ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday faced strong criticism from civil society and political circles over his remarks regarding veil, temptation and rape in an interview with HBO aired on Monday.

The civil society and the opposition while lamenting the prime minister’s remarks wondered why he had blamed women for being raped due to, what he called, lack of veil and proper dressing.

The prime minister spoke on many issues while responding to questions but his remarks on rape and temptation in his interview with Jonathan Swan for Axios drew sharp criticism.

Civil society, opposition parties chide premier for ‘victim blaming’

While asking Mr Khan about the epidemic of sexual violence and rape in Pakistan, the questioner said the premier acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and spoke about strict laws to check that. He said: “You [the PM] were also quoted as saying that the practice of women wearing veils is to stop temptation, not every man has willpower. You said on increasing vulgarity, it will have consequences and you were accused of rape victim blaming. How do you respond to that?”

Mr Khan replied: “It is such nonsense. I never said veils, this was never said. I said the concept of purdah. And the concept of purdah is to avoid temptation in society. We don’t have discos here, we don’t have nightclubs, so it is a completely different society, way of life here, so if you raise temptation in society to the point and all these young guys have nowhere to go, it has consequences in the society.”

“If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact. It will have an impact on the men, unless they’re robots. I mean it’s common sense,” he added.

When the questioner reminded Mr Khan about the time when he was a cricket star, he was seen as a playboy and there were photos with his shirts off in his bedroom, the PM said: “This is not about me.”

He said when he saw sex crimes going through the roof, he sat down to discuss how he was going to tackle this. “It is having an impact on my society,” he added.

Mr Khan has been under fire for his strong opinions on rape previously as well, and as a result, has come to be viewed as a rape apologist. His recent comments have added fuel to the fire, with its impact seen on Twitter and Facebook.

Rights activist and columnist Mosharraf Zaidi spelled it out for everyone. “It isn’t complicated and you don’t need to be a feminist or a gender studies PhD to understand it. what does the argument that rape is a product of the rapists’ environment show? it shows an intent to absolve rapists of the responsibility for their actions. it’s that simple,” he tweeted.

Terming the PM’s remarks “highly irresponsible and condemnable”, Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Sherry Rehman in a tweet said she was shocked that the prime minister had said that. “Does IK not know that by saying women should dress a certain way, he is giving oppressors and criminals against women a new narrative to justify their behaviour. There is NO justification for a prime minister to talk this way. Highly irresponsible and condemnable.”

Journalist Shahmir Sanni didn’t see the PM’s justification as legit. “Nearly every woman that has been raped in Pakistan has worn what he would prescribe as modest clothing,” he wrote.

TV anchor Gharidah Farooqi described her reaction to the premier’s words as “disgusted,” “appalled” and “outraged”.

While criticising the prime minister’s remarks, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb in a tweet said: “It’s not women’s choices that lead to sexual assault, rather the choices of men who choose to engage in this despicable and vile crime.”

Mr Khan noticed (flaws in) women’s clothing, but was indifferent to the plight of rape survivors, regretted Punjab PML-N Information Secretary Azma Bokhari while addressing a press conference.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2021

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