PM's Problematic Narrative On Rape May Have Dangerous Consequences

PM's Problematic Narrative On Rape May Have Dangerous Consequences
The Lahore madrassa student who was sexually assaulted by the sanctimonious septuagenarian, Aziz ur Rehman, became the target of the latter’s promiscuity every Friday for months on end. The fact that Friday is the holiest day of the week for us Muslims with special arrangements made for midday prayers and that the assailant was a preacher of the faith at the very madrassa and a leader of the prayer at various mosques, renders a most heinous crime much more aberrant. 

Every day while visiting the madrassa, the student bashfully donned his cloak of assailability; the same skimpy, all-revealing clothing that Prime Minister Imran Khan referred to in his interview with a foreign channel, only that in his case the scantiness was not about lack of cloth coverings or about ‘wearing very few clothes’, as the PM puts it. This time, it was about the absence of drapes of authority and power, since the student, like most victims, had subsisted stripped of the ability to fight back, clothed and protected only by his indigence.

Temptation to rape, Mr. PM, is not only triggered by the insufficiency of fabric clothing, as you reckon; these garbs of vulnerability and disadvantage that the poor student wore are the equally all-revealing, see-through coverings that spur those tenacious temptations that are so often felt by rapists and abusers when they attack burqa-clad women, young and old boys, corpses, children, prisoners, animals and elderly women.

It is the ‘vulgarity of vulnerability’ that prompts uncontainable ‘temptation’ within abusers, while rendering the victims easy and helpless preys, since scantiness induced by poverty, helplessness or absence of social status cannot be mitigated even by putting on more clothes to smugly hide the flesh. 

For those prone to rape, every lacking triggers temptation: it’s women’s fewer clothes that trigger temptation, children’s fragility triggers temptation, corpses’ lifelessness triggers temptation, elderly women’s frailty triggers temptation, animals’ voicelessness triggers temptation, while how do we get rid of children’s fragility, corpses’ lifelessness, elderly women’s frailty and animals’ voicelessness in order to make them secure against the lurking threat of sexual abuse?

We can make our women wear more clothes and dress up modestly, like suggested, but how will we give tongues to animals, life to corpses and physical prowess to children, so that they no longer present spectacles of vulnerability to be tempted by and raped at whim? 

Yours, Mr. PM, is a bigoted, immature and a linear analysis of the reasons behind increase in sexual assaults and harassment in the country, one that sounds akin to that of a rape apologist. There is never a mention of the role that men must play to maintain a safe and abuse-free society for everyone. Talk of religion and there is also no allusion to the fact that men have been ordained in the Quran to lower their gaze and guard their private parts as much as women. Instead, it is being reflected through your words that men are inherently designed to become potential rapists and not have any control over their temptations, while those who refrain to assault, even after seeing all the obscenity around, are robot-like. To give in to temptation is human and normal, while to resist is robotic, is what is being implied. 

Also promoting the most ridiculous narrative of ‘young men’ not having outlets for their sexual urges is extremely hazardous, equipping anyone with an excuse to rape. Is practicing restraint superhuman in the context of our society, since it is a totally ‘different society’ with no ‘discos and night clubs’ and all these young (and old) guys have nowhere to go to? Statistics tell us rape is a crime mostly perpetuated by those in positions of power, physical or otherwise, and not by those deprived of options to indulge in sexual activity. 

Unless ‘temptation’ is only an androgenic emotion, if temptation to rape is natural when a man sees a skimpily dressed woman, temptation to kill your rapist when one sees him should be natural too. Will the law or society, though, justify the killing of a rapist at the hands of a rape survivor by the same logic by which rape is being justified as an outcome of provocative clothing? 

 If practicing self-control is superhuman for us as a society, we badly need to do some serious introspection and change our ways. We put the onus of rape on women, talking about the need to change the way they dress or of women not adopting modesty in their outlook, but not about men who need to change their lecherous, macho and misogynistic attitudes. Rape is not provoked as much by anything lying outside as it is instigated by the filth of entitlement brewing within the rapist’s mind.

However, the problem with such close-minded narratives being pushed at an official level is that they might end up becoming our national narratives. These are dangerous spillovers of patriarchy being reinforced at the government level.

Faryal Shahzad is an entrepreneur and a freelance journalist based in Lahore.