In Pakistan: Hang The Rapist, Silence The Victim

In Pakistan: Hang The Rapist, Silence The Victim
Following the #MotorwayIncident, one would have thought Pakistan was set to defeat all deviant evil once and for all; protests were called by the evening that followed the morning of outrage, new groups on Facebook calling for the hanging of rapists sprang up within less than 24 hours, and #HangTheRapists trended on Twitter for almost a week. There was going to be no dawn for rapists in Pakistan.

Many noted how the loudest amongst those calling for public hangings of rapists were also, for the rest of the year, biggest nuisances to the forces of Aurat March and hellbent on ruining the livelihoods of feminists.

Within two weeks of the national soul altering #MotorwayIncident, the FIA Cybercrime Wing registered a case against Meesha Shafi and 8 others, including Iffat Omar and Ali Gul Pir for their alleged vilification campaign against singer Ali Zafar. A move welcomed by groups overlapping with those who were calling for the hanging of rapists.

Is there a thread that links these people together? Does it deserve to be pulled to its root?

The punishment for rape in Pakistan is already the death penalty or imprisonment between 10 to 25 years. The problem with the rape epidemic lies not in legislation, but elsewhere. Pakistan is considered the 6th most dangerous place in the world for women, with a ruling party MNA, Shandana Gulzar, claiming that at least 82% of rape perpetrators are family members i.e. fathers, brothers, grandfathers and uncles. Shandana Gulzar was careful to add that girls who get pregnant after getting raped by their family members do not report to the police, but rather go straight to a gynecologist, seeking abortion. Furthermore, the mothers of these victims, spouses to the rapists, do not report to the police as they say that they cannot leave their husbands.

Marital rape, although recognized by Pakistani law, is not an entity considered possible by most of our society. Despite 70% of husbands being physically abusive (according to a report by the Aurat Foundation), no case of marital rape has ever been registered in a Pakistani court. These men are rapists who will never be called rapists because their victims do not have a voice that is allowed to exist beyond the confines of the rapist’s home.

Rape or sexual assault that happens outside the boundaries of the home is usually looked at with the eyes of suspicion and scorn. Victims are scared to go public with their bereavements lest they be considered spoilt goods in a culture that values a woman’s virginity above all, or even worse, be considered open game by men who at least do not rape “good, unspoiled girls”. Despite the #MotorwayIncident victim being a victim of rape outside the home (mother, middle class, accompanied by mehrams), it did not take long for her harrowing story to become a meme for men to taunt and threaten women with.

So who are we going to hang? And how? With the majority of sexual abusers being family members, are we expecting victims who depend - almost entirely - on their rapists financially to be reporting them to the police? Next, the conviction rate in Pakistan stands at an abysmal less than 3%. We also have the aforementioned meme-makers, victim blamers, and rape apologists waiting in second line to replace the vanguard.

Wife, mother, daughter, sister, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, servant, stranger, student: all silent victims to rape. The rapist is in the home. Who is going to report the rapist? How do they get hanged? Especially in a culture that rewards silencing, in the many forms of fulfilled “family values”, “achi beti”, “farmabardaar biwi”.

This appraised silencing is not new to the scene either; our nation at large vilifies Malala Yousafzai because she spoke and even went on to survive and then thrive. In her book No Shame for the Sun: Lives of Professional Pakistani Women, Women’s Studies professor Shahla Haeri states, rape in Pakistan is "often institutionalized and has the tacit and at times the explicit approval of the state”. This was perhaps best demonstrated when dictator Musharraf placed restrictions on Mukhtaran Mai’s movement, because he feared that a non-silent victim of Pakistan’s rape culture would tarnish its image.

None of this is breaking news if you have been paying attention, this zeal in calling for the hanging of rapists is just another shrug in the many shrugging of responsibilities we have grown accustomed to. In a country where reporting rape is next to unthinkable, with no hope of deliverance of justice, it is ignorant at best and evil at worst to suggest a solution as impractical and inconsequential as hanging rapists. Much like “Begone, thought!”, we are under the illusion that once we exclaim “Hang the rapist!” we will have done our part, we will have shown the evil monster that we do not want him near us, we will have shown those around us that WE are not related to the rapist.

We do not want to acknowledge the rapist is in our head, in our family values, in our homes. We do not want to see the culture we are part of for what it is: rape culture. We want to hang the rapist because we do not want to see, and silence the victim because we do not want to hear. We would hate to realize that we are complicit. This is why we are content and void of outrage when the FIA silences the #MeToo movement in Pakistan.

In a report titled "Tracking crimes against people - A numeric tale of human insecurity”, published by the Sustainable Social Development Organisation, it was revealed that there occurred a 200% increase in cases of violence against women in Pakistan in the first three months of 2020. To many, this increase in reported cases might be a grim awakening, with a resultant moral panic. But to those of us who have been paying attention, we are happy that women are finally speaking up. We are winning ground, and more and more of us are refusing to be silent.

Author’s note: this article only discusses violence against women, the author is well aware of the sexual violence inflicted on young boys in the country.

The writer is a medical student and a feminist. She tweets @zaitoonxyz