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Between Justice For Women And Violent Sectarianism, Which Voice Will Be Heard?

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In the last few days, we have seen multiple protests taking place in the country. Religious extremists and their compliant followers organised anti-Shia processions while other citizens gathered in cities to protest the motorway rape incident, the widespread misogyny in the society and the CCPO’s victim-blaming remarks following the incident.

I don’t know if I want to cry or laugh that all the anti-rape protests put together still had an almost negligible number of attendees compared with just the first day of anti-Shia protests in Karachi. The Sunni extremists wielded the blasphemy weapon, openly making accusations and calling for violence against the Shia. One may only guess how many of these were rape-apologists. On the other hand, the flood of hatred against women is achieving biblical proportions, evidence of which can be found all too easily on social media. From women’s clothes to their going out at night to going out without a ‘mehram’, every excuse under the sun is being used to justify rape and put the blame on women. According to these rape-apologists, men are simply innocent.

Meanwhile, even the more progressive, educated and liberal segments of the population are making demands for public hanging, public castration or other violent sentences for the rapists. Their justification is that it will instill fear in the hearts of potential criminals, thereby acting as a deterrent. By now, I am simply exhausted explaining to these advocates of retributive justice that violence only breeds violence. Public punishments will further brutalise and desensitise a society already brutalised and desensitised by years of violence. I am reminded of Arundhati Roy’s article, “A Perfect Day for Democracy”, on the public hanging of Kashmiri Afzal Guru. She was the only one who reported the following line from the Indian Supreme Court’s verdict:

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“… the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”

It seems as if Pakistani “collective conscience” also simply wants to be “satisfied” by seeing hanged bodies and other violent punishments meted out. It almost seems as if we have a bloodlust nothing less than such extreme measures will quench.

One can observe a very similar attitude being adopted against Shias. Zealot Sunni extremists are resorting to calling them “kafirs”. There are reports that the demonstrating crowd in Karachi even tried to set an Imambargah on fire. It’s deeply troubling that there were no rangers in sight while all this was taking place. Otherwise in Karachi you can’t swing a dead rat without hitting a ranger. These protestors, shrouded in the populist rhetoric of “namoos”, came out in hordes. Where was the state? Who gave them permission for hate speech and incitement of violence?

I have a suspicious mind. Who wouldn’t, when the seemingly inexplicable, uncontrollable wave of hate, violence and unaccountability never seems to stop multiplying? My conspiracy theory mind leads me to just one conclusion: deflection. There is something that someone somewhere seems intent on keeping out of public discourse.

As for me, I simply find “hope” to have lost its meaning in the Pakistani context. We witness rapists being publicly defended, if not outrightly extended patronage, while hateful and violent sentiments seem to grow without end. God save us and the ones holding on to “hope”.

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Naya Daur