Once again, we have not been able to make sense of a tragedy that has shaken us to the core. In some respects, the popular response to the horrendous crime that was committed in Kasur did set the stage for some drastic steps to deal with the enduring evils of our society. But there are no signs of any moral and intellectual renaissance emerging from this trauma.
Perhaps that cannot be expected in our present circumstances when the forces of orthodoxy and fanaticism are gaining currency. At the same time, this focus on the sexual abuse of our children also projects the imperative for a progressive social change that, alas, is not to be.
A major problem is that our political leaders as well as our rulers are not willing to attend to the state of our society, which is losing its equilibrium at an alarming pace. Look at how they play their politics and how fundamental issues that relate to the wellbeing of the people do not attract any serious attention.
Yes, the surge of anger and grief over the rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab in Kasur that we have witnessed this week was overwhelming and it momentarily pushed politics into the background. There were violent protests in Kasur itself and expressions of outrage across the country. Civil society activists and celebrities were able to register their points of view in an effective manner. There is also no doubt that all families were touched by the horror of child abuse. It is truly scary.
However, this wave of anxiety and rage is likely to subside with the revival of partisan politics. In fact, the opposition leaders would want to exploit the emotions that have been charged by the Kasur tragedy. Imran Khan has announced that he will join Tahirul Qadri’s protest over the Model Town killings with “full force” and the D-day is January 18.
We know that there have been numerous incidents of child sexual abuse in Kasur and some were as heinous as the murder of Zainab. A major scandal of child abuse in Kasur was revealed in 2015 and its magnitude was staggering. Even during this week, the bodies of a boy and girl were found in separate locations in Punjab.
So, why has Zainab’s murder created such a spark of indignation? This may have something to do with the level of unrest that exists in our society. Things do tend to be falling apart. It is in a situation like this that a movement for revolutionary change may be launched. But all we have are intimations of anarchy and disorder. Besides, we have always been apathetic in our attitude in the face of the otherwise unbearable atrocities.
For instance, Pakistan did not really change after that massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar three years ago. Even the peripheral measures prescribed by the National Action Plan were not faithfully executed. Similarly, the lynching of Mashal Khan on the campus of a university on a false accusation of blasphemy has not led to any radical reforms or steps to liberate our campuses from the clutches of religious extremism and bigotry.
There is no doubt that Pakistani society is changing. We live in a digital world and are influenced by global trends. Our young people have to suffer the same temptations and frustrations that their counterparts in other, similar countries have to live with. They have the passions and yearnings that youth is often identified with. And yet, we cling to values and customs that belong to another age.
Consider the ignominy of, say, honour killing. We must be moving in the wrong direction, in a historical sense, when there is an instance of a jirga sentencing a young couple to death in the urban precincts of Karachi in 2017 – especially when the sentence is obediently carried out by the families of the defiant lovers.
Recently, a young woman was stripped and paraded naked in the streets of a village in Dera Ismail Khan to avenge an act that a male member of her family had committed. The point is that such crimes have been committed for a long time. There is the example of Mukhtaran Mai, the survivor of a gang-rape committed as honour revenge. She stood up against this outrage and her courage was applauded internationally. But this had happened in 2002 – more than 15 years before the incident in DI Khan. Even more tragic is the fact that our leaders and rulers took no notice of this act of barbarism.
It is true that the sexual abuse of children takes place in most societies. It is known that in a majority of cases, someone in the rape survivor’s family of is involved in committing such crimes. What matters is how a society deals with such crimes. We may refer to a large number of cases from a number of Western societies where priests and celebrities were found guilty of paedophilia even long years after the crime was committed.
Incidentally, the Kasur tragedy has also underlined the hazard of instituting reforms in our society. One of the suggestions that have been put forward involves introducing changes in the curriculum to make children aware of this threat. Why are we not able to do this? The answer is simple: the religious lobby that has a veto power in such matters does not allow any sex education in our schools.
Far from what has happened in Kasur, I am reminded of a passage from Christina Lamb’s ‘Sewing Circles of Herat’ that I had reviewed for Newsline more than a decade ago. It shows some aspects of the problem of sexual abuse in a particular region. Christina’s book was about a personal voyage through Afghanistan during and immediately after the Taliban rule.