Let women be, control the man

Published April 11, 2021
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THERE can’t be any ambiguity that there is one, yes only one, perpetrator of violent sex crimes and adding any caveat to this fact or qualifying it is an obfuscation or, worse still, an apology for the most heinous of crimes.

It fills me with rage that so many men, and even some women, blame the survivors for their ordeal, for what else is saying that rape or sex crimes are provoked because of ‘vulgarity’ or ‘lack of modesty’ in society too? ‘Purdah’ has been cited as one shield against such crimes.

The woman who was driving her two children home on the motorway near Lahore and confronted a nightmare when her car ran out of fuel last year was not ‘parading herself attired immodestly’ in a public place. She was sitting in her car with the doors locked and windows up, waiting for assistance.

The window of her car was smashed and she was dragged out of the car before being subjected to an ordeal one would not wish on anybody. A little later the Lahore police chief, whose force had failed the citizen, suggested the woman should not have been out on her own.

Men need to be educated and then read the riot act. The enforcement of the law must be merciless in such cases.

We aspire to create a society modelled on the most ideal city state of the past and our imagination runs out at just telling women and children to embrace ‘modesty and purdah’ to protect themselves from violent predators. Wow.

A decade and a half back, X was employed by us and used to come every week day to our house. She always arrived covered in a loose black burqa with her face behind a niqab. Once inside the house, she’d take off the burqa and proceed to work in her normal attire, shalwar-kameez-dupatta.

There were males in the house including members of the staff but she didn’t have any trouble interacting with them without the burqa and niqab. And, I can say with certainty, her demeanour made her the most respected, revered team member. We saw her as family.

In the four years we lived in Karachi, a decade and a half back, not once did this change. She was a determined woman with a fantastic wit who carried herself with immense dignity and was paying for her children to go to a private school her family couldn’t afford on a single income.

She said she was not happy with the no-fee madressah where they were enrolled earlier. On the plus side, X said, her children started to learn to read the Holy Book. However, at the other end, to her horror, they started to talk approvingly of sectarian violence, for example.

One day I was home because my daughter was unwell and X had her lunch and left at her usual time but returned a short while later. She asked our elderly chowkidar who everyone called Baba to accompany her up to the main road from where she caught her bus home.

I saw them leave. When Baba returned, I asked him if all was well. He was a bit awkward at first but then told me as X was walking to the main road when some men sitting outside a house in a nearby lane not only made lewd suggestions to her but one also came and tried to grab her arm.

She rushed away and came back. This happened to her when she epitomised ‘modesty’, in her appearance and in her conduct.

This drove everyone in the house into a rage but by the time we got to that house, the men had disappeared. Nonetheless we reported the matter and made sure from then on that X got home safely but some 15 years later I still feel so ashamed that something like that could have happened to her.

My wife and daughter, then a minor, talked of men trying to grope or come way too close for comfort in shops and believe me the mother and the child always dressed ‘properly’ of their own accord and never ‘vulgarly’ or ‘immodestly’. Women family and friends talk of identical experiences.

Sadly, the best among the men only know what women go through second hand as we can never experience what a woman faces in merely trying to exist, to lead her everyday life. It must then be such torture for women to hear ill-informed men and their unenlightened views on such violence.

In any case, there is sufficient research to say that in a majority of cases of sexual violence the perpetrator is a man known to the woman or the child victim. How can vulgarity or immodesty trigger such crimes and not a depraved man’s mind, his propensity to subjugate the victim?

How have the innumerable minor boys and girls who have been subjected to sexual violence in religious schools or in neighbourhoods across the country contributed to their own nightmare by being ‘inappropriately’ attired? It is time to stop chasing the red herring.

Men in society need to be educated and then read the riot act. The enforcement of the law must be merciless in such cases. And the highest in the land need to measure their words carefully. Since the debate triggered by the prime minister’s recent remarks, many have tried to frame this in a left and liberal, centrist and right context. This is absurd.

Women are more than half the country’s population. Without their full participation in every sphere the dream of economic progress is doomed to failure. They are half the workforce, equal to men and not unpaid slaves for domestic chores and the subject of man’s carnal desires. This needs to be understood and reinforced.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2021


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