Misplaced Notion of Honor and Morality

(Beyond Headlines)

AT an hour’s drive from Lahore, lies a small village called Husain Khan Wala. This sleepy hamlet, in Kasur town, was recently in news because of a child sex racket that rocked Pakistan. Many videos emerged showing boys from the village being molested in which members of an influential local family were allegedly involved. The villagers protested and accused the police of covering up this pedophile gang. They also alleged that this sexual abuse against their children had been happening since 2009 and the perpetrators had in fact been blackmailing the victims, threatening them that they would make the videos public, if they failed to pay them. These blackmailing tactics had forced the children to steal from their homes to meet their demands.

The mother of a victim said that her child had stopped going to the school and the perpetrators would take him to the fields and rape him. Another woman said that when she saw the videos, she went to the police station to seek help, but there was no help. She said everyone in the village knew about this but were afraid to say anything about it. Most people in the village complained about lack of any support from the police. Media reports and child rights activists reported that about 280 children were victims of this ring. Most of these rapes were carried out either in the fields or their homesteads. The activists said that the children were drugged, abused and physically tortured. A gang of more than twenty people is supposed to be involved in this abuse.

The Punjab Chief Minister announced an inquiry in the aftermath of these revelations. Considering the asymmetry of power equations in Pakistan, especially in the hinterland and how brutal and corrupt the police force is, it is difficult to imagine that the perpetrators in this case will be brought to book. Also knowing that cases of sexual violence, especially against children are not talked about openly in Pakistan, it remains to be seen whether these cases will prompt a public debate and a wider examination of child sex abuse in the country.

Just thinking about the scale and the methods used in this case make one shudder. The crime is horrific and its scale unprecedented, with 400 videos of about 280 children who were being filmed while they were forced to have sex. The scandal has raised some disturbing questions about pedophilia in Pakistan. It is more prevalent than the Pakistani society would like to acknowledge and recognize. There is collusion between the perpetrators, police and politicians. So instead of protecting the victims, the police harass them and protect the criminals. There is also a big market in Pakistan where such videos can be sold. Pakistan has unfortunately ignored the scale and magnitude of such crimes so far, instead remaining fixated with their own delusional notions of self righteousness. This is not the first known case of pedophilia in the country. In late 1990s, another pedophile Javed Iqbal confessed to raping and killing more than 100 boys in Lahore. He was caught many times, sent to jail, but he always managed to get out of jail.

There are some serious and systemic issues at play here which Pakistani society needs to address if it ever wants to fight this menace head on. It is a society which lacks the wherewithal and the tools to grapple with a grotesque tragedy of such magnitude where the weak and the marginalized are often trapped and find themselves vulnerable to such violence and crime. No doubt, there was outrage among the public against this incident given that it was morally so depraved. But even while the Punjab Chief Minister ordered an inquiry, his law minister told the media that a high level inquiry had already been carried out, which found no evidence of child sex abuse. The minister termed this as a land dispute between two parties. Blatant lies, half truths, distortion of facts and shielding the guilty by their political masters, even in such grave crimes, is a part of Pakistani political landscape. This is the pathetic lows to which a society, which focuses so much on public ‘’morality’’ that no one is bothered about individual conscience. When a man’s ‘’piety’’ and ‘’morality’’ is subservient to public display of religious rituals and religiosity, when a woman’s ‘’morality’’ and virtue is subservient to her sartorial choices and domesticity, it is bound to nurture a society which champions double standards and seems uncomfortable to reflect on its inner ugliness. In such a society, what is publicly not visible carries no moral cost. When the State and the society, which unfortunately regulate and decide public morality in Pakistan, fail to see such a crime, then it does not become morally repugnant for the criminals given individual conscience does not count for much. A society which is deeply patriarchal, works on misplaced notions of honor and believes in shaming the victims for bringing ‘’disrepute’’ and ‘’dishonor’’ to the family, will find it extremely difficult to come to terms with a crime of such magnitude. A society which largely operates on such notions of shame and honor, would churn out individuals who will focus on not being caught, instead of being morally and ethically upright. Crimes like child sexual abuse thrive in such a culture, where the perpetrators know that the society will look the other way rather than confront them. This is symptomatic of a society which is facing deep moral crisis.

The child sexual abuse that came to light in Husain Khan Wala in Kasur town is not an isolated incident. Given that there is so much victim shaming, a large number of such incidents go unreported. Most such victims find no institutional support and no counselling to come out of the trauma that results from such violence. The incidence of child labor also accentuates this violence given that there are thousands of children who are exploited behind closed doors at their place of work, whether in factories, shops or even homes.

It is not that child sexual abuse is prevalent only in Pakistan. What complicate the matters in Pakistan are both, societal apathy and the country’s criminal justice system. A society that believes more in blaming victims than apprehending and punishing the criminals, will find it difficult to sympathize with and embrace the victims of such gory crimes. The country lacks the nuance to talk about and deal with such horror. It also needs to focus on providing sex education to children and making them aware so that they can try to guard themselves from sexual predators.

Pakistani society and the State also need to understand the difference between consensual sex and forced sex. Right now, the country’s Hudood laws don’t differentiate between the two, which results in a situation where a rape victim can be punished, for not providing four witnesses, if she/ he reports rape. This is mind boggling and bizarre that the onus of proving rape, by getting four witnesses to the horrific incident fall on the victim. It shows Pakistan’s criminal justice system in bad light, which can never be trusted by the victims of rape. No wonder most cases of rape go unreported and the society flaunts this as a sign that the incidences of sexual violence and abuse are low in the country. Pakistani State needs to realign its criminal justice system, especially laws dealing with rape in conformity with the standard practices followed worldwide. Unless Pakistan gives up the law which believes in victim shaming, the perpetrators of such crimes will flourish in such culture of fear. The Pakistani society also needs to give up its misplaced notions of honor, which encourage sexual violence, both against women and children. If the country wants to give justice to the victims of Kasur and thousands of other such victims, it needs to come out of this time warp and develop the moral language to deal with this. The State also needs to give up archaic laws dealing with rape and sexual violence. Unless that happens, all victims of sexual violence will keep paying a heavy price for Pakistan’s warped sense of morality and honor.

Speaking to the media, the mother of a victim of this horrific crime said, “They stole my child’s innocence we work so hard to send them to school, to give them a better life, what can we ever do to get their innocence back for them?” This indeed is gut wrenching, but is Pakistan listening?

Tariq Jameel writes weekly column Beyond Headlines for the Kashmir Observer. He can be reached at: <[email protected]

Pakistani society and the State also need to understand the difference between consensual sex and forced sex. Right now, the country’s Hudood laws don’t differentiate between the two, which results in a situation where a rape victim can be punished, for not providing four witnesses, if she/ he reports rape. This is mind boggling and bizarre that the onus of proving rape, by getting four witnesses to the horrific incident fall on the victim. It shows Pakistan’s criminal justice system in bad light, which can never be trusted by the victims of rape. No wonder most cases of rape go unreported and the society flaunts this as a sign that the incidences of sexual violence and abuse are low in the country.

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