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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.

Udaari cast shares final thoughts as fans await finale

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.

She was 13 and he was 39 – Rape & Consent

Men face infidelity and are wronged and cheated in relationships too. But women, globally, end up paying a bigger price. PHOTO: FILE

The 15-year-old girl from Lahore gave her “consent” and he was her “boyfriend”, and so it is not rape, they say.

This case is garnering a very expected response. But why are we surprised? It reminds me of a case I came across a while back. A 13-year-old girl fell for her 39-year-old neighbour. They started chatting via the internet. One day, when she was home alone, he coerced her into having a sexual encounter. Reality was not as the girl had imagined. When it actually happened, she yelled, cried and resisted but was raped. But the men in her own family, her own relatives, were of the opinion that this incident should be brushed under the rug and no complain should be lodged with the police.

“Larki buhut taiz hai. Ghalti humari hi larki ki hai. Chakkar chalaya hua tha us aadmi se. Yeh to hona hee tha.”

(The girl is very fast. The fault lies with our girl. She had an affair with that man. This was bound to happen).

This is not to say that it is just men who further these stereotypes.

It would also be unfair to assume that only females are raped. Painful incidents where young boys are raped or sexually abused mercilessly keep surfacing on the media. But the numbers, compared to females, are jarringly lower. Hence, here we will discuss the predicament women are faced with.

Staring in our faces is the reality that unless a woman, of any age, has pushed away, kicked or tried to hit the man forcing himself upon her, and has signs of that physical scuffle in the form of torn clothes and bruises, she will not be considered a victim of ‘rape’. And even that will be accepted only if the man was a stranger practically. If at all she had an inclination towards the man and/or had any one-on-one communication with him at any point in the past, she will be considered one of loose character and having brought the ‘inevitable’ upon herself.

This definition of rape is so inbuilt in our society’s system that the idea of rape beyond this is considered… well… not rape. So much so that other categories of rape, in which some form of consent is present at some stage, may be involved from the woman’s side, are ruled off the list of kinds of rape in an absolutist fashion.

The girl gang raped in Lahore was a minor. Even if, hypothetically, she knew or liked the man, she is a child, not an adult. It is recognised as statutory rape even under Pakistani law which is generally not the most women-friendly. But a Pakistani publication went as far as using insensitive language like “…to meet her boyfriend…” and “the tests proved that the couple had been engaged in a consenting relationship”.

If this is the mentality being echoed by an English language publication, what thought process do we expect the average uneducated or less evolved Pakistani to exhibit? If the minor is not old enough to have a driver’s license or an identity card, is he or she old enough to discern and decide the consequences of indulging in a sexual relationship?

The 13-year-old girl I mentioned earlier was a normal, curious child who knew little what this encounter with her almost 40-year-old neighbour would lead to. But that man knew exactly what he was doing. How is this, then, not rape?

Another example is how every time we use the term “marital rape”, many, if not all, will express shock over the idea – shock that is genuine, as it is considered unthinkable that anything within the bond of marriage could be wrong. Others know what it means but say all is fair in nikkah and vows.

But perhaps the most insidious form of sexual exploitation is when a woman is exploited via emotional manipulation. Leading someone on with the pretence of commitment and promises of a marriage has led many girls and women in our society to points of no return. And this happens across the board – it is not restricted to urban or rural, affluent or underprivileged. After giving their all, women are left in the lurch.

Again, men face infidelity and are wronged and cheated in relationships too. But women, globally, end up paying a bigger price.

Thus in many cases, the seeming “consent” actually has layers of details in the background that one does not know. Talking about this is important so that as a society, we learn to understand the difference.

“I was raped hundreds of times, by the man I was married to”

Published: September 10, 2014

It has taken her years to even be able to talk about this. For the longest time, she was exisiting in a zombie-like state of mind. PHOTO: REUTERS

That phase of her life ended three years ago with her divorce, but 35-year-old Naila* will never be healed of what she went through during the nine years of her marriage. This is a true story; the true story of a woman who suffered a plight faced by so many women. Sadly, the crime committed against them is not even considered a crime.

