in the same district, with the suspect having fled. But after the murder incident in Behk Lurka, the area police have taken instantaneous action. The suspect has been arrested. Makes one think doesn’t it? ‘What if’, the police had taken the required action at the time of reporting of the rape incident. How different things would have looked, right now.
Hundreds of women are losing their lives, each year in Pakistan in the name of ‘Honour Killing’. The death of Qandeel Baloch, a social media celebrity, shook the country in 2016 and made headlines globally. Her brother, who had killed her, unashamedly said that he had strangled the 26-year old to death, because he was mocked by his peers about Qandeel’s lifestyle. His fellow villagers repeatedly told him that he had ‘no honour’ and hence he set forth to prove how honourable he truly was, by ending his sister’s life! Another sad honour killing in which there was no honour at all.
A woman was killed on the premises of a court of law, in Peshawar by her brother and father, for eloping with a man, after she was brought back by the police. It is shocking on so many levels. By law, weapons cannot be carried into the court by civilians. This murder could have easily been prevented.
Many a debate has been ignited due to many of these incidents by Human rights experts. Many a protest and march takes place each year. But what is the ground reality? Nothing has been rectified, nothing is changing for the woman who has to survive each day in the middle of it all.
When a woman makes the supremely courageous move, to actually lodge an FIR against the perpetrator, which is a big step for her over here, the cases never have a proper outcome. They are withdrawn, as was the case of motorway rape incident. They may be obliterated by pressurising through other devious methods, as was the case of the TikToker, tortured by 400 men, or they wither away due to inaction- forgotten, evaporating into thin air! But the worst example has to be of Noor Muqaddam’s violent beheading last year, by her boyfriend Zahir Jaffer. He confessed to the rape and murder of the 27-year old girl, and yet justice has still not been served to date. It is mind boggling, because the entire nation was shaken to its core by this incident. How tedious and convoluted can law possibly be? How much longer will the legal process take?
Despite the massive outrage by activists, feminists and media over femicide in our country, at that time, Noor’s story has now dwindled out of bulletins and social media. So many ‘what ifs’ came to my mind, during those initial sleepless nights after this case was first reported. As the details of the horrific incident were thrown at us, we tried to grasp at any threads that might give a logical explanation for this heinous, senseless murder, but found none!
And then the ‘what ifs’… if only she had stayed away that particular day, the murderer was booked to leave on a flight the next day, he would have gone to the US. If only the guards whom she begged for help, had helped her, if only a neighbour had barged in or called the police in time, if only…. a hundred times over… endless… agonizing!
What’s more, Noor’s murder did not happen in a rural area or a neglected motorway. It happened in Islamabad, in a posh locality. Her murderer and she herself, belonged to the affluent class. If there is no protection for women in the capital, where are we supposed to go hiding?
Noor was also blamed for being in an illegal relationship with a man that she was not married to. Who are these people whose minds can even think like that, when such a grotesque occurrence has claimed an innocent life. Would Noor be more of a victim if she had been his wife and now less deserving of sympathy or justice because she was not? I fail to understand.
How are we even supposed to function normally, living in such fear on a daily basis with this heightened sense of insecurity. There is a demand for the government to pass a bill for protection of women against violence. But will any legal strategy work in a society where a woman can be gunned down in a court of law?
I do not believe that the women of Pakistan can remain unaffected mentally, by the violence they see around them and I believe there are no solutions in foreseeable future. But the one thing we must stop doing is victim blaming and shaming. Sadly, I have seen women doing it as well. We are not the supreme authority on all matters of law and religion. Why must we claim to be? Why and how can you even hope to know what a woman was going through during those last few moments before her sanity, self respect, honour or her life left her for good.