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Udaari reveals Pakistan’s best kept secrets

Published: September 29, 2016
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PHOTO: Draamaz

PHOTO: Draamaz

“Watch Udaari; it is unlike any other drama,” I had said, trying to convince a friend to watch the drama. “No way! Children being abused. Don’t want to even think about it,” was the immediate response.

Brushing issues under the carpet is what we do best. A study titled ‘The state of Pakistan’s children 2015’ by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) states 10 cases of child sexual abuse took place every day in 2015, bringing the total to 3,768 cases last year. These are registered cases. Any educated and realistic guess will tell us that to get the real number it would have to be multiplied manifold. Of these, a lot of abuse cases are incestuous. Communal living may have many advantages as a support system but also exposes unassuming children, and even grown-ups, to the dangers of sexual abuse and rape.

Mann Mayal has ended and Twitter can’t handle it

What Udaari has done is remarkable. It was not because Ahsan Khan played out a difficult character with unexpected brilliance, and that Samia Mumtaz played Sajju so convincingly that everyone who saw the drama wanted to bring her and Zebo home and protect them. It was a brilliant play, well scripted and directed, and technically could have been more nuanced and the characters more layered, but this is not a review of Udaari. This is a look in the mirror. And Udaari became that mirror.

As a journalist who has worked on gender rights and sexual and reproductive health issues, I have met victims of rape of all kinds, including victims of marital rape and sex workers who were raped. Rape is never a laughing matter. Whenever someone cracks a joke about rape, I think of the times when these jokes may not have bothered me because I had not met the butts of those jokes and heard their stories in person. I had not seen the scars, both physical and non-physical, that acts of cowardice and weakness such as domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape leave behind. Watching Udaari made me think of some unfortunate souls, victims and others survivors.

When those children in Kasur, who were sexually abused by the gang who made a living out of selling videos of the acts and blackmailed them, saw Udaari with their families, what must it be like for them? What was the reaction of viewers who saw Udaari in groups or in isolation in Pakistan’s many homes where traders of the flesh reside? The woman in Tharparkar who was gang-raped some two years ago, and got justice after I wrote her story that prompted a suo moto action by the chief justice – what was she thinking when she saw Udaari? The play hit home with the audiences. But it must have been an unforgettable watch for those who have directly or indirectly been exposed to such despicable acts.

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In 1980 an Indian film, Insaf ka Tarazu, starring Zeenat Aman was initially met with negative responses for being too bold. Rape was something that was not meant to be depicted so openly. It opened certain shut doors. Udaari has managed a much bolder theme more than two decades later in Pakistan, deftly and without relying on the objectification of women as sex objects. It has succeeded in making sure that the take-home message remains that one who has been raped need not be a victim but also be a survivor, instead of the focus being on Zebo’s youth or beauty. This is no mean feat.

But perhaps the biggest contribution of any article, news clipping or talk show, or any drama like Udaari is daring to make taboo and hushed up topics like child sexual abuse open to discussion on a dinner table, at work place and on social media. Let us stop pretending that these evils don’t exist in our society, and that too closer to us than we think. Recognising an issue is the first step to solving it.

Girl-child rape: How she came to Heera Mandi

Published: September 25, 2013

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One of the many buildings in Lahore’s red light district. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI/EXPRESS

LAHORE: Thirty-one-year-old *Kulsoom just got free entertaining her first “client” of the day, and is ready to speak to us. “Paani piyavan thanda?” (Should I serve you some cold water?), she offers, alluding to the tiny refrigerator in the corner with pride, as we feel sweat trickling down our backs, thanks to Lahore’s merciless load-shedding.

“The clients have shrunk drastically in number, due to load-shedding jee. Nobody bothers coming due to the heat. Business is down,” she says, making small talk. This cramped-up eight by 12 feet room in Heera Mandi, Lahore’s infamous red light district, is what she now calls home. The culprit behind this very real story of how a girl-child from rural Punjab ended up as a commercial sex worker is the man who raped her at age 10.

As she starts narrating her life’s story, it is almost 2 pm. The Lahore sun glares down, making her garish make-up and overly bright clothes look even more loud. The layers of cheap face-powder are unable to hide the greyish tinge her skin has developed due to years of substance abuse.

Kulsoom shares that she ran away from her home in a village in Vehari district, and never went back. “I was raped at age ten. I still have clear memories of being violated. I remember my body being very small. He was a distant relative, aged 40 plus,” she recalls. “I never told anyone, not even my parents.”

Even at age ten, she had that sense of shame that surrounds rape survivors in our society. “I kept worrying that everyone would think it was my fault!” she says. Two years later, she was married off to her maternal uncle’s son. The fear that he would find out that she had been raped resulted in her warding off her husband’s attempts at consummating the marriage. “My fear was exposure of the fact that I was not pure,” she says.

When she realised that she could not hold off the inevitable forever, she one day got on a bus to Lahore. She was 12. She landed at the Minar-e-Pakistan, and spent time out in the open, hungry and scared. Two women, domestic helpers, showed empathy. Kulsoom requested them to get her some work. They obliged.

The story that follows is expected. Kulsoom’s face has resigned acceptance as she narrates. “Once raped, whatever follows doesn’t matter, does it? The sahibs in the houses where I worked violated me, more than once,” she says, sharing that every such incident chipped away a bit of her. Kulsoom has also been raped by ex-“clients” in drunken states. “May be this is what I was destined to suffer.”All roads eventually led her to Lahore’s infamous red-light district.

Psychological trauma

Kulsoom knows that she is in one of the most dangerous professions. “I know I can get beaten or harmed. I know I can acquire sexually transmitted diseases. But I don’t think I can do anything else,” she confesses. While circumstances led her here, could the trauma of rape have anything to do with this? “When a child is sexually abused or raped, they may indulge in risky sexual behaviour, wandering from one intimate relationship to another, because they see this as a way of feeling valuable and approved. Most of this is unconsciously done,” says Sarah Jafry, counsellor at War Against Rape (WAR). “For victims, it is a lifetime sentence. They are damaged at every level. They need serious and deep therapy to heal.”

While not all child-rape survivors end up where she is, a misplaced sense of shame and sin may accompany. “I pray for myself and for the whole world. But I don’t say my namaz since I left home,” she says, feeling undeserving of the right to pray regularly.

Post-rape isolation

She craves to go back home but she dares not “because my parents are shareef people; if they find out what I have been doing, I will be killed. They don’t even know whether I am alive or dead.”

“I am better off alone,” she convinces herself, but later confesses it is a life of misery without a family. “I cook for myself and eat alone. I cook qeema once a week to treat myself,” she says.

Childhood interrupted

According to data provided by WAR, the average age of rape survivors is 14 years. “In alarming zones like the jurisdiction of the Mobina Town police station in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Karachi, repeated cases of children aged 4 to 7 years being raped and even murdered have surfaced. But nothing is done about it,” shared Sheraz Ahmed, Survivor Support Officer at WAR.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2013

http://tribune.com.pk/story/608972/girl-child-rape-how-she-came-to-heera-mandi/