“Every time my husband approached me, it was sheer torture. Sometimes physical, and forever mental and emotional torture. He was physically brutal and wanted me to indulge in behaviour I was not okay with. He never cared about what I wanted or needed. He did not care about whether I was unwell or pregnant or had recently given birth to a child,” says Naila.

It has taken her years to even be able to talk about this. For the longest time, she was existing in a zombie-like state of mind.

While laws to punish perpetrators of rape have seen considerable headway in Pakistan, how does one even begin to talk about an act that is not even seen as something despicable, leave alone a crime? Talking to even educated people makes one realise that most Pakistanis, even women, do not recognise it as something that should even be discussed openly.

Naila tried to talk to her family about her plight many a times,

“They thought something was wrong with me. ‘You have to fulfil his needs. He has a right over you. Besides, your three sons will suffer. Think of them’, is what they’d say every time. So many times, I wanted to say ‘but what about my rights?’ but did not have the courage. When something is packaged in social norms and misunderstood religious ethics, one is conditioned into staying silent even in the face of pain and suffering.”

When asked if Pakistani law recognises marital rape as a crime, Maliha Zia Lari, lawyer and women’s rights activist, explains that earlier the law described rape as a crime committed by a man against a woman other than his wife. Lari says:

“In 2007, the part that said ‘other than his wife’ was removed. That technically means that the statute has changed. However to the best of my knowledge no cases have been reported”.

In her opinion, it all boils down to social bias, stress on women in particular when it comes to conjugal rights, and the fact that marital rape is not even seen as a crime,

“There is so much silence around the issue”.

Naila’s saviours came in the form of some friends who made her realise that religion neither condoned nor allowed a man to be physically cruel to his wife, even when it came to spousal physical rights.

“I began to study and talk about it with people who had knowledge, and realised I was being wronged. I realised that just like I am not allowed to cause harm to others, it is also a sin to allow someone else to harm me. Allowing a man to physically hurt you and treat you like an object with no feelings is not piety,” she says.

The change took long. The process took even longer. The first person who needed to understand that this was wrong was Naila herself. The most difficult part was making the decision, because her husband was not a habitual wife-beater, yet was often violent when it came to the area of physical intimacy. But Naila finally struggled her way out.

According to barrister Asker Husain who practices law in the UK, those from the civil society or human rights’ camps should not be disheartened if social change is not swift.

“In England, marital rape wasn’t recognised as an offence until 1991, and it took a very long time and much effort to change centuries’ old thinking that somehow the act of marriage was tantamount to the woman ‘consenting’ to everything,” says Husain, adding that even in the UK, that there aren’t many marital rape prosecutions.

“There are a number of reasons for this. Sometimes it’s simply because the wife doesn’t want to bring a case against the man she loves and/or is the father of her children, or reasons like economic dependency. It’s also very difficult for the prosecution to establish the absence of consent. But evidential issues are faced in other arenas too and are not unique to marital rape.”

Seeing stories like Naila, one is forced to wonder whether what Bertrand Russell wrote in 1929 in his book ‘Marriage and Morals’ still holds true. Russell had said that,

“Marriage is for women the commonest mode of livelihood, and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution.”

Whether one gives the act the tag name of ‘marital rape’, or chooses to call it by a milder name to avoid severe reactions from certain quarters, the fact remains that use of force and violence, and lack of consideration of the wife’s feelings is something unacceptable, both religiously and ethically.

Change takes time. For change, all segments of society must be slowly brought on board, including the men. For this, baby steps would have to be taken. And the first step is to break the silence around the issue.

Change may take decades, but the process must start.

