De-programming the robot

Published July 25, 2021
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

“HANG them! Destroy them! Humiliate them! We won’t stay home so they can grow! No more!” screamed a placard held in the hands of a woman at an Islamabad protest last September, after the Lahore police chief questioned why a woman, who was raped after her car stalled, had been driving alone on the Motorway at night.

There was huge public outcry but, in an indication of how ‘seriously’ those at the helm take crimes against women, it took the government nearly four months to transfer the police chief who blamed the victim and not his own force’s slow response to her SOS call.

The protester who held the placard was Noor Muqaddam. A little over 10 months after that protest, the 27-year-old young woman is dead. She was killed by a man in a murder most foul and depraved. The man was familiar to her and this was no random street crime.

I am neither a police investigator nor a psychiatrist to say what drove the accused Zahir Jaffer, the scion of the affluent Jaffer family business, to kill Noor Muqaddam but whatever his motive was, only one fact sticks in my head: that like the vast majority of such cases the victim was a woman.

Whether obscurantist religious thought or outright misogyny is to blame in our society, rest ass­ured if there is such violence the victim will almost always be a woman. I say ‘almost always’ with abundant caution as some smart alec from the above categories will throw the one exception in my face.

The robot that is programmed to be a predator, to dominate, to hurt, to rape, to kill, will do as he pleases, where he pleases.

Shehzad Ghias Shaikh, a stand-up comedian and content creator, who also does a podcast called the Pakistan Experience, did this quick-fire thread on Twitter two days ago and I reproduce it below with minor edits in brackets to remind ourselves of the environment women are living in.

“July 4th: A video goes viral of two men beating their sister and mother with a helmet and a hammer because she asked for her rightful inheritance.

“July 6th: We reject the Domestic Violence bill trends [on social media] with many religious clerics coming out against the bill, notably Mufti Tariq Masood and Ansar Abbasi [the last mentioned is actually a well-known journalist with The News]. Imran Khan succumbs to their pressure and asks the CII to review it.

“July 7th: Usman Mirza allegedly breaks into a flat and assaults a couple [but here too the woman has to face the brunt as the criminals strip her and video her].

“July 15th: Umar Khalid Memon allegedly tortured his wife Quratulain for hours and killed her in Hyderabad [she was the mother of their four children].

“July 18th: Raza Ali allegedly shot dead his wife and injured his children shooting at them in Peshawar.

“July 18th: Daughter of the Afghan ambassador allegedly gets kidnapped and injured from Islamabad.

“July 20th: Zahir Jaffer allegedly beheaded Noor Muqaddam in Islamabad.”

Young Ghias also tweeted: “These are just the stories that went viral in the last two weeks. The newspapers are full of similar stories over the last two weeks where women were assaulted, beaten, and murdered. If you are a man who thinks Pakistan is safe for women, either you don’t talk to women, or women in your family/friends, don’t trust you enough to tell you the truth.”

Then on Friday, July 24, Dawn reported: Two couples were killed in Mansehra and Lower Dir. In the first incident a newly wed couple were brutally tortured and strung up in a tree by the woman’s family, including her father. The woman’s crime was marrying out of choice. The man was seen as complicit in that crime and paid the penalty.

The other incident saw a man shooting himself in the head, after killing his wife in Chakdara. Again whatever his motive, he first killed his wife before turning the gun on himself. Why couldn’t he have just harmed himself if that is what he desired? But no. The woman had to go first.

One can be sure for each of these crimes now in the public domain, multiple others are obscured behind chadar and chardiwari, as we well know only a tiny proportion of cases of violence against women actually get reported, particularly of domestic violence.

And just because nobody hears of them does not mean that, all this while, beatings, verbal abuse, harassment and even murders don’t happen. Misogyny and the man’s desire to ‘control women’ is a global phenomenon.

But our well-entrenched patriarchy whether rooted in misinterpretation of faith or attributable to feudal/tribal practices and passed off as tradition, even culture, adds a far more violent and tragic twist to it as such conduct is considered as being born out of men’s sense of entitlement.

After Noor Muqaddam’s murder, some of the usual apologists for such crimes, launched on their theories of what is appropriate for women and what is not in terms of attire and where they should go and not go as they tried to rationalise such an atrocity in the light of their hugely flawed worldview. This fills me with insane rage.

My friend and former colleague, Mohammed Hanif, in his angry and brutally honest piece on BBC Urdu mentions that some 80 per cent of violent crimes against women ie murders are committed within the four walls of their homes and they don’t have to step out to be targeted.

Thus, whether they wear ‘too few clothes’ or are fully covered from head to toe, is largely immaterial. The robot that is programmed to be a predator, to dominate, to hurt, to rape, to kill, will do as he plea­ses, where he pleases and will always find a reason.

This robot needs to be de-programmed, forced to shed its lethal characteristics and reprogrammed to understand that women are equal, to be respected and cherished as such. Not an object, not a subject of control. Tragically, given that the ‘too few clothes lead to rape’ worldview pervades the very top, this won’t happen.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2021

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