Speak No Evil

I was going to write a follow-up to yesterday’s post about ‘redefining strategic depth’ based on Mosharraf Zaidi’s column in today’s The News. But I am actually going to write not about the substance of Zaidi’s column (yet) but simply the reaction that it has received.

After Zaidi’s column started being posted on Twitter, several people accused him of being unpatriotic and of degrading his motherland. I was really disappointed because I thought the column was a very good point to start a conversation about what we can do to improve the economic and political situation in our country. Actually, perhaps we still can.

I was not born tall and handsome. I do not look like a movie star, and when I dance my sister laughs and says I look like I’m having some sort of fit. Also, sometimes I get lazy and do not want to get out of bed in the morning. I’m not ashamed to tell you this because it is a reality, even if it is not very flattering. You see, I know that if I am going to learn to dance better, if I am going to get into better physical shape, if I am going to be productive – I first have to face the reality and then look for a solution. If I ignore reality, nothing will change.

Likewise, our country has certain issues that we must overcome if we are going improve things. There is some petty corruption, there are jihadi terrorists, there is a media that is more interested in ‘infotainment’ than ‘information. This is not degrading the motherland, it is stating some unfortunate realities. And once we know these realities, we can figure out ways to change them, to overcome these negative issues and improve the motherland. And isn’t that what we’re all striving to do?

People who tell you not to admit unpleasant realities might call themselves nationalists, but what are they really? They are facilitators for failure. They are like a teacher who tells you that you don’t need to study because you are already good enough. Following that advice, you will never learn! You will always be exactly as you were in that form, while your fellow students will continue to improve their knowledge and advance before you. This reaction against Mosharraf Zaidi’s column is like the teacher who tells you not to read.

On the same day as Mosharraf Zaidi is demonized for his column, Sana Saleem writes for Dawn Blog about getting the same treatment after she wrote about the problem of rape in society.

Knee-jerk reactions and our love for conspiracy theories have made it even more difficult to think rationally, let alone look for solutions. There is a void, which can only be filled with open dialogue. We need to talk about our issues, give each other space and try not to judge people simply because their opinions differ. There is a huge difference between disliking someone for being a cynic and blaming them of being on a certain agencies payroll.

Most of these comments are ill-informed, are personal attacks and reinforce the mindset that taboos should never be tackled, irrespective of the damage it causes to the social fabric. They highlight the culture of “silent and shame” and the rampant mindset that a woman regardless of her sufferings should never be vocal about the plethora of psychological, verbal, physical and sexual abuse hurled her way. The only thing she should do is let her existence be shoved under the rug.

This is a real problem when any discussion of difficult and unpleasant issues is shouted down and people who dare to face realities are accused of being ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘degrading the nation’. Mosharraf Zaidi talks about ‘misplaced Pakistani pride’. I think he misses the bigger point, though – people with real pride do not have to hide from their faults. True patriots do not run from difficult issues, they face them head on. Real honour is gained b admitting and overcoming your own failings.

Is your pride strong enough to face reality? If so, let’s talk…

Sana Saleem: Distorted priorities?

Sana SaleemHow many of us remember the three-year-old girl who was kidnapped, raped and thrown in a sewer, or the 13-year-old boy from Korangi who was gang-raped on Eid-ul-Fitr last year, or the five-year-old girl who was raped, strangled and later recovered from a garbage dump at a ground in Gizri?

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Annual Report 2009:

“968 children, 285 boys and 683 girls were sexually abused. Around 1,404 women murdered, including 647 in the name of ‘honour’. Around 928 women were raped and some 563 committed suicide.”

Another survey, conducted by Sahil, an NGO which raises awareness regarding child sexual abuse and exploitation, paints a haunting image:

“Out of a total of 1,216 cases reported in six months, 331 boys, whereas 885 girls had been sexually abused, and the percentage of the female cases was 72 per cent as compared to 28 per cent of male cases.”

Rape is grossly under-reported in Pakistan. The culture of silence and shame has been one of the biggest hurdles victims face. It is then a pity that the few, who choose to overlook cultural barriers and gather the courage to come forth, are forced to go through the ordeal for years before justice is served. In most instances, alleged rapists are acquitted due to loopholes in our judicial system, while sometimes the victims are pressurised to withdraw their case. The role of police in such cases has been extremely notorious. For instance, take the case of a 10-year-old boy from Lahore; despite medico-legal reports proving rape had occurred, the police was reluctant to file an FIR against the accused pedophile.

In Khipro, a student of class X was given sedatives and gang-raped but her ordeal wasn’t over. The heinous crime was filmed via a mobile phone camera and the video posted on various websites. In the aftermath of the incident, parents of more than 100,000 students have stopped their daughters from attending schools and colleges.

Even more shocking are reports of an alleged gang of blackmailers comprising boys and girls, from ‘respectable’ families, who have sexually assaulted girls, recorded videos of the victims and used it to blackmail the victim’s parent or posted it on the Internet.

What kind of people would commit such an atrocious crime, film it and upload the videos on the Internet is beyond me. Unfortunately, this is not new phenomenon, such incidences have been reported before. In March 2009, a teenage boy was gang-raped in police custody and the footage distributed over the Internet. Child porn continues to be accessed throughout Pakistan and now,  rape videos have also joined the league yet we see no outrage by these ‘upholders of morals and justice.’ The lack of coverage and public outrage at such incidents is extremely disturbing and worrisome. But then our priorities have been distorted for quite sometime. It is a pity that we live in a country where hundreds will march on the streets, calling for an all out ban on social media platforms because of an isolated incident, while horrifying stories of abuse do not merit our anger. If alarming figures from the HRCP reports and the increasing incidences of rape and abuse of women and children does not bring us back to our senses, I don’t know what will.

Sana Saleem is a Features Editor at BEE magazine and blogs at Global Voices,  Asian Correspondent and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She recently won the Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook and tweets at twitter.com/sanasaleem.