*Name and certain details have been changed to protect this person’s identity

Nation jolted: Rape of minors a rising trend

By Farhnaz Zahidi / Sumaira Khan
Published: April 29, 2014
http://tribune.com.pk/story/701607/nation-jolted-rape-of-minors-a-rising-trend/

child rape

A positive change is that more victims report the crime but experts fear number of minors being raped is rising. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI / ISLAMABAD: The sexual assault of five-year-old “S” who was then dumped outside a Lahore hospital jolted the nation. The story made headlines for several days. In her, each saw their own child. Much was written and promised, but some seven months later the rapists remain at large and the government continues to chase shadows.

In this particular case, there were some lessons to be learnt. The most shocking is that the rape of minors is a growing trend in the country. “The average age of the rape victim in Karachi, according to data collected, is now nine years,” discloses Shiraz Ahmed, who works for the Karachi-based NGO, War Against Rape (WAR). “Child-rape is definitely on the rise. Many more cases are now being reported, but we can safely estimate that these are only 5 per cent of the actual number of cases.”
Ahmed says that influential perpetrators or their allies intimidate or bribe victims and their families into silence. “And society encourages the issue to be brushed under the carpet,” he adds.

In Punjab alone, there were 2,576 cases reported, according to a report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released recently.

The father of “S” continues to fight for justice. “Due to weak laws and punishment, these beasts continue to destroy the lives of women. I demand action that would set an example,” says Shafqat Mahmud. So far Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government has been helpless. Possibly this inaction encourages rapists.

Experts say that the more accessible a child is, the more at risk he or she is. Street children top the list. No official numbers are available regarding their exact number, but it is estimated that there are 1.5 million street children in Pakistan, according to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC). To add to this, according to the HRCP’s 2013 report, 1,400 juveniles are in jail and the country has some 12 million child workers, half of them below 10. They all fall under the high risk category.

The role of police and the media

WAR’s Shiraz Ahmed says that on one level, more cases are being reported which shows a social change. At the same time he laments the fact that the trend of child rape is growing.
The media and the police also need to play a more positive role, he adds. The media has to be sensitized on how to handle such cases. “The media crosses lines. It shows the faces of the victims, their names and the images of the family,” laments Ahmed, concerned on issues of privacy and safety. “More sensitive reporting of such cases, especially of minors, is what will help in the long run.”

He also feels that the police need to be made more aware and more answerable. Sometimes corruption is the reason why they record complaints under sections that have loopholes.
Shiraz feels that the correct sections should be applied for the concerned crime.

Cycle of abuse

The cycle is never ending. Sarah Jafry, counsellor at WAR, comments, “a sexually abused child may indulge in risky sexual behaviour, wandering from one intimate relationship to another, because the child sees this as a way of feeling valuable and approved. Most of this is unconsciously done.”

Once abused, most victims almost never recover. Dr Rizwan Taj, head of Psychiatry department at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) says that the younger the victim, the longer lasting the impact. “Young victims lose trust and confidence they had in relationships.” The victim chooses isolation rather than trying to stabilize relationships with people.
Experts say that the government should arrange for free medical treatment and long-term counselling. This remains a dream for most, however. Many say that the government should wake up to what is becoming a crisis situation. So far, the government has only been sleeping, experts say.


Alarm: Rapid rise in child-rape

• 2,788 child sexual abuse cases were reported in 2012, as compared to 2,303 in 2011.
• On an average, eight children a day were abused during 2012.
• 71 per cent of minors who suffered abuse were girls.
• The age group most vulnerable to sexual abuse among girls and boys was 11 to 15 years.
• Some 5,689 abusers were involved in nearly 3,000 abuse cases, out of which 47 per cent were acquaintances
• 1,214 cases took place either at the acquaintances’ or the victims’ houses, according to the report.
Source: The annual “Cruel Numbers” report by NGO Sahil.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2014.

Girl-child rape: How she came to Heera Mandi

Published: September 25, 2013

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/

Of three Thari women, revenge and a cell phone

Published: September 12, 2013

“This is a story of revenge. It was revenge which disgraced one woman after another,” reveals a saddened Ali Akbar, Executive Director, AWARE. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Pictures of a Thari woman lying on the desert sand, her face in obvious agony, surface for anyone who has recently searched the internet with the keywords ‘Tharparkar gang rape’. But the pictures tell an incomplete story, as do the headlines. This story is of not one but three women. Behind the crimes are a cell phone and men using women for revenge.

M*, a mother of two, who was allegedly raped by eight in Pabrayion near the Chacharo taluka in Tharparkar district. The alleged crime becomes uglier as it happened with M’s husband and children looking on, helpless. M and her family were commuting to Umerkot. This is when five men intercepted them, took them to another location, and eight men allegedly raped her for five hours.

Speculation is focused more on whether the rape actually happened or not, but the motive has been ignored. “This is a story of revenge. It was revenge which disgraced one woman after another,” reveals a saddened Ali Akbar, Executive Director, Association for Water Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE).

People of Tharparkar are shaken up, Akbar said, by this incident, as generally despite poverty, Tharparkar is known to be peaceful with non-existent crime rates.

According to Akbar, the backdrop of this story was set four months back, when a man named Kaloo entered the home of Khano with a bad intention. “The family woke up and the intruder was identified. Footsteps do not go untraced on Thari sand. But the matter was hushed up in the village panchayat,” narrates Akbar.

But villagers kept teasing Khano, alluding that it was the lure of his wife that had brought Kaloo to his house. Thus the first woman in the story is wife of Khano, who suffered humiliation and got sucked into this whirlpool-like situation for no fault of her own.

Enraged inwardly, Khano thought the best way of taking revenge was to dishonour a woman from the intruder’s family, who is the second woman who was shamed and sucked into this game of revenge being played by men. “He raped a close female relative of Kaloo and recorded an objectionable video of the girl on his cell phone with the help of his accomplices. Somehow that video found its way into the village. Her family then started thinking of revenge upon revenge,” says Akbar.

They got that opportunity on September 4 when they allegedly gang raped a helpless woman for the felony M’s husband’s brother, Khano, had committed.

“Thari woman are tough. They can survive starvation and live without even the most of basic of needs but they cannot bear indignity,” says Akbar.

Writer and activist Amar Sindhu, who was part of the protest the victim and her family staged, confirms that she has heard the same sequence of events from concurrent accounts of locals she met. Sindhu, who represents the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and is currently a member of the Sindh Human Rights Commission, Government of Pakistan, believes that M is telling the truth.

“I have met the victim. Not just her condition was terrible but also her husband’s. Testimonies of locals and the victim point in the direction that the allegation is true. I personally believe that M was, indeed, raped,” says Sindhu.

“M offered to show me her bruises and marks when I met her at the protest but that was a not a feasible setting. Also, in a gang rape, there is less resistance as many control a single woman. Therefore, physical marks are always lesser,” said Sindhu.

According to locals, M, her husband and children kept frequenting the police station of Chachro for three days and on the fourth day they staged a protest in front of the Chachro press club.

Pakistan Peoples Party’s minorities representative of the area, Mahesh Malani, said he had no way of confirming or denying the incidents. Malani, when contacted by The Express Tribune,was aware that two women were allegedly raped, but did not know about the night-time intrusion in the third woman’s house, which is where apparently the whole saga started. Locals feel that Malani has not played his role to support the wronged and make sure the perpetrators are punished.

“Suspects of the second case have been arrested. Lab tests are underway. There is no FIR of the first case. The suspects confess to intimidating and rough-handling the victims but are saying they never raped her,” said Malani, adding that he condemns the act in the strongest sense.

“But just taking notice and condemnation is not enough. On our advice, M and her husband have met the session judge,” said Sindhu. She also said that the while the media has played a positive part in drawing attention to the issue, care should be exercised not to vulgarize the issue. “Now the victims have to be helped to follow the legal process to punish the criminals.” *Name has been changed to protect the victim’s identity.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2